The first Paisley settlement here was beside the Hammills on the White Cart Water. In the 6th Century, the Irish monk, St Mirin, built a church by the ford as the centre for his preaching. The White Cart Water has always been important to Paisley Buddies. It provided a means of transport, fresh water to drink, fish to eat and probably powered corn-mills for the first settlers. Hundreds of the years later, the White Cart Water was vital to Paisley’s industries and their processes. Industry also polluted the water but now the river has recovered and wildlife abounds.

Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland and from whom the Stewart royal house of Scotland was descended, founded the Abbey in 1163  and the village grew around it. When Paisley was made a burgh in 1488, more tradesmen settled here and the town grew. By the 18th century, Paisley was a thriving town of hand loom weavers, amongst others, who were all well read men with political and philosophical interests. Many of them formed societies related to their interests in poetry, horticulture and political reform.

Robert Tannahill is perhaps the most famous of Paisley’s weaver poets, born in 1774. He kept a flute, paper and ink by his loom so he could note down his poems and songs as he worked. Tannahill, like Robert Burns, wrote in Scots and with other weaver poets formed one of the earliest Burns Clubs.

Paisley is most famous for the ‘Paisley pattern’ which was used on all sorts of fabrics made here during the 19th century. Later the great thread making factories brought riches to the town, and to some of its inhabitants. Other industries included dye-works, brickworks, soap making and whisky distilling. All of them relied on the White Cart Water.

Paisley Heritage Walk

© 2008 Alamo Burns Club.

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This walk follows the purple line on the map above. Its easy to follow if you look out for the buildings and places highlighted.

Modern sculptures occupy County Square around which the County Buildings—with their castle like turrets—and the town prison, once stood. The sculptures are designed to reflect the architecture of the square and include a ‘rain tower’.

Oakshaw Trinity (11) (1750) is one of nine churches on Oakshaw hill only two of which are still places of worship. Paisley is a town of churches. If they disagreed with the style of worship, Buddies voted with their feet and founded a new one. The mills attached workers from elsewhere who brought their own religious views, and other churches, to the town.

Coats Observatory (4) on Oakshaw Street was a gift to Paisley’s Philosophical Institution— a group of amateur scientists and scholars— from Thomas Coats in 1883. His family owned thread-making factories at Ferguslie in the west end. You’ll see as you walk around what an impact the thread-making families of Coats and Clark had on the town.

Follow the yellow line on the map to explore this extension of the High Street Walk which will add half an hour to your walk. Or continue on the High Street Walk.

Paisley’s weaver-poet Robert Tannahill, who died in 1810, lived here in Tannahill’s Cottage (9), Queen Street from 1775. His father, a weaver also, built it as a house and workshop, and Robert learnt his trade here.

Nearby is Gallow Green, the site of the town gallows and the burial place for criminals. Six Paisley ‘witches’ were burned here in 1696 and their ashes buried at the crossing of two tracks—marked by a horse-shoe to keep evil away from the town. A horseshoe is still set in a junction on George Street to safeguard the townsfolk. Castlehead Cemetery in Canal Street contains Robert Tannahill’s grave. He suffered from depression and committed suicide at the age of 36.


Rejoin the High Street Walk at Wellmeadow Street.

A strange story is connected with the corner of Lady Lane and Wellmeadow Street. In 1928, Mrs Mary Donoghue found a snail in a bottle of ginger beer bought in a café on this site and successfully sued the lemonade company, D Stevensons. This case set the precedent for all cases of negligence pursued since!

The Coats Memorial Church (5) was built in memory of Thomas Coats. It’s been called the ‘Baptist Cathedral of Europe’. It certainly looks more like a cathedral than the wee Storie Street Baptist Church where its congregation came from.

The Museum and Art Galleries (3) and the Library were another Coats family gift. The museum, designed by John Honeyman, was the first publicly run museum in Scotland. As well as local history displays, and the world’s finest collection of Paisley shawls, there is a rare collection of contemporary craft pottery.

Orr Square Church was built in 1845. The minister wanted to make its tower taller than the High Church’s but ran out of money for the spire! It is now private flats. The towns first hospital , the Wee Steeple, was founded in Orr Square in 1618.

The town’s Tolbooth—jail, town hall and courtroom—stood on the corner of Moss Street and the High Street. It became like the leaning Tower of Pisa and had to be demolished in 1868 after its foundations were undermined. The High Street was a medieval ‘Kings highway’ from Glasgow to the south-west.


Coats Observatory

Tannahill’s Cottage

Coats Memorial Church

This walk follows the green line on the map above. It’s easy to follow if you look out for the buildings and places highlighted.

The Cross was Paisley’s trading centre, next to the Tolbooth where the town weights and measures were kept. The War Memorial statue, by Alice Meredith Williams, represents a crusader and four First World War soldiers.

In 1894, William Dunn, a Paisley MP, gifted money for Dunn Square as a quiet space and a site for statues of the town’s great men—and Queen Victoria!

Gauze Street, Cotton Street and Silk Street all take their names from the town’s successful textile industry.

If you’re feeling energetic, walk along Gause Street and visit St Mirin’s Cathedral (10), the town’s 1930s Roman Catholic cathedral. You can enter by the side door, but please be quiet as there may be people praying.

The people of Paisley had been trying to collect money for a Town Hall (2) when George A Clark died in 1873, leaving money to the town for that purpose. The Clark family contributed the rest and all the public’s money was paid back.

The statues in Abbey Close are of Paisley’s weaver-poets, Robert Tannahill and Alexander Wilson. Wilson became the ‘father of American ornithology’, recording the country’s birdlife. You can find out more about Wilson at Sma’ Shot Cottages.

King Robert III (1337-1406) and Marjory, Robert the Bruce’s daughter, are amongst those buried in Paisley Abbey (1).

Paisley Town Hall

Paisley Abbey

Follow the red line to explore the riverside area which will add half an hour to your walk. Or continue on the Abbey Walk.

Stand on the grass opposite the Abbey. You are near the site of the Abbey’s Great Drain which has provided archaeologists with amazing evidence of what the monks ate and how the lived. On display in the Abbey sacristy are some of the artefacts found.

Follow the White Cart Water upstream to the Hammils. You may want to use the underpass to cross Mill Street.

One of Paisley’s few remaining historic industries—a tannery– still operates in the buildings to your left. Near here was the site of Paisley’s first settlement and St Mirin’s church. St Mirin, a missionary monk, came from Ireland to convert the people of the west of Scotland.

The Clarks built their Seehill Mills here at the Hammills—Anchor Mill is towering above you. The river was used in the bleaching and cleaning processes in the thread mills.

Well known Paisley sculpture, Alexander Stoddart, created the sculpture in the garden in memory of Alexander Wilson, weaver poet and ornithologist.


The Hammils

Walk back along the same path to the Abbey Bridge. Cross Abbey Bridge on Bridge Street and walk down the other side of the river.

On Abbey Bridge, look down the White Cart Water. It’s exciting to see swans on it after years of industrial pollution.

Look across to the corner of Gordon Street. The Art Nouveau St Matthews Church was designed W D McLennan, a Paisley born architect.

The corks—the middlemen who sold on the weavers finished shawls—had their warehouses in Forbes Place, the street to the left. Weavers collected their yarn and patterns from there and were paid when they returned with the finished cloth.

Walk up Forbes Place and turn left into Causeyside Street. The Scottish Enterprise Renfrewshire’s building, 27 Causeyside Street, used to be the Co-operative department store and has a great example of the Paisley tiled close (passage) in its main entrance.

Take a look inside the Art Deco style Russell Institute on the corner of Causeyside Street and New Street. Miss Russell didn’t want to waste money on a statue to commemorate her brothers, so she built this clinic for mothers and young children in 1927. It is still used today.

At the Sma’ Shot Cottages (7) on Shuttle Street you can compare the differences a century made in the way Paisley people lived and worked.

Paisley Arts Centre (6) is in what was the Laigh Kirk (Low Church), built in 1736 –8. One of it’s ministers, the Reverend John Witherspoon, became the Principal of Princeton University and the only clergyman to sign the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.

To complete the circle, turn right at the top of New Street into the High Street then back to the cross.


Laigh Kirk (Paisley Arts Centre)

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For more detailed information on Paisley and many other wonderful attractions across Scotland please use the visit Scotland website, click on the logo for access. Many thanks to Renfrewshire council for the use of images and text regarding Paisley.

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