Category: History

History articles

County Buildings & Jail

County Square, Paisley

Paisley’s 19th century County Buildings & Jail, sat between county Square and the River White Cart. They replaced Paisley Tollbooth that sat at the corner of the High Street and Moss Street. In turn The County of Renfrew decided that their space in the buildings was too small and in 1887 they decided to build new county buildings beside the Sheriff Count on St James St. (see this post for details)

To view the location and location of the buildings associated with the County Buildings and Jail have a look at the National Library of Scotland’s Map website. The link below will take you to the County Square (known originally as County Place). The County Buildings face on to the Square, while the Jail is at the rear.

County Buildings – 1822 Entitled Public Offices, Jail and Bridewell. In this image the gatehouse entrance to the Police Station and the Female Ward of the Jail have not been constructed.

Image used with permission – to view original on Canmore click image or this link. 
Paisley Jail – the Female ‘Ward’ is the range of buildings to the left. the Male ‘Wards’ are partially obscured to the right.
Image used with permission – to view original on Canmore click image or this link. 

County Buildings to left, Gatehouse entrance to Police Station and Jail to rear during demolition.
Image used with permission – to view original on Canmore click image or this link. 

The “Newshot”, Fleming & Ferguson, Paisley 1943

Today if you mention Paisley ship building to residents or visitors they are very surprised.  Paisley’s ship building heritage has a long history, from building canal boats at Saucel, to numerous ship yards on the White Cart.

Fleming & Ferguson has its origins in 1885 when William Y Fleming bought over the Phoenix shipyard of H McIntyre & Co.  William Y had started his own engineering works in 1877, and  a year later moved to larger premises in Murray Street.  When he  purchased the Phoenix yard from Hugh MacIntyre he closed Murray Street.  In 1895 Ferguson joined the firm and it was renamed Fleming & Ferguson  and they entered the shipbuilding business in full.   In 1903 Ferguson broke away from the firm and established Ferguson Brothers in a yard in Port Glasgow.  They believed the paisley firm was going to fail.

The yard specialised in vessels harbour construction and maintenance.  Dredgers, hopper barges and smaller vessels were often seen being launched in Paisley.

In 1965 the yard was purchased by American Marine & Machinery Co., but the companies assets were purchased by Alexander Stephen Engineering Ltd of Glasgow.   In October 2001 Fleming & Ferguson was dissolved as a company.

The “Newshot” a model of which is pictured here, began its life in the Fleming & Ferguson yard in Paisley when it was ordered by Ministry of War Transport in 1943.  It was one of four crane ships ordered and was given the name MOWT10. The 60 ton crane was built by Sir William Arrol & Co.

Newshot Crane
Newshot Crane

After the war, MOWT10 was sold to the Clyde Navigation Trust who renamed her “Newshot” after the Newshot Island  close to Erskine.  The model in the picture was built by R. Lochead and is on display in the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine.

Paisley Abbey Wee Dig 2017

During September 2017, Renfrewshire Council commissioned GUARD Archaeology LTD to undertake further excavation work on the site of Paisley Abbey’s Medieval Drain.

The following two videos were published by the Paisley 2021 YouTube channel and tell the story of the dig.

Both videos here are hosted on YouTube.


Names of the witches (in Scotland) 1658 – Welcome Library

The Welcome Library has recently published a fascinating book from 1658 to c1662 with a list of witches named in Scotland.   The original manuscript list is written by several hands, but also contains a later transcript. The original document is endorsed: ‘Names of the witches. 1658’.  There is one short section on Renfrewshire.
You can view the document below.

“Royal Victoria”

Paisley in March 1838

On the 1st of March 1838 Messers Barr and McNab of the Abercorn launched the first ever steamer built on the white Cart. This iron boat was 38.1 meters in length a breadth of 4.27 meters and had a depth of 2.84 meters. The hull weighed 45 tons.

The Royal Victoria was pulled by by block and tackle, on rollers from the Abercorn Yard to a field opposite Carlile’s thread mill where she entered the water broadside. As she entered the water several guns and a small cannon were fired, and thousands of spectators on both sides of the river cheered. Provost Drummond named the ship and broke the bottle, naming her the ‘Royal Victoria’

The canon used accidentally burst, injuring a a young boy, who later died.

On the 3rd March a letter was sent by the Provost to Lord Melbourne PM, where he states that in line with the an act of Parliament 2 years early, he was pleased to report that the Cart was now navigable from the Clyde to Paisley, and asking him to inform her Majesty the Queen of the launch of the ‘Royal Victoria’ to show her the esteem in which she was held by the people of Paisley.

A few days later on the 6th March an answer was received from Lord Melbourne:

“Downing Street, March 6, 1838.

i beg to acknowledge your letter of the 3rd instant, which I have received this morning. I have without delay submitted it to Her Majesty. she was pleased to express herself most gratified by this demonstration of affection and attachment of the inhabitants of Paisley.

I am, sir,

your faithful and obedient servant,


On the 13th of April, 1838, the “Royal Victoria” got up steam and went down the river. She ran from the mouth of the Cart to Greenock in one hour and a quarter.  The figurehead represented the Queen with a scepter in hand and crowned, although the coronation ceremony had not then been performed ; the stern windows had a portrait of the Queen, above which was the Regalia, and the Paisley arms below. On the 25th of April, 1838, the following advertisement appeared:


The encouragement given to the ” Royal Victoria” was not sufficient to maintain her on the Cart. She was soon, therefore, withdrawn from that river, and ran for a time between Glasgow, Largs, and intervening ports. In the month of June, 1838, she was advertised for sale.

County and Sheriff Court Buildings

County Buildings and Sheriff Court, Underwood Road
County Buildings and Sheriff Court, Underwood Road

By an arrangement entered into between the County and Burgh authorities, an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1887, under which the County authorities renounced their interest in the old County Buildings in County Square, and they erected the new County Buildings, which contain a County Hall, offices for the County Clerk, Treasurer and Collector, the County Road Clerk, the Justice of Peace Clerk, the Health and Sanitary Department, County Police Office with cells and other requirements, and a Justice of Peace Court Hall. The buildings were completed in 1891, from designs prepared by Mr George Bell, Architect, Glasgow, at a cost of £32,000. On the Frieze there is some fine Sculpture work, executed by Mr Frederick W Pomeroy, R.A., London.

The County Hall is large, and finished with great taste. In one of the rooms there is a fine Portrait of Sir Michael R. Shaw Stewart, Bart., the respected Convener of the County, painted by Professor Hubert Herkomer, R.A., London, and one of George, Fourth Earl of Glasgow, painted by Colvin Smith, R.S.A., Edinburgh.

The Sheriff Court Building adjoins the County Buildings on the west. It is in the Italian style, and was completed in 1885, at a cost of £22,000, from designs prepared by Mr Bell, Architect of the County Buildings. It contains a large and commodious Court Hall with accessories, and rooms for the Sheriff and Sheriff-Substitute, and offices for the Sheriff-Clerk and Procurator-Fiscal, and a Library for the Procurators.

Free Library and Museum

Free Library & Museum
Free Library & Museum

Ionic in style, with a tetrastyla portico and wings, this fine building was gifted to the town by the late Sir Peter Coats of Woodside. Originally £15,000 was expended on the structure, which was handed by the donor to the town, on condition that the Free Library Act was adopted. It was opened for public use in 1871. A few years after this it was found that the building was very inadequate for the increasing demands on its usefulness. With his usual liberality, Sir Peter Coats came forward to supply this, and in 1880 he proposed, at his own expense, to make an addition to the Lending Library, to give a more commodious room for the Reference Library; to make a large addition to the Museum, with a Sculpture Room and Picture Gallery. This handsome addition was opened in 1882.

In the Libraries there are over 25,000 volumes of standard literature, 7000 of which were received from the old Paisley Library, which was founded in 1802, and ceased to exist when the Free Library was opened. The Reference Library contains over 6000 volumes, 5000 of these having been presented by the Paisley Philosophical Society, which was established in 1806. Both libraries have been extensively patronised from their foundation onwards, and their influence for good on the community has been incalculable.

The Great Hall
The Great Hall

The Museum is rich in Natural History, in relics of the Past, and in specimens of Industrial Arts of the town and country generally. In every respect the Institution is one of singular completeness, and the visitor is strongly recommended to make acquaintance with its Natural History, Antiquarian, Artistic and Industrial treasures.

The free library and museum were very popular, so much so that the building again outgrew the extensions add by Peter Clark. The new extension, designed by the firm of Honeyman, Keppie and Mackintosh. It cost £7,000 which was donated by James Coats, son of Peter Coats. The extension was designed with a narrower version of the original temple front of what is now the museumand opened in 1904.

Paisley Museum, Art Gallery & Museum complex May 2015
Paisley Museum, Art Gallery & Museum complex May 2015


Infirmaries of Paisley

Infirmaries of Paisley

The Old Infirmary in Bridge Street, built in 1850, occupies the site of a Hospital founded in 1784, and is now (in 1896) used as a Dispensary and Hospital.

The New Infirmary at Calside  (which is in course of erection) is approached by Causeyside the Main thoroughfare south wards from Gilmour and Canal Street stations. The elegant building to the west of the Infirmary, fronting Calside, is the Nurses’ Home – the gift of Peter Coats, Esq., of Ferguslie Thread works. The accompanying sketches by the architect, Mr T. G. Abercrombie, will give an idea of the magnificent structures which adorn the southern part of the town, and benefit the whole community.

The Royal Victoria Eye Infirmary is situated at 1 Forbes Place, off Causeyside.

The Abbey Poorhouse, a large and handsome Elizabethan structure, and the Riccartsbar Lunatic Asylum, lie to the south-west of the New Infirmary. The visitor to Gleniffer, or the southern suburbs, can hardly fail to note these large and important edifices.

The Royal Alexandria Infirmary  as proposed
The Royal Alexandria Infirmary as proposed


RAI Nurses Home
RAI Nurses Home


Taken from the 1896 Guide of Paisley by J & R Parlane

Paisley Technical School

Paisley Technical School

Paisley Technical School
Paisley Technical School

This (in 1896) will soon be another addition to the educational institutions of the town, and, like most of the other institutions, is indebted to the liberality of her citizens for its existence. By the will of the late Peter Brough, £300 yearly was allocated for establishing a Science Lectureship. The trustees, however, instead of setting up such a lectureship, laid aside this sum annually, which, with a surplus from another part of the will, has now accumulated to £15,000.

Messrs J & P Coats have added £3,000, and also given the valuable site in George Street, with the buildings therein, formerly used as their dye works. In addition, the Directors of the Government School of Art, whose premises are in Gilmour Street, have agreed to hand over to the Technical School Governors their whole property, funds and effects.

With these accumulated sums the Governors have been enabled to take steps for the erection of the building. Premiums having been offered for designs, the one prepared by Mr T. G. Abercrombie has been successful, through whose courtesy we give the accompanying sketch. Besides various rooms, lavatories, etc., it will contain an art lecture hall for 300 pupils; a lecture hall for mechanical engineering, etc., to accommodate 200 students; a chemical lecture hall for 110 students; and a physical lecture hall for 100.

The Above is taken from the 1896 Guide to Paisley published by J & R Parlane.


The Technical School  eventually became Paisley College of Technology, and this building became known as the Gardiner Building.   It now hosts the Business School of the University of the West of Scotland.

Robert Tannahill – A Paisley Poet

Robert Tannahill – A Paisley Poet


Tannahills Statue
Tannahills Statue

In the Abbey Churchyard, opposite the main entrance to the Clark Town Hall.

Robert Tannahill, son of a Paisley weaver, and himself trained to follow his father’s calling, was one of Scotland’s sweetest native minstrels. Indeed, he takes rank with Lady Carolina Nairne -with whose genius his had much in common as a worthy compeer of Robert Burns; and in thus honouring one of the most distinguished of her sons, Paisley simply paid her own share of that wider homage yielded to this sweet singer wherever his beautiful songs have gone. The statue was erected as the outcome of open-air concerts held annually at Gleniffer Braes, on the anniversary of the poet’s birthday, in the years 1877-1884, the beautiful grounds being generously thrown open by the proprietor, Joseph Fulton, Esq. of The Glen. The handsome sum of £1100 was raised by this admirable display of public and artistic spirit. The statue is 7 feet 6 inches in height, and stands on a beautiful red granite pedestal. Along with the bas-relief on the front of the pedestal, the statue was modelled by D. W. Stevenson, A.R.S.A., Edinburgh, the design being selected from a number sent in competition by various eminent sculptors. The poet is represented as listening to the singing of one of his songs by a group of country maidens, than which, he wrote, ”nothing ever gave me greater pleasure.” Paisley of to-day has been kinder to Tannahill than was the Paisley of old; and has in this, and in many other ways, shown that it admires the genius, and mourns the sad and premature death of that townsman whom Gilfillan styled “a bit of Burns broken off.”


Tannahill's Birth Cottage
Tannahill’s Birth Cottage

Situated at 32 Castle Street; route by High Street and Wellmeadow Street (by car) till Castle Street, on the left, is reached. *(Now Demolished)

The house in which Tannahill was born, and which belonged to his parents, as was common among the weavers of the older dispensation, no longer exists, the present being merely a, house built on the identical site. (This house has also now long gone in 2015) The tablet, which is inscribed :-

BORN 3RD JUNE, 1774.
Here Nature first waked me to rapture and love,
And taught me her beauties to sing.

was taken from the old house, which had fallen into great disrepair. The centenary of Tannahill was publicly celebrated in Paisley in the year 1874. A procession to, and concert at, The Glen, and a public banquet attended by the leading -citizens, attested the esteem in which the memory of the gentle weaver poet is held by, all classes of the community.


Tannahillls Cottage
Tannahillls Cottage

Queen Street (next street), west of Castle Street, approached through Cross Street.

Tannahill’s parents having built and removed to this house while he was still young, it was here that he spent his early days, and those of his ripe and productive manhood. Here he lived and laboured, and here his body was brought after his lamented death in May, 1810. It is recorded that Tannahill fixed a rude little desk in such a position on his loom that he could there write down the fancies which struck his brain while his web was progressing. Doubtless those exquisite Scottish lyrics, “Gloomy Winter’s noo awa’,” “The Braes o’ Gleniffer,” “Bonnie Wood o’ Craigielea,” and many other of the sweet songs associated with his name were composed by Tannahill within this building. Numerous editions of his poems and songs have been published, the best among these being The Centenary Edition, by David Semple, Writer, which forms a fitting literary memorial of the distinguished lyrist.


Tannahills Grave
Tannahills Grave

ln the burying-ground of Canal Street U.P. Church (Castlehead Church); route, a continuation of Castle Street, a little beyond the bridge over railway.  This memorial stone is erected over the remains of the poet. It is a plain but elegant monument, and bears the following inscription:-

BORN 3rd JUNE, 1774
DIED 17th MAY, 1810




The Above is taken from the 1896 Guide to Paisley published by J & R Parlane.

Theme: Elation by Kaira.
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