Category: Blog

Remembrance 2023

Remembrance 2023

As we remember those who thought in past conflicts this weekend, this booklet from J & P Coats relating to those who served during the Second World War is available for one week from today. I recently came across it in a online bookshop and made a quick scan of it. Covering all of the UK Mills of the group it is a useful document for WW2 where records are not as accessible as WW1.

Annan to Paisley: The Carlile family of Paisley

Over the last 8 to 10 years a lot of my research has focused on the introduction of fine Linen Thread production into Scotland by Christian Millar or Shaw of Bargarran at Erskine in 1722.  Over the next 30 years Paisley had become home to many linen thread manufactures, all copying the techniques of Christian.  One of the most influential of these copycats was John Carlile, the eldest son of James Carlyle of Annan.  

John moved to Paisley during the mid to late 1730’s, with the one intention to enter the linen thread industry.   There is sufficient evidence to show that the success of Christian Millar’s Bargarran Linen Thread Company had been heard of throughout Scotland, with some of her main clients being in Bath, well known for its lace making; where the friends of Lady Blantyre of Erskine House (who had a town house there) all said that the Bargarran thread was far superior to anything they could acquire from England.

So let us focus on John Carlile now.    When John arrived in Paisley, he changed his surname from Carlyle to Carlile, forming the distinct Paisley branch of the family.   As already said, he was the eldest son of James Carlyle of Annan and was born in Annan in 1703.

In the History of The Carlile Family (Paisley Branch) published in 1909 by some of its members for private circulation it states that John “is considered to have been the founder of the Paisley family, for he left Annan and settled in Paisley, where he built the first Scottish thread manufactory (1752), particularly for the manufacture of twisting and bleaching linen yarn.”  In some ways this is not accurate; by the time John arrived in Paisley there were a growing number of linen thread manufacturers.    What can be said though is that John was the first to build a large-scale manufactory in 1752 on the banks of the White Cart Water on New Sneddon Street.  The Bankhead Mill as it was to become known grew over time, transitioning from linen to cotton in the first half of the 19th Century as the more well-known Clark and Coats families developed their fine cotton threads and yarns.   John’s Mill survived into the late 19th Century when the business was purchased by the Clark family who incorporated it into Clark & Co, who continued to run the business as a going concern.   I have seen an advert in the University of Glasgow Scottish Business Archives which states “Clark & Co: Seedhill, Bankhead & Cumberland Mills” showing their continued use of existing mills in addition to their own Seedhill Mill.  

Roy’s Military survey of the lowlands of Scotland mapped 1752-55 shows Carlile Lane and Carlile Place already in existence and the red buildings along Carlile Lane probably relate to the earliest incarnation of the Bankhead Mill established by John.

Location of the Bankhead Mill:

John was made a Free Burgess of Paisley in 1741, and married Janet, daughter of William Birkmyre, and became a Baillie of Paisley the following year.  Janet was born in 1722 and died on 2 June 1803.  John himself died on 11 October 1773, leaving five children surviving William Carlile of Paisley, James Carlile (the elder) of Paisley, Thomas Carlile of Houston, Edward Carlile of Hampstead and Mary Ferrier.   John and Janet had seven children who all died at an early age:  Margaret, 1744-5; Jean, 1748-9; Janet, 1749-55; John, 1754-5; George, 1756-7; Agnes, 1759-60; and Robert, 1761-2.

An interesting account of his home life has been preserved. We read that “The family religion consisted of worship twice each day, morning and evening, and on the Lord’s day thrice. After public worship at Church, it was …. his common practice to retire for prayer and meditation.”

After this the family convened for supper, the refreshment taken at the interval between public worship being slight; then family worship. When that was concluded, the questions in the Assemblie’s Catechism were put by him. On next Sabbath the children were examined in Willison’s Catechism. After this he generally addressed his familie, by recommending their duty and danger from sin, or on such religious topics as occurred to him: then each of the children and servants was called on to read a chapter {sic) of the Bible. Commonly after this a religious book was read ; familie worship commenced again about 9 o’clock —and thus ended the familie exercises of the Sabbath

Situation and Surrounding of Paisley Abbey

Let us recall the beautiful situation and surroundings of the abbey in the palmy days of the Abbots. The river Cart then ran clear and sparkling between green wooded banks. The monastic buildings: the great Gatehouse built by Abbot Tervas, about 9 meters north-west from the north-west turret of the Abbey, “a great pend most curiously built,” surmounted with a tower erected by Abbot George Shaw; the massive wall extending for a mile or so round the Abbey policies, adorned with statues and inscriptions; the Abbot’s house to the south-east; and some additional buildings sloping down to the river, were all in Existence. The old Cloisters were intact, the wall of the west walk being 7.3 meters from the west front of the Abbey.

Towards the end of the 15th century another wall was erected 2.7m beyond the west front of the Abbey, extending 25 meters southwards.  A roof was erected on this wall and the cloister wall, and the inside fitted out for Monastic purposes.  The south front of the Abbey became a gable for this building.

Close by were the pools or tanks, lined with ashlar work, in which the monks kept fish against in case fishing in the River Clyde failed to supply enough food for them.

The rich gardens of the monastery were also near, and a deer park; on the other bank of the river, beside the Falls, stood the Abbey mill, and, further down on the same side, the large orchard, extending over six acres. A columbarium or dovecot stood on the brink of the river opposite the Watergate at the Seedhill Mills.

Paisley Abbey after Slezers view of Paisley of 1693, published in a French atlas about 1720, note the deer in the foreground

An UNDERGROUND PASSAGE, dating from this period, still in part exists, apparently leading from the Abbey southwards towards the river white cart.  It is solidly built. During an exploration of the passage in 1888, 120 carts of rubbish were taken out, amongst which several articles were found, including fragments of stained glass.

There was an OLD CHURCHYARD of the Abbey at Seedhill while the present churchyard surrounding the abbey is post reformation. The burial place of the Priors, Abbots & Monks would have been south, or to the east, of the Abbey church.

Notabilities may have been buried in the choir and under the chapter house, where remains have been found. There were interments in the cloisters, but not in the garth.

Connected with the chapel of St. Roche, there was also a churchyard at the head of Castle Street. In later times, the weavers, when digging treadle holes for their looms, often found the bones of their Roman Catholic forbears.”

The Abbey during this period was distinguished as being ONE OF THE FIVE PLACES OF PILGRIMAGE in Scotland, the others being Melrose, where the first Steward had died as a monk: Scone, where the first Stewart king was buried; Dundee; and Whithorn. Crosses for the use of pilgrims were placed at intervals on the roads leading to the church. The local names with Corsebar and Crossflat reflect possible lost cross sites along with those we know existed at Hawkead, Stanely and Arthurie to name but a few.

Text sourced and updated from A R Howell’s Paisley Abbey published 1929.

Halloween & Witches of Renfrewshire 1629 -1650 Online Talk

Halloween is coming on us fast this year. At the end of September our window display at Allan’s Fish & Chip Restaurant on Storie Street will be getting replaced with a display on the Witches of Renfrewshire. To accompany this we are launching a pre recorded history cafe session for anyone interested in the subject to watch whenever you wish.

see: witches-of-renfrewshire-1629-1650 for more details

June/ July Update

June has been a busy month which incorporated a short break on Bute exploring some of the archaeological and historical sites on the island. over the next few weeks you may spot a few posts about places visited and connections to Paisley and Renfrewshire.

On the 24th June we are leading a heritage walk “Linen Walk by Design Paisley” – part of the The Scottish Refugee Festival and joins a creative cluster of events from Journeys in Design in collaboration with Sewing2gether All Nations. (Date: Fri, Jun 24 • 14:30 BST meeting at Paisley Central Library, Mill Street and finishing at Sma’ Shot Cottages at 4pm with the chance of a cuppa and look around the weavers cottage & looms.) see to book this free walk. For the other Paisley events see Events include: One Millie All Nations Exhibition at Central Library & Creative Journeys for New Scots | Twilight Talk,

Fri, Jun 24 • 14:30 BST

Sma’ Shot Day – 2nd July – We will have our first stall on Abbey Close as part of the Sma’ Shot festival. We will have a selection of our merchandise for sale including local history books, maps, pictures, Paisley Notebooks, Mugs and Keyrings. Try your hand at a classic fete game and learn more about our summer programme of walks and talks.

In mid July we have our Renfrewshire Archaeology course scheduled to start in The Art Department on Causeyside Street where we will look at some of the early settlements of the area, through to the medieval era. See for more details and booking.

The end of June and July is looking like a busy time. Why not take some time for yourself and see the history around you!

There was a jovial beggar

I’ve just been reading the THE DIARY AND GENERAL EXPENDITURE BOOK OF WILLIAM CUNNINGHAM OF CRAIGENDS, Commissioner to the Convention of Estates and Member of Parliament for Renfrewshire which was kept between 1673 and 1680. The time period falls directly into the Covenanting time period, which was also subjected to harsh harvests leading to impoverished times. The diary and account book of Wiliam Cunningham frequently indicates donations to the poor and beggars of the area amongst other things.

The following song is attributed to Richard Brome appears in a black-letter copy of the Bagford Collection, where it is entitled The Beggars’ Chorus in the ‘Jovial Crew, published in ANCIENT POEMS BALLADS AND SONGS OF THE PEASANTRY OF ENGLAND edited by ROBERT BELL in 1857. It really describes the life of a beggar in the late 17th Century.

 There was a jovial beggar,
      He had a wooden leg,
   Lame from his cradle,
      And forced for to beg.
And a begging we will go, we’ll go, we’ll go;
And a begging we will go!

   A bag for his oatmeal,
      Another for his salt;
   And a pair of crutches,
      To show that he can halt.
            And a begging, &c.

   A bag for his wheat,
      Another for his rye;
   A little bottle by his side,
      To drink when he’s a-dry.
            And a begging, &c.

   Seven years I begged
      For my old Master Wild,
   He taught me to beg
      When I was but a child.
            And a begging, &c.

   I begged for my master,
      And got him store of pelf;
   But now, Jove be praised!
      I’m begging for myself.
            And a begging, &c.

   In a hollow tree
      I live, and pay no rent;
   Providence provides for me,
      And I am well content.
            And a begging, &c.

   Of all the occupations,
      A beggar’s life’s the best;
   For whene’er he’s weary,
      He’ll lay him down and rest.
            And a begging, &c.

   I fear no plots against me,
      I live in open cell;
   Then who would be a king
      When beggars live so well?
And a begging we will go, we’ll go, we’ll go;
And a begging we will go!

Paisley to Sarasota, Florida: The Browning’s – Part 1

It’s late November 1885, around one 100 Scots are gathering at the docks in Glasgow to board Anchor Lines SS Furnessia with the intention of forming a new Scots Colony in Sarasota, Florida.  Amongst the 100 are two Paisley families the Lawrie’s and the Browning’s who have sold their possessions at auction and are heading to Sarasota to begin a new life.

The Lawrie’s and Browning’s were related. Ellen Lawrie, wife of John Lawrie, was the sister of John Browning and both descended from an old Paisley family. The first recorded Browning in Paisley is Gavin, who operated a drug store at No 1 the High Street, part of the tollbooth on the corner of Moss Street.  In the 1783 trade directory he is recorded as a ‘Druggust’ an occupation repeated on a headstone in the graveyard at Oakshaw Trinity Church which states Lair 199 “The Property of Gavin Browning Druggist 1800”. Gavin’s oldest son, another Gavin went on to study at Glasgow University and became a surgeon in Paisley.

If we move on to 1885, the Browning’s had become timber merchants and Cartwrights in the Paisley with successful businesses established in Orchard Street.  Alexander, John and Ellen’s father had run the businesses for many years, but Paisley Burgh Council were planning to redevelop Gordon’s Loan, the area we know today as Gordon Street with the old fire station dividing the road.  The Browning’s who were operating their timber mill, and a cartwright building business from two connected properties on Orchard Street had to decide what to do?

According to John Browning’s memoirs there had been some talk within the family of moving to South Africa to take advantage of the gold diamond mining happening there, but at the same time a leaflet about a proposed Scots Colony in Florida came into the possession of the Lawrie family.  Named the Ormiston Colony of Scotland after the estate of Sir John Gillespie near Edinburgh, for the sum of £100 a family could purchase a town residence and 40 acres of land outwith the town.  With the purchase of the properties in orchard Street, and the Lawrie business in the Sneddon had recently been destroyed by fire, this new venture in Sarasota was very appealing to both families.

John’s father sold the land on Orchard Street, while his eldest son, Alexander set up a new Cartwright and Timber merchants shop elsewhere in town, and John Browning and Ellen Lawrie’s families moved to Florida arriving on the 10 Dec 1885.

There is little to show where the timber & cartwright business was on Orchard Street today, but the site of the Timber Yard & Cartwright shop partly survives as the small carpark bounded by Gordon Street.

The late 19th Century Browning family was large.   Alexander Browning had 6 children and 24 grand-children.  Of the two families who emigrated in 1885, 12 grand-children moved to Florida, with the others remaining in Paisley and the local area with their respective families.  

Are you descended from the Browning family?  The hunt is now on to track down descendants of the Browning family who remained in Paisley.  Megan and her family,  descendants of John Browning’s oldest son Alexander who was 19 when he left Paisley plans to visit the town at some point in 2022 when restrictions allow and would like to know if there are any living relatives in the area.  

If you are related and would like to connect, please contact us using our contact form.

The featured image of John Brownings family taken in America. It is dated 1885, but I believe it is a few years later, as Johns youngest daughters were 12 and 4 when they arrived in New York, and they appear to be older in this image. Image source: from the Henry B. Plant Museum.

This is the first of several blog posts on the browning family which will follow what happened to them when they arrived in America.

Year of Stories – blog 1

Today, 10th January 2022, I should have been delivering a zoom talk to the Ontario Genealogical Societies Scottish Interest Group on Paisley Weavers. Unfortunately, I have had no voice for the last 5 days and the talk has been rescheduled for late February. Hopefully the voice returns soon, but it hasn’t stopped me reading or preparing notes and materials for walks, talks and blogs.

2022 is the Scottish Year of Stories, and throughout the year I plan on posting new blog posts on a regular basis looking at aspects of Paisley & Renfrewshire’s history that have never been told, based on local families & businesses away from the usual textile history of the area.

The first blog post will be published later this week and will introduce you to a Paisley family that had a a successful business in town and made a big impact in America, yet remain unrecorded in Paisleys history

If you a story about your ancestors that you would like to share and maybe find out a bit more about them, please contact us via our contact us page.

New for 2022

Launching in late 2022 we have our first in person course since early 2020. We will be using a new venue – Paisley St George’s church on Causeyside Street in Paisley which is close to bus roots and has a car park at its rear.

The first course will start on Monday 24th January at 7pm we will start looking at “Beginners Genealogy” a 4 week course introducing you to researching your family history using Scottish Records. On the 7th March we will start a new 4 week course looking at ‘Renfrewshire’s Archaeology’.

Courses cost £60 each and will be available to book from Monday 22nd November 2021

More details will be published shortly.

Theme: Elation by Kaira.
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