Renfrewshire (4)

By The Imperial gazetteer of Scotland. Vol.II. by Rev. John Marius Wilson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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The modern county is a political unit. It is the division of a kingdom administered by a sheriff, and this system dates back at least as far as the reign of David I (1124-1153). All such divisions may be called counties, but it is only to some of them that the name shire can be applied. Caithness and Sutherland, for example, are counties, but not shires, while Renfrew may be called either shire or county. An explanation of the names makes this distinction clear. The word shire is said to be allied to share and shear, and consequently to the Anglo-Saxon seeran - to cut. It would therefore mean a piece cut off. Professor Skeat, however, now derives shire from Anglo-Saxon scirian to distribute, appoint. The shires were portions of a kingdom which were originally governed by the great earls of the country, who in many cases took their titles from the districts they ruled. Renfrewshire was a part of the old kingdom of Strathclyde. When William I had conquered England, many of the English earls were dispossessed of their lands, which were given to William's companions or comites. Each district was therefore called a comitatus, or, in its French form, comte, from which we get the word county. The counties of Caithness and Sutherland were in the hands of the Scandinavian Earls of Orkney (whence the name Southern Land), until the very end of the twelfth century, when they were subdued by William the Lion. When they became attached to the kingdom of Scotland the Norman terms were already in use, and therefore the Anglo-Saxon name does not apply to them.

Although the counties are divisions administered by the sheriffs of a king, their evolution has been a complex process. They are the final results of a long series of adjustments between different forces. The king, the church, the nobles, and in modern times the burghs, were centres of segregation that tended to group the community in different ways. Thus it happens that there is still a considerable amount of overlapping and confusion in the administrative divisions, not only of Renfrewshire, but of all the counties of Scotland. Yet working through all these discordant forces, the geographical factor is visible. The physical characteristics of a district have directed the other forces, and moulded the political divisions in harmony with natural regions. Of this fact Renfrewshire is a good example. It is hardly so complete a geographical unit as Lanarkshire, which comprises simply the upper and middle Clyde basin, but its boundaries have a well-defined geographical basis. The point at which a large river becomes too wide to be bridged is of prime importance. The stream of traffic down the valley divides here, and the up-river trade coalesces at this point. Hence a large town often grows up at such a place, and, at this place also, counties often terminate. Such is the case with the Clyde. Lanarkshire ends just where the river becomes too wide to be bridged conveniently. Above this point the banks of the river are embraced by one county. Below it, the river forms the boundary between Renfrew and Dumbarton.

The southern boundary is also in the main a natural one. A broad ridge of flat-topped, volcanic hills runs from south-east to north-west, separating Lanarkshire from Ayrshire. A continuation of the same ridge separates the latter county from Renfrewshire. The ridge is broken through by the Loch Libo valley and by the Lochwinnoch valley, but it keeps on its course and reaches its highest point in Hill of Stake on the borders of Renfrew and Ayr. The eastern boundary is a compromise between Lanark and Renfrew, in other words, a line approximately separating the middle from the lower basin of the Clyde.

Originally there was no such separation. Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire were one. William Hamilton of Wishaw, writing about 1710, tells us that "The shyre of Lanark was anciently of greater extent than now it is; for there was comprehended in it the whole sheriffdome of Ranfrew, lying laigher upon Clyde... untill it was disjoyned therefra by King Robert the Third, in anno 1402." Since then the changes in the boundaries of Renfrewshire have been geographically of little moment. Twenty years ago the Boundary Commissioners transferred certain areas from one parish to another, in some instances from one county to another, in order to rectify anomalies of administration, but these changes were not of great importance save from the administrative point of view. The name Renfrew is said to be derived from rhyn a point of land, and frew - the flowing of water; there are, however, other explanations of the word. The district was formerly called Strathgryfe from the name of one of its most important rivers.

Mort, Frederick. Renfrewshire. Cambridge: University Press, 1919.


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History of Renfrewshire

History of Renfrewshire (3)




With a Map of the County.


publisher by appointment to the late Queen Victoria,





























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Saturday, 08 November 2014 13:45

Chapter 1 - History of the County of Renfrew

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Early Inhabitants.

Passing by the River-drift men and the Cave men, who belong to archaeology rather than to history, we may take it as settled that the district was inhabited at a very early period by the Ivernians or Iberians - a short, black-haired, dark- eyed, and swarthy complexioned people, with long or oval heads, and speaking a non- Aryan language. The land of their origin is unknown, but by some it is placed in the Western Ocean and identified with the fabled continent of Atlantis. At one time they inhabited the whole of Europe west and north of the Rhone and the Rhine, Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and the North of Afirica, and are said to have had affinities with the Firbolgs in Ireland, the Silures in Wales, the Aquitani between the Pyrenees and the Loire, the Etruscans in Italy, the Sicani in Sicily, the Basques in Spain, and the Berbers in Africa. A people of the neolithic age, they were more civilized than their predecessors^ the Cave men. They were acquainted with cereals, had domesticated animals, and are regarded as the founders of modern European civilization. Whatever may be the number of the remains they have left elsewhere, those which have been ascribed to them as found in Renfirewshire are few and of doubtful origin. Still, it is not altogether improbable that they fashioned the canoes which were dug up some time ago in the parish of Lochwinnoch, and that the personal ornaments found in a cist at Houston belonged to them.1

The Iberians were followed by the Goidels or Gaels, the vanguard of that great Aryan army which was destined to rule the west. Of Celtic origin, the Goidels were in personal appearance altogether unlike the Iberians. They were tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed, with light complexions and broad heads. Armed with weapons of bronze they drove the Iberians into the west or reduced them to slavery. By some their arrival in Great Britain is set down as early as the ninth century B.C., and by others as late as the sixth or seventh. 2 They were the builders of those vast megalithic structures which, though in ruins, still stir the imagination of the beholder at Avebury and Stonehenge, and of the smaller circles, which are scattered over the moors and hilltops of Great Britain. 3

After the Goidels came the Brythons or Britons, who were also Celts, Their arrival in Britain is set down at from two to five centuries before our era.4 They were armed with weapons of iron. Landing on the eastern and south-eastern coasts of Britain, they gradually drove the Goidels into the west, who there inter-married with the Iberians, and often joined hands with them against the invaders. At one time the Goidels, it is said, occupied the whole of the west of England from the Solway to the Severn ; but under the pressure of the Brythons they were forced back upon the mixed population of Wales and driven southward into Cornwall and Devon, and northward into Cumberland and Lanarkshire, and beyond the Clyde.

During the Roman occupation Renfrewshire was inhabited by the Goidelic Dumnonians, except in the east, where in the Mearns, as the name implies,5 was a tribe or clan or settlement of the Maeatae. The Dumnonians were related to the Damnonians of Cornwall and Devon, who were probably their superiors in the arts of civilization, in consequence of their more frequent intercourse with foreigners. The Maeatae are usually mentioned along with the Caledonians, and are supposed to have come like them from the north. Both are described as "living in utter savagery, without agriculture, or any dwellings but tents, and having wives in common, living in marshes on roots and other such food, naked, tatooed, armed with spears having a chain and knob attached to them to strike terror by noise." 6 How far this description is true, and whether it represents "a Celtic people which by long isolation had gone back into savagery, or a race non-Celtic and perhaps non-Aryan, which had succeeded in overpowering its neighbours," are questions to which satisfactory answers have not been given. The two tribes are first mentioned towards the close of the second century A.D., by which time they appear to have got possession of the country adjacent to the Northern Wall ; possibly they had also gained a footing on the south side of the Firth of Forth. 7 In 208 Severus led an expedition against them. Soon after his return, the Maeatae were again in arms, and were joined by the Caledonians. Severus died in 211, and it was probably not till after this that a clan of the Maeatae settled in Renfrewshire. Whether this clan was among those who were subsequently called Picts, and along with the Scots became a terror to the Romanized Britons of the South, are questions which need not here detain us.8

Traces of the Roman occupation in Renfrewshire are few. A camp at Paisley and a few Roman coins, discovered near that town, are all that are recorded. Of the coins nothing is known. They were dispersed immediately after their discovery, and have gone no one knows where. The camp was situated on Oakshawhead, on the site now occupied by the John Neilson Institution. It had two outposts - one on Woodside, the other on Castlehead. The view from the three stations commands almost the whole of the lower reaches of the Clyde. Roads probably connected the camp with Carstairs on the south, with the camp at Loudon Hill on the west, and with the Clyde at a point opposite to the west end of the great Wall of Antoninus. Down to the end of the seventeenth century the Clyde above Dumbarton was by no means deep, and at low water was easily fordable at several places, and it is not improbable that the camps at Loudon Hill and Paisley were held by the Romans in order to prevent the natives on the north of the wall from out- flanking it, and then crossing the Clyde to invade Kyle and Cunningham and the country to the south.

1 For the Iberians see Elton, Origins of English History; Boyd Dawkins, Early Man in Britain; Skene, Celtic Scotland vol. i.; D'Arbois de Jubainville, Les Premiers Habitants de l'Europe; Prof. Rhys, Celtic Britain; Freeman, History of Sicily, vol. i.; Rhys and Jones, The Welsh People ; Furneaux, The Agricola of Tacitus, Introduction and Notes.

2 D'Arbois de Jubainville gives 958-800 B.C., Les Premiers Habitants, ii. 283, and Les Celts Prof. Rhys and Mr. B. Jones appear to favour a later date. ''On the whole we dare not suppose the Goidels to have come to Britain much later than the sixth century B.C.; rather should we say they probably began to arrive in the country earlier." Welsh People, pp. 11 and 34.

3 Boyd Dawkins, 376-7.

4 D'Arbois de Jubainville, Les Premiers Habitants, ii. 283, 295; Rhys and Jones, 10, 35.

5 Rhys, Celtic Britain, 155-6.

6 Fumeauz, 29 ; see also Elton, 169-70. The original sources of the description are Dio, 76. 12; Herodian, 3. 14.

7 Rhys, Celtic Britain, 91.

8 Adamnan in hia Life of Columba speaks of the Maeatae by themselves and calls them the Miathi (i. 8). The meaning and origin of their name appears to be unknown. Referring to Dr. Skene's derivation of it, Prof. Rhys remarks, ''there is no reason whatever to think that it has anything to do with the Goidelic word mag,, a plain or field, as some take for granted." Celtic Britain, 297.

Sunday, 24 August 2014 17:36

Church of St Colm, Kilmacolm

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Church of St Colm, Kilmacolm

Renfrewshire, Scotland

  The name of the village, Kilmacolm, means "the Church of beloved Columcille, or Columba" from the fact that a church was established there around the sixth century by one of St Columba's monks from the island of Iona. Christianity took root in the area and there are traces of several of the celtic saints who lived or preached in the country around, the most notable of these being St Fillan, after whom the neighboring district of Kilellan is named. After the arrival of the Cluniac monks to found the great monastery of Paisley in the twelfth century the church of Kilmacolm, as it had become known, passed into the care of the Abbey and was served by the monks through chaplains until the Protestant Reformation, in the sixteenth century, displaced the monks and proscribed the old religion. In the nineteenth century Catholicism slowly returned to Renfrewshire as Scots from the highlands and islands and Irish immigrants arrived looking for work in the prosperous lowlands of Scotland and they were served by priests based in Paisley, Greenock and, closest to,our village, by the new church of St Fillan in nearby Houston. In 1945 a small, run-down bothy near the centre of the village was purchased and, with the help of volunteers from the neighboring town of Port Glasgow, it was transformed into a building for the use of the growing Catholic population. The ground floor became a small hall for social purposes and on 9th June of that year, the Feast Day of St Columba, the upper floor was dedicated as a church under his patronage and in his local name of St Colm. This "Upper Room", as it came to be known, served the people well, but as the population increased it became to small, and so plans were laid for a new building on the same site. The new church of St Colm was formally opened and dedicated by Bishop John Mone of Paisley on 22nd November 1992, and is a building of which the congregation is justly proud. But the Church cannot stand still! Kilmacolm had been part of a joint parish with the village of Bishopton since 1946, but, like all youngsters, the time had now come to leave the nest! The congregation had petitioned the diocese long and weary for their autonomy and at last their wish was granted. On Christmas Day 1995 the quasi-Parish of St Colm, Kilmacolm, was created within the Diocese of paisley and the Rev. Willie McDade was appointed the first parish priest. God has brought us this far.Only he knows what the future hold for us!




With a Map of the County.


publisher by appointment to the late Queen Victoria,



THE County of Renfrew lies between 55° 40' and 55° 58' north latitude, and between 4° 14' and 4° 54' west longitude. It is bounded on the east and north-east by the county of Lanark, on the south by. Ayrshire, and on the west and north by the Clyde, with the exception of a small portion, opposite to the town of Renfrew, on the north bank of the Clyde, adjacent to the county of Dumbarton. The greatest length of the county, which is from south-east to north-west, is 31 1/2 miles, and its greatest breadth, which is from north to south, is 13 1/4 miles. Its area is 254 square miles, or 162,427 acres, 1,294 of which are on the north of the Clyde. In 1901 the population of the county was 293,451.

The coast line of the shire, which on the west and north-west is bold and rocky, but elsewhere low and flat, extends from the Kelly Burn, near Wemyss Bay, to the lands of the House of Elderslie, in the parish of Renfrew, and is about 30 miles long. The chief promontories are Wemyss Point, Ardgowan Point, Cloch Point, Kempoch Point, Fort Matilda Point, and Garvel Point. The chief indentations are Wemyss Bay, Inverkip Bay, Lunderton Bay, Gourock Bay, the Bay of St. Lawrence, and Newark Bay.

There are two islands in the shire: Newshot Island in the Clyde, about 50 acres in extent, and Colin's Isle in the Cart. Formerly the Clyde ran close to the Burgh of Renfrew and cut through the grounds of Elderslie House, and thus formed a third island, known as the King's Inch.

The general surface of the county is considerably elevated above sea level, but there are. no great irregularities. There are extensive moors, the greatest of which is Duchal Moor, in the parish of Kilmacolm. The ground rises to the greatest height in the east and west. The principal hills are Blackwood Hill (1,200 feet) and Myers Hill (1,100 feet), in the parish of Eaglesham; the Hill of Staik (1,711 feet), East Girt Hill (1,673 feet), Misty Law (1,663 feet), and Queenside Hill (1,540 feet), in the parish of Loch-winnoch; Creuch Hill (1,446 feet), Knockminwood Hill (1,253 feet), Hydal Hill (1,244 feet), and The Laird's Seat (1,054 feet), in the parish of Kilmacolm. In the south of the county are the Fereneze Hills and Neilston Pad. Lesser heights occur throughout the county. Parts of the shire are well wooded, and here and there are scenes of great beauty. To the north of Paisley is a beautiful piece of level country, about six miles long by three broad, known as the Laighlands.

Besides the Clyde, the principal rivers are the Cart and its parent streams, the White Cart, the Black Cart, and the Gryfe Water. The White Cart rises near the point where the three counties of Lanark, Renfrew, and Ayr meet. It flows through the parish of Eaglesham, along the boundary between Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, through the parish of Cathcart, past Pollokshaws, Crookston Castle, and through Paisley to Inchinnan Bridge, where it is joined by the united waters of the Black Cart and the Gryfe. It receives the Threepland, Ardoch, and Holehill Burns, the Earn Water, the Auldhouse Burn, the Levern Water near Crookston Castle, and the Espedair Burn at Paisley. The Black Cart issues from the north end of Castle Semple Loch, and flows past Johnstone and Linwood to Walkinshaw, where it is joined by the Gryfe. The Gryfe rises among the high lands south of Greenock, and after flowing past Bridge of Weir and Crosslee, joins the Black Cart at Walkinshaw. Their united waters join the White Cart at Inchinnan Bridge and form the Cart, which flows into the Clyde. The Kipp and the Daff are small streams in the parish of Inverkip. The Calder rises in Kilmacolm Moss, and flows eastward into Castle Semple Loch.

The principal lakes are the loch just named in the parish of Lochwinnoch, Loch Long and Loch Libo in the parish of Neilston, Brother Loch and Black Loch in the parish of Mearns, and Binend Loch and Lochgoin in the parish of Eaglesham.

Rocks of volcanic origin abound, especially in the higher parts of the shire, and have been moulded into their present forms by glacial action. Among the uplands of Misty Law, in the heart of the Renfrewshire part of the Clyde volcanic plateau, is a remarkable group of vents with a connected mass of tuff and agglomerate occupying a space of about four miles in length and two and a half miles in breadth. Strata of tuff and lava occur also in other places. Near Paisley is a platform of glacial clay with Arctic shells. The markings on the rocks show that the motion of the ice was towards the south. The southeastern portion of the county belongs to the great western coal-field of Scotland. At Quarrelton the coal bed was found to be of extraordinary thickness. Coal has been wrought at Hurlet for over three hundred years.

The sulphates found in abundance in the mines there have given rise to important chemical industries. Coal is found as far west as Inkerman and Bishopton, and is usually accompanied by iron either in beds or in balls. Sandstone and limestone are found in several parts of the county. In the west, from Port-Glasgow south to Ayrshire, red sandstone prevails, intermingled with porphyry and greenstone.

On the moorlands the soil is thin, poor, and cold, though here and there excellent pasture is found. The arable land is chiefly in the north and north-east, in the middle of the county and along the banks of the Black Cart, where the soil is a rich loam varying in depth from a few inches to several feet. In the Laighlands, to the north of Paisley, the soil is generally a deep, rich loam of a dark brown colour, resembling carse clay.
The climate, owing to the western position of the county, is greatly influenced by the breezes from the Atlantic Ocean. West and south-west winds prevail during the greater part of the year. Hence the climate in the west is both mild and moist; but less moist in the eastern parts. The yearly rainfall at Greenock averages about 6096 inches, and at Paisley about 37.90 inches.

The county was at one time well wooded, as is indicated by the names Eastwood, Stanely Wood, Fereneze Forest, and Paisley Forest. Ancient records show that the woods abounded in game, and the rivers in fish. The White Cart was at one time famous for its pearls.

Before the Reformation the county consisted of fourteen parishes, and of parts of three others. In 1589 the parish of Greenock was disjoined from the parish of Inverkip, and Port-Glasgow from Kilmacolm in 1694. Other parishes have been formed out of the parish of Greenock and the Abbey (Paisley) parish. The division of the county into two wards-the Upper and Lower Wards-was not officially recognised till the year 1815. For Parliamentary and other purposes the shire is now divided into two districts-the Eastern and the Western.

Sunday, 24 August 2014 17:29

Preface - History of the County of Renfrew

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With a Map of the County.


publisher by appointment to the late Queen Victoria,



IN the following pages I have tried to tell the history of the County of Renfrew in connection with the history of the country.

Use has been made of Crawfurd's History of the Shire and of the editions of it published by Semple and Robertson; but the contents of the volume and the references placed at the foot of the pages, will chew that the lines on which the present history has been written are different from those followed by Crawfurd, and that other sources, printed and unprinted, have been used. My thanks are due to my brethren of the Presbytery of Paisley for the free use they have allowed me of their invaluable Records, and to those of the ministers and gentlemen in the shire who have so readily favoured me with information respecting their various parishes.

I have also to express my sincere thanks to Colonel King, the Chairman of the County Council, for permission to snake use of the armorial bearings of the County; to James Caldwell, Esq., of Craigielea, for the use of the first volume of the Craigends Papers, which unfortunately reached me too late to be used in the body of the work, but from which extracts are given in the Appendix ; to the Rev. Walter Macleod, Edinburgh, for reporting on the two Paisley Regality Books in the Register House; to the Secretary of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, for permission to reproduce the Ordnance Survey Map of the County; and to the Director General of the Ordnance Survey.

The obligations I am under to my friend the Rev. R. D. MacKenzie, B.D., minister of the parish of Kilbarchan, and author of an excellent history of that parish, are very great, both for the care with which he has read the proofs and for the many and valuable suggestions he has given me.

I can scarcely hope that I have escaped falling into error. In this respect those who have experience of the difficulty of attaining to absolute accuracy in a work where almost every page bristles with names and dates, will, I am sure, be my most lenient censors.

As a rule, I have adopted the spelling of the names of individuals and places which I found in the authorities before me at the time of writing. Hence a name is sometimes spelled in different ways on the same page. The plan has its drawbacks, but it has also its advantages.

W. M. M.
PAISLEY, November, 1905.