Wil­lie Shand delves into Pais­ley’s his­tory as a tex­tile town

Wil­lie Shand weaves a fas­ci­nat­ing story about Scot­land’s tex­tile town.

The People's Friend - - Contents -

FLOW­ING down from Ea­gle­sham Moor in East Ren­frew­shire on its way to join the Clyde, the White Cart Wa­ter makes its dra­matic en­trance to the town of Pais­ley by spilling over a set of rapids known as the Hamills.

A lot of wa­ter has flowed this way since the town’s pa­tron saint, St Mirin, founded his wee chapel be­side the river.

Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, St Mirin came to Scot­land with St Columba in the 6th cen­tury.

If he were to re­turn to­day, I doubt he would recog­nise that spot, as it now lies at the very heart of Scot­land’s largest town: the town of Pais­ley.

He’d maybe be happy that the lo­cal foot­ball club still takes his name.

I’ll never for­get my first visit to the town. I’d been in­vited to an evening at Pais­ley Pho­to­graphic Club, at the end of which I set off for home, only to do a huge cir­cle – tak­ing in much of Glas­gow and pass­ing the venue again an hour later!

The town’s most prom­i­nent land­mark is its spec­tac­u­lar abbey, which was founded in 1163 by the then High Stew­ard of Scot­land, Wal­ter Fitza­lan, an an­ces­tor of the Royal House of Stew­art.

With its colour­ful, of­ten tur­bu­lent his­tory in­ter­wo­ven through not only that of the town, but also that of the na­tion, the abbey well de­serves its recog­ni­tion as the “Jewel in Pais­ley’s Crown”.

The high, stone-ribbed roof, in­tri­cate wood and stone carv­ings and beau­ti­ful stained-glass win­dows will surely take your breath away. Just look at the de­tail in the ma­sonry to the Great West Door­way.

The Wal­lace Memo­rial Win­dow cel­e­brates well­known Scot­tish his­tor­i­cal fig­ure Wil­liam Wal­lace, who is said to have been ed­u­cated here by the

monks of Pais­ley Abbey.

Be­neath the win­dow is the Barochan Cross – if you think the abbey’s old, this carved cross is a good few hun­dred years older!

One thing you might over­look is in the North Transept – a wooden vestibule used for stor­age.

I was amused by the guide’s story that this is a rel­a­tively re­cent ad­di­tion, de­signed as a mock-up of the en­trance to West­min­ster Abbey for the film­ing of 2008’s “Stone Of Des­tiny”.

Just to the north of the abbey is a statue to one of Pais­ley’s great­est sons, the weaver poet Robert Tan­nahill.

You’ll prob­a­bly know sev­eral of his songs, for ex­am­ple, “Jessie, The Flower of Dun­blane”, “The Braes o’ Balquhid­der” and “The Braes of Glenif­fer”.

A short walk be­yond the high street takes us to the cot­tage where Robert lived from in­fancy un­til his death in 1810. A brass plaque out­side the prop­erty reads: “He sang amid the shut­tles’ din,

The mu­sic of the woods.” If you’ve walked as far as his cot­tage, you may as well go the ex­tra wee bit to where Ge­orge Street crosses Maxwell­ton Street.

Right in the cen­tre of the busy cross­roads is set a bronze tondo fea­tur­ing a stain­less-steel horse­shoe and bear­ing the in­scrip­tion Pain In­flicted, Suf­fer­ing En­dured, In­jus­tice Done.

It re­mem­bers one of Pais­ley’s dark­est days, when, in 1697, seven peo­ple ac­cused of witchcraft were taken to the Gal­low Green to be burned at the stake.

They were buried at this spot, and the horse­shoe is in place to pre­vent their spir­its from re­turn­ing to trou­ble the liv­ing.

It’s said that so long as the horse­shoe re­mains, the town will pros­per.

It’s a very busy in­ter­sec­tion, and any pho­to­graph of the shoe has to be care­fully timed to that brief mo­ment when both sets of traf­fic lights are red.

It’s not for the faint­hearted – if the lights change, you’re a goner!

As you walk around the town, you can’t help but no­tice a com­mon thread run­ning through some of the street names, like Cot­ton Street, Gauze Street and Silk Street.

Some would say Pais­ley made tex­tiles; oth­ers, that tex­tiles made Pais­ley. Both are equally true.

In the late 1700s there were as many as 6,800 looms in the town, work­ing to pro­duce an an­nual out­put of around two mil­lion yards of linen.

The qual­ity of that linen was such that it could com­mand prices higher than any made in Lon­don or Paris.

The name Pais­ley is, of course, known through­out the world for the fa­mous “Pais­ley pat­tern”, an an­cient teardrop pat­tern that goes back more than 2,000 years and which ac­tu­ally orig­i­nated far from our shores.

It was first found on the shawls pro­duced in Kash­mir, but af­ter the East In­dia Com­pany brought some of these gar­ments back to Bri­tain in the mid 1700s, the de­sign was soon be­ing tweaked to suit the Euro­pean mar­ket.

No-one could have fore­seen how pop­u­lar it would be, with prod­ucts bear­ing the pat­tern in such de­mand that they kept the mills’ or­der books full for more than a cen­tury.

You can’t go far in Pais­ley with­out meet­ing the name Coats. There’s the Coats Ob­ser­va­tory, for ex­am­ple, which is Scot­land’s old­est pub­lic build­ing of its kind.

There’s also the Thomas Coats Memo­rial Bap­tist Church, an enor­mous red sand­stone, neo-gothic build­ing that’s so grand it has been dubbed the Bap­tist Cathe­dral of Europe.

Prom­i­nent stat­ues of one Thomas Coats and his brother Peter can be found near the Town Cross, above Dunn Square.

When James Clark es­tab­lished his cot­ton thread mill in Pais­ley, he would have hoped for it to go from strength to strength.

But I doubt he could have imag­ined that one day, in the late 1800s, it would join with an­other Pais­ley thread maker – J&P Coats – to be­come the world’s third largest com­pany, with mills in all corners of the globe.

An old ad­vert claims: “What­ever the ma­te­rial, what­ever the colour, you’ll find a Coats thread to suit.”

The Pais­ley Thread Mill Mu­seum is run en­tirely by vol­un­teers.

One of the vol­un­teers, Mau­reen Cas­sels, is happy to tell me all about the firm, and how well it looked af­ter its many thou­sands of work­ers in Pais­ley alone.

They had their own ten­nis club, bowl­ing club, pho­tog­ra­phy

club – even their own sana­to­rium to cater for those suf­fer­ing from the ef­fects of the dusty fac­tory air.

“And,” she adds, “it was one of the first com­pa­nies to pro­vide a pen­sion for women.”

Ed­u­ca­tion was al­ways en­cour­aged here, and tal­ent was well re­warded through pro­mo­tion.

There were many mills spread around the town, with the one now hous­ing the mu­seum orig­i­nally an in­dus­trial fin­ish­ing mill.

It would cer­tainly be hard to imag­ine a world with­out thread.

Mau­reen shows me one of the one-mile pirns, and ad­mits she’s tempted to run the thread out and see if it re­ally does stretch the whole dis­tance.

Three women are busy sew­ing. Mary Mcke­own is work­ing on a rather spe­cial project – one of ten or so ta­pes­try pan­els be­ing pro­duced by a num­ber of lo­cal sew­ing groups that will come to­gether to form the “Ren­frew­shire Ta­pes­try”.

This will re­late the long and colour­ful his­tory of Ren­frew­shire.

The threads be­ing used are Clark’s “fast colour” threads, dated to the pre-war years, and made here in Pais­ley, of course.

Mary shows me a book con­tain­ing lots of small, sewn teardrop pan­els, pro­duced by dozens of other sew­ers, that will even­tu­ally be in­cor­po­rated into the ta­pes­try.

If you need a quick es­cape from the busy town cen­tre, just a few steps and you’re into the gar­dens of Dunn Square, with its fine statue of Queen Vic­to­ria.

A slightly longer walk takes us to the Foun­tain Gar­dens, Pais­ley’s old­est park.

Like the town’s Mu­seum and Gal­leries, the gar­dens were a gift from Thomas Coats, open­ing in 1868.

They’re well worth the walk, if only to see the cen­tre­piece “Grand Foun­tain”.

Four tiers and al­most 30 feet high, the foun­tain is painted brown, green and gold, and is dec­o­rated with life-size wal­ruses, crocodiles, dol­phins and herons.

It’s one of the best ex­am­ples of a Scot­tish­made cast-iron foun­tain.

A statue of Robert Burns over­looks the foun­tain, stand­ing with his pen and book in hand as he leans thought­fully against his plough.

Be­neath the pen­sive Burns is a scene from his poem “Tam O’ Shanter”, with the young witch dressed in her cutty sark – “o’ Pais­ley harn”, of course. ■

Pew de­tail in Pais­ley Abbey.

The White Cart Wa­ter.

Thomas Coats Memo­rial Bap­tist Church.

Robert Tan­nahill, the weaver poet.

The Grand Foun­tain and Burns Statue, Foun­tain Gar­den.

Work­ing on a panel of the Ren­frew­shire Ta­pes­try.

Dunn Square.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.