Dark Events at Bargarran in 1676

Today when the name Bargarran is mentioned, we always turn our mind to 1696 and the last mass witch hunt in Scotland that led to the execution of 7 people in Paisley on the 10th October 1697.  But the events that unfolded there in 1696 were preceded by a mysterious death in 1676.

In the Winter of 1676, John Shaw (Christian Shaw’s grandfather) died in mysterious circumstances, with his body being discovered the following spring, as though he had died the day before.

The account was described by Robert Law the son of the minister of Inchinnan Church, the neighbouring parish to Erskine. 

There was a gentleman, John Shaw of Bargarran, in Erskine Parish. He always used to ride across the water of Gryfe, which was between his house and Paisley.  The River Gryfe was often deep late at night. Being at Paisley one night, he came late out of the town to go home, something ordinary to him, and it being very dark, he came to the water side at the ford, (Allan’s ford). He called to his servant that was riding with him to cross the water first. The servant told him it was deep, due to high tide, and that it was also very dark.  John Shaw believed he could cross and set his horse to begin crossing the river.

The servant thinking Shaw was too adventurous stayed behind, waiting to see what would become of him.  When Shaw was halfway across, the other man heard him groan heavily, and then nothing more.  Suspecting Shaw might have been thrown from the horse the servant then went to the nearest house and stayed all night.

Meanwhile, ‘Bargarran’, Shaws horse returned home, alone with bridle and saddle still intact but without his master around 11 or 12pm. Shaws Lady and children were amazed at this and concluded that he had perished crossing the water.

Early the next morning his family and neighbours began to look for him, and not only seek him between the house and the river, but  also by boat searching all the river to the Clyde and along the Clyde along the Bargarran Estates River Bank.  He was not found, and they gave up searching for him.

Four months later, in the spring, his body was found near two miles of the water, and a mile from Bargarran House, in a ditch at the end of a moor. (Those gentlemen who had searched the area in the winter declared that in their searching during the winter they had searched that area “and found nothing like him in it).

What was remarkable, was that his right hand had been cut off; his private members were cut off; his cloths and boots not wet, nor in anyway spoiled.  Papers in his pocket were bone dry, his gold that wore was found on him. (Among which papers there was a discharge of an account he had just received from a Paisley merchant, who, ‘believing that his payment had been lost with John Shaw in the river, had again paid his son for the same count already payed).  Shaw’s hat Iay beside him, and his leather-cap was in place on his head with the string of his hat around his collar, which was normal for him when he was riding in dark nights or on windy nights. Shaw’s body found, fresh, as if he were newly deceased. When his boots were taken off, one of his heels bled.

All men were sensible that he was brought to that untimely death by the hidden works of darkness (witchcraft) but how to investigate this, his relations knew not.

Where did the event take place? 

In the early part of the story it is said that Shaw crossed the River Gryffe at Allans Ford.  Alans Farmstead is shown on Roy’s Military Survey Map on what we now know as the Black Cart Water, below the confluence of the River Gryffe with the Black Cart.  It is assumed the Ford named after the farm, would be in close proximity to the property.   See https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=15&lat=55.88360&lon=-4.43515&layers=4&b=1.   If you look at the Ordnance Survey 6 inch map of 1843 – 1882 there is a track running from Easter Yonderton Farm toward the Black Cart Water and terminates on the river bank beside a small island.  On the opposite bank there appears to be the remains of a track running along the land boundary between Allans Farm and Townhead of Inchinnan.  It is very possible this is the route Shaw had taken, and the site of Allans Ford. See https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=15&lat=55.88139&lon=-4.43411&layers=5&b=1.

Today the site of Allans Farm is off Inchinnan Drive, with the Rolls Royce factory sitting on the norther end of the farmstead.  The present open farmland between Inchinnan Drive and the Black Cart Water would be part of the original farm.  See https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@55.8800711,-4.4325068,1082m/data=!3m1!1e3. If you zoom in on the island at the centre of this satellite image, you can see possible remains of two fords on either side of the island.

The site of the location of Shaw’s remains, remains a mystery.  Described as “near two miles of the water, and a mile from Bargarran House, in a ditch at the end of a moor” would imply to me that his remains were found along the banks of the River Clyde, having been washed down river as the tide went out.   Allans Ford/ Farm is 2.5 miles from Bargarran House, and if you go upriver from the ford, you are further away from the house.  To be around a mile from the house means the only possible water he could have been found in is the Clyde, somewhere around Newshot Island or in front of Erskine House. 

I will leave it to you to decide what really happened.


The information presented in this blog is (c) Stephen Clancy, The Urban Historian – 20 October 2020

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