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Father of American Ornithology is honoured by his home town Paisley

ONE of Paisley’s famous sons who became known as the Father of American Ornithology has been honoured by his home town.

David Clugston, Honorary Librarian for the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club and Morag Macpherson, Renfrewshire Leisure’s Head of Cultural Services at the unveiling of Alexander Wilson plaque.

A commemorative plaque paying tribute to the life of Alexander Wilson – poet, artist, scientist, explorer and social commentator – was unveiled at Paisley Arts Centre.

And ironically, the Arts centre wall where the plaque is mounted is part of the former Laigh Kirk Church, where Wilson was baptised in 1766 by Rev John Witherspoon, signatory of the American Declaration of Independence.

Wilson rose to fame after he emigrated to America in 1794 and travelled 10,000 miles on foot across that country with the pioneering ambition of observing birds in their natural habitats, scrutinising behaviour, posture and habits and classifying the different species.

This culminated in the publication of nine volumes of the book American Ornithology featuring Wilson’s drawings, paintings and descriptions of more than 260 species of birds – with 25 species previously unknown – in North America.

By the time Wilson died of dysentery in 1813, seven volumes of American Ornithology had been published with the final two volumes produced posthumously.

Five species of bird have been named after Wilson – Wilson’s Storm-petrel; Wilson’s Plover; Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope and Wilson’s Warbler.

This amazing feat of Wilson’s, which took six years to complete and earned him credit for establishing ornithology as a science in America, was a far cry from his early years in Paisley.

He left school at the age of ten after his mother died and started work, first as a cow herder and then as an apprentice weaver.

Wilson became a poet and was a contemporary of Robert Burns and like many weavers became well read and a radical on social issues.

Alexander Wilson portrait.

But he fell foul of the law over a satirical account of a local mill owner and was imprisoned as he faced charges of libel and blackmail. But after a second run-in with the law over the distribution of radical propaganda, Wilson decided to emigrate.

The Historic Environment Scotland commemorative plaque was unveiled by David Clugston, Honorary Librarian for the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club.

Morag Macpherson, Renfrewshire Leisure’s Head of Cultural Services said: “The countryside around Paisley became Alexander Wilson’s playground in his early years and that exposure to the world of nature would have a profound effect on his later life.

“Soon after he arrived in America, Wilson developed a passion for the study of birds and his truly scientific approach to ornithology made him a pioneer.
“This Commemorative Plaque Scheme celebrates the lives of people who have made a significant difference to Scotland and its people.
“Paisley’s own Alexander Wilson certainly merits this honour.”

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“Star” Paisley Museum Burns manuscript to go on show every January

An original Burns manuscript that has been in Paisley Museum and Art Gallery’s collection for almost 100 years, but was only recently rediscovered and authenticated, is to go on display in the museum every January when light levels are low enough to protect the delicate ink on paper artifact, and to coincide with Burns Night.


Announcing the month-long exhibit in 2017 (January 17 – February 19) for St. Andrew’s Day (November 30), Renfrewshire Leisure chair, Councillor Jim Harte, said, “I am absolutely delighted that the only existing manuscript of a lovely piece of Burns social verse will be on display in Paisley Museum in the New Year for a limited period and each subsequent January thereafter.

“We are proud to possess this charming piece and thrilled to share it with visitors during what is an extremely important time for Scotland’s largest town. We will be finalising Paisley’s bid for the title UK City of Culture 2021 during the early part of 2017 and this fantastic exhibit reveals yet another layer to our fascinating culture.”

The short verse, written in reply to a party invitation, is in typical Burns style  including wordplay – he combines the tradition for indicating the day of writing with something that suggests he is worse for wear, in “Foorsday”; highlights his joy at the invite, and pledges his attendance whether by horse, or by cart.

The artifact was verified in a letter to the Museum last year by Professor Gerard Carruthers of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow. He said:

“The manuscript is clearly in the handwriting of Robert Burns. The ink and paper are a good match to other authentic Burns manuscript productions. 

“The poem dates from 1785 – 1786. The first publication to give an indication of its origins, and how it came to be in the collection of Paisley Library is ‘The Works of Robert Burns Volumes 1 – 5’ edited by The Ettrick Shepherd and William Motherwell. Motherwell was Secretary of the Paisley Burns Club in 1819 and became President in 1821. This puts him at the centre of Paisley literary life when the poem first surfaces. Motherwell noted that, ‘We are informed it was presented to the library by the late Mr. John Clarkson, of McGavin and Clarkson, threadmakers, Paisley’.”

The manuscript will be displayed alongside a portrait of Burns by James Tannock (1784 – 1862) also in Paisley Museum’s collection. Born in Kilmarnock, Tannock was originally a house painter, but after lessons from Alexander Nasmyth – who was a friend of Burns – became a successful portrait painter.


The manuscript reads:


Yours this moment I unseal,

And faith I’m gay and hearty!

To tell the truth and shame the deil,

I am as fou as Bartie:

But Foorsday, sir, my promise leal,

Expect me o’ your partie,

If on a beastie I can speel

Or hurl in a cartie.


Robert Burns



Monday Night, 10 o’clock

For more information on Paisley Museum visit www.renfrewshireleisure.com

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Paisley Art Institute Heads Art Prizes in Glasgow

Paisley’s Art Credentials Confirmed at National Exhibition 

Paisley’s history is credited with an award at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Art’s 153rd Annual Exhibition. The RGI’s historic show which showcases the best of contemporary art, opened at the weekend at The Mitchell Library with a huge exhibition of artists work from all over Britain and as far away from the USA.

The Kyles and Carrick Michael Durning

The Kyles and Carrick Michael Durning

Paisley Art Institute (PAI) members head the prize list with former president Michael Durning PAI RSW and Kate Inglis sharing top prize, “The City of Glasgow College Art Foundation Purchase Prize” of £8000. Carol Dewart PAI received the award to commemorate the Kilbarchan artist, Mary Armour to the value of £500.

Inglis and Durning chose to display monumental images of Scotlands industial maritime history, Durning painting “Kyles and The Carrick” shows the Clyde’s oldest ship, The Kyles, built on the Cart, in Paisley in 1876 by the ‘Clyde’s oldest shipbuilder’, John Fullerton who was also a president of Paisley Art Institute. The smaller iron boat is older than its neighbour the famous clipper ship, The Carrick, now undergoing restoration in Australia.

Kate Inglis’s detailed image of iconic, art deco, architecture on the Forth and Clyde Canal will be placed, with Durning’s painting, in the City of Glasgow College art collection and appropriately on permanent display in the newly built Maritime School.

The 153rd Royal Glasgow Institute Annual Exhibition at Mitchell Library opened Sat 12th Nov. continues 12th Nov. 2016,  Mon.- Sat. 9am – 5pm, Sun. 12-4pm

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Paisley Thread Mill/ Heritage Walk

Paisley Thread Mill Museum is staying open over the winter on a Wednesday afternoon 12 to 4pm (focus is on the Stitching Group)  and anyone can visit the museum at any other time when the Abbey Mill business Centre is open.  Full details are on the facebook page www.fb.me/PaisleyThreadMillMuseum  and the website  www.paisleythreadmill.co.uk.
There is also a heritage walk on the 29th October (1pm)  looking at Paisley’s Textile Heritage starting at Sma’ Shot Cottages and ending at the Anchor Mill Complex.  You can find more details about this on  www.fb.me/theurnbanhistorian  and the website   www.theurbanhistorian.co.uk.
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Forestry Commission speaks at next Natural History meeting

Paisley Natural History Society is continuing its autumn programme of evening talks with an illustrated talk by Derek Shannan, Community Ranger, Forestry Commission Scotland on Thursday 6 October at 7.30pm in Paisley Museum.


Forestry Commission Scotland manages the National Forest Estate, some of Scotland’s greatest natural assets. They are responsible for harvesting trees, planting new ones and play a fundamental role in wildlife, environment and heritage conservation.

Forests form part of the unique character of our countryside and Forestry Commission Scotland undertakes research to ensure sustainable forest management, supporting a wealth of biodiversity as well as providing places for people to work and visit.

The talk is free to attend and open to all.
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The mighty William Wallace

William Wallace was born in 1270 in Elderslie and was the son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie, a Scottish landowner.

Image Credit : http://imgkid.com/william-wallace.shtml

Image Credit : http://imgkid.com/william-wallace.shtml

Sir William Wallace was a Scottish knight who became one of the main leaders during the wars of Scottish Independence.  Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army at the battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297.  He was appointed Guardian of Scotland and served until his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298.

On 23rd August 1305, William Wallace was captured at Robroyston, near Glasgow, and handed over to the King, Edward 1 of England who tried him in Westminster Hall for treason and atrocities against English civilians in war, “sparing neither age nor sex, monk nor nun.” He responded to the treason charge:
“I cannot be a traitor, for I owe him no allegiance. He is not my Sovereign; he never received my homage; and whilst life is in this persecuted body, he never shall receive it. To the other points whereof I am accused, I freely confess them all. As Governor of my country, I have been an enemy to its enemies; I have slain the English; I have mortally opposed the English King; I have stormed and taken the towns and castles which he unjustly claimed as his own. If I or my soldiers have plundered or done injury to the houses or ministers of religion, I repent me of my sin; but it is not of Edward of England I shall ask pardon.”

Immediately after the show trial, Wallace was taken from the hall to the Tower of London, then stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield. He was then strangled by hanging, but cut loose while he was still alive, emasculated and eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded and finally cut into four parts. His head was placed on a pike on London Bridge and his limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth as a warning to others who may have rebelled. It did not have the desired effect! Since his death, Wallace has obtained an iconic status far beyond his homeland. A plaque stands in a wall of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital near the site of Wallace’s execution at Smithfield. Six months after William’s death Robert the Bruce declared himself king of Scotland.

The Wallace monument was unveiled on 28th September 1912 by Sir Thomas Glen Coats.  It was designed by Mr.J.C.Murray of Westminister.  It is 37 feet high and the base is 20 feet above street level.

The monument is a memorial erected to Scotland’s national hero, famous for his battles as part of the Scottish Wars of Independence.

Every August the Wallace Day parade takes place, with a march from Johnstone town centre to the Monument at Elderslie, where a service takes place.


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Doors Open Day – Sat 3rd Sept and Sun 4th Sept

Paisley Doors Open Day 2012 by JMS

We’re ready to step inside and explore Renfrewshire’s historic and beautiful buildings as their doors open to the public for the weekend. Here’s what’s on over the weekend.

Paisley Doors Open Day 2012 by JMS




Anchor Mill, 7 Thread Street, Paisley, PA1 1JR, Sat: 10.00-16.00, Woodhouse and Morley, 1886

Brediland Allotment Association, Cardell Drive, Paisley, PA2 9AE, Sat: 11.00-16.00

Church of the New Jerusalem, 17 George Street, Paisley, PA1 2LB, Sat: 10.30-15.30

Diane Mitchell Music School, Brick Lane Studios, Forrester House, 7/9 Weir Street, Paisley, PA3 4DW, Sat & Sun: 10.00-16.00

Holy Trinity & St Barnabas Scottish Episcopal Church, St James Place, Moss Street, Paisley, PA3 2AF, Sat: 10.00-16.00, Sun: 10.00-12.30 (including Service)

John Neilson Institute, Oakshaw Street West, Paisley, PA1 2DE, Sat: 10.00-14.00, Charles Wilson, 1852

Lagoon Leisure Centre, 13 Christie Street, Paisley, PA1 1NB, Sat & Sun: 10.00-13.00

Lapwing Lodge, Gleniffer Road, Paisley, PA2 8UL, Sat: 10:00-16:00,

Lodge Gleniffer 1219, 68 Maxwellton Road, Paisley, PA1 2RD, Sat: 9.00-17.00

Martyrs Sandyford Church, Broomlands Street, Paisley, PA1 2PP, Sat 10.00-13.00

Oakshaw Trinity Church, Oakshaw Street East, Paisley, PA1 2DD, Sat: 11.00-16.00

Paisley Abbey and the Place of Paisley, Abbey Close, PA1 1JG, Sat: Place of Paisley gift shop and café, 10.00-16.00. The Abbey (including the tower), 10.00-12.30 and 14.00-16.00

includes: Corsage workshop, 12:00pm – 2:00pm, Yarn Storming Public Workshop, 1:00pm – 4:00pm, Origami Workshop, 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Paisley Arts Centre, New Street, Paisley, PA1 1EZ, Sat: 11.00-16.00

Paisley Central Library, 68 High Street, PA1 2BB, Sat: 9:00-17:00

Paisley Central Methodist Hall, 2 Smithhills Street, Paisley, PA1 1EP, Sat: 11.00-16.00

Paisley Community Fire Station, 55 Canal Street, Paisley, PA1 2HQ, Sun: 10.00-16.00

Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, High Street, Paisley, PA1 2BA, Sat: 11.00-16.00, Sun: 14.00-17.00

Paisley Photographic Society, Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church, High Street, Paisley, PA1 2BA, Sat: 12.00-16.00

Paisley Sheriff Court, St James Street, Paisley, PA3 2HW, Sat: 10.00-16.00

Paisley Threadmill Museum, The Mile End Mill, Abbey Mill Business Centre, 12 Seedhill Road, PA1 1JS, Sat: 10.00-16.00

Paisley Town Hall, Abbey Close, Paisley, PA1 1JF, Sat: 11.00-16.00

Provost Charity Zip Slide (special event), East End Park, Paisley, PA1, Sat: 10.00-16.00

Renfrewshire House, Cotton Street, Paisley, PA1 1AN,  Sat: 10.00-14.00 (Customer Services Centre) 11.00-14.00 (Council Chambers)

Scottish Ambulance Service (new entry),  Paisley Ambulance Station, 15 Craw Road, Paisley, PA2 6AD, Sun: 12.00-15.00

Sma’ Shot Cottages, 2 Sma’ Shot Lane, Paisley, PA1 2HG, Sat: 10.00-16.00

St Matthew’s Church of the Nazarene, Gordon Street, Paisley, PA1 1XL, Sat: 10.30-15.30

St Mirin’s Cathedral, Incle Street, Paisley, PA1 1HR, Sat: 13.30-17.00

Tannahill’s Cottage, Queen Street, PA1 2TT, Sat: 11.00-15.00

The Bield, 40 Broomlands Street, Paisley, PA1 2NP (within Woodside Cemetery), Sat : 10.00-16.00

Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church, High Street Paisley, PA1 2BA, Sat: 12.00-16.00

Walking Tours on Wheels and Historical Paisley,  39 High Street, Paisley, PA1 2AF, Sat: tours at 11.00 and 13.00

Wallneuk North Church, Abercorn Street, Paisley, PA3 4AB, Sat:10.00-12.00



Inchinnan Bascule Bridge, A8 Inchinnan Road, Renfrew, Sat: 10.30-15.00, Bridge opening times – 11.00, 13.00 and 15.00

Renfrew Community Fire Station, Paisley Road, Renfrew, PA4 8LJ, Sun: 10.00-16.00

Renfrew Leisure Centre, Paisley Road, Renfrew, PA4 8JL, Sat & Sun: 9.00-17.30, Hourly tours run from 10.00-13.00

Renfrew Town Hall, Renfrew Cross, Renfrew, PA4 8PF, Sat: 11.00-16.00

Renfrew Victory Baths, Inchinnan Road, Renfrew, PA4 8ND, Sat: 9.00-13.30, Hourly tours from 10.00-13.00

St Margaret’s Scottish Episcopal Church, Oxford Road, Renfrew, PA4 8LG, Sat: 10.00-16.00

Trinity Church, 13 Paisley Road, Renfrew, PA4 8JH, Sat: 10:00-14:00



Auld Simon,Johnshill, Lochwinnoch, PA12 4ET, Sun: 11.00-17.00

Castle Semple Country Park, Lochlip Road, Lochwinnoch, PA12 4EA, Sat & Sun: 10.00-16.00

RSPB Lochwinnoch Nature Reserve, Largs Road, Lochwinnoch, PA12 4JF, Sat & Sun: 10:00-16.00


Bridge of Weir and Kilbarchan

Kilbarchan Parish Church, Steeple Square, Kilbarchan, PA10 2JD, Sun: 12.00-16.00

St Machar’s Ranfurly Church of Scotland (new entry), Kilbarchan Road, Bridge of Weir, PA11 3EG, Sat: 10.00-16.00

St Mary’s Episcopal Church, Johnstone Road, Bridge of Weir, PA11 3EE, Sun: 12.30-16.30


Houston and Johnstone

Houston and Killellan Kirk, Kirk Road, Houston, PA6 7AR, Sat: 10.00-16.00

Johnstone Community Fire Station, Kings Road, Johnstone, PA5 9HW, Sat: 9.00-16.00

Johnstone Community Sports Hub, Beith Road, Johnstone, PA5 0JA, Sat & Sun: 10.00-16.30

Johnstone History Museum, Morrisons Supermarket, Napier Street, Johnstone, PA5 8SF, Sat & Sun: 10.30-16.00

Johnstone Town Hall, 25 Church Street, Johnstone, PA5 8FA, Sat: 11.00-16.00


Erskine and Inchinnan

Erskine Community Allotments (new entry), Barrhill Road, Erskine, PA8 6BU, Sat: 10.30-16.30

Erskine Swimming Pool, BridgewaterShopping Centre, Erskine, PA8 7AA, Sun :10.00-13.00

Inchinnan Parish Church, Old Greenock Road, Inchinnan, PA4 9PB, Sat: 10.00-16.00

Park Mains High School, Barrhill Road, Erskine, PA8 6EY,  Sat: 10.00-13.00, Hourly tours



On-X (Linwood Sport and Community Centre), Brediland Road, Linwood, PA3 3RA, Sat & Sun: 9.00-16.30

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James Logan Monument – Craigielea

James Logan, son of an Ayrshire farmer arrived in Paisley at the end of the Eighteenth Century and set up a printing and Stationery business in Meetinghouse Lane, otherwise known as the ‘Dirty Steps’, off Moss Street.
The ‘Dirty Steps’: Meetinghouse Lane.
His business flourished and he acquired a piece of land at Westmarch. As time went on he expanded his portfolio of land by purchasing other plots as far as Underwood and, early in the Nineteenth Century and with his Westmarch estate now being of considerable size, he conceived the idea of becoming a Laird. On his Estate he built a Mansion, Westmarch House, and lived in it as a Bachelor until his death. He had set out in his Will that a monument should be built on the estate as well as a mausoleum in which he and his ‘Heirs of Entail’ should be buried.
Craigielea Drive - James Logan Monument Map wm 3
The Monument occupied a conspicuous site on the edge of the old Craigielee Wood (made famous by Robert Tannahills ” Thou Bonnie Wood O’ Craigielea”). On it was inscribed “In memory of James Logan Esq., of Westmarch who died 24th June, 1843. The Mausoleum was never built. His coffin containing a lead casket with his remains enclosed wasn’t interred in the grounds at Westmarch until some years later. By Mr Logans will it was directed that the monument and the ground on which it stood should be maintained for all time with access provided from the Roadway.
Craigielea Drive - James Logan Monument 1
In 1934 Westmarch Estate, all 12 Acres as well as Westmarch House, was purchased by Paisley Town Council to fulfil a need for good quality social housing and the streets of Craigielee Drive, Logan Drive, Drums and Tannahill were planned and developed. The Logan Monument stood side by side with the houses, tenements and tenants until about the mid-seventies when it was deemed to be unsafe and for health and Safety reason (yes, even back then) it was deconstructed, it’s whereabouts are unknown. By the years 2000’s the whole of Craigielea was cleared of housing and in 2008 a new Football Stadium was built for St Mirren F.C., directly on the land which had once been Craigielea House. What does remain however, is the small patch of land on which stood the James Logan Monument, seemingly sacrosanct for the past 170 years and in keeping with his will.
Craigielea Drive, James Logan Monument
Article courtesy of Roddy Boyd
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Brown & Polson, Paisley – From Boom to Bust

John Polson was born in Paisley in 1825.  He attended Paisley Grammar School and the Andersonian College in Glasgow before joining the family business.


Brown & Polson was established in 1840, when two muslin manufacturers (John Polson & Co and William Brown & son of Glasgow) collaborated and opened their first factory in Thrushcraigs, Paisley. Together they worked on the process of bleaching, scouring and scratching of muslin cloth.

It was here that John Polson discovered an ideal starch that could withstand bleaching.  After many experiments, he succeeded in making a starch for household use.  This was marketed in 1842 as ‘powder starch’ and was sold to housewives.

After the death of his father in 1843, John Polson Jnr took over the business.  He invented the process of making pure starch from maize. and in 1854 he took out a patent to market it as foodstuff.  It was to become a household name throughout the world as ‘Brown & Polson’s patent cornflour’ and made the company world famous. Even nowadays cornflour remains a standard store cupboard item.


Brown & Polson began producing starch and cornflour in the 1860’s.  They became the largest manufacturer of starch products in Britain and were granted the Royal Warrant.

It was around this time that the company moved premises to Falside Road, Paisley where it occupied almost 4 acres of land.  Business was thriving and it was known to have almost 1,200 workers.


John Polson was greatly concerned about the welfare of his workers.  In the 1870’s he began a profit-sharing scheme.  He also built a row of cottages and a recreational institute for the workers.  The building was used for the workers to meet and socialise.  Outside the building, the grounds had bowling greens and tennis courts.

John Polson Jnr died in 1900.  By then, Brown & Polson’s were the largest manufacturer of starch products in the UK.

In 1962 the factory became the home of Knorr, making soups, stock cubes, sauces and Hellmans mayonnaise.  Penicillin was also made for the pharmaceutical industry.  Baby food production also began production in 1964.

The blackest event in the history of Brown & Polson

The blackest event in the history of Brown & Polson took place at 6.40am on the 5th June, 1964, when the animal feed plant, a large building to the rear of the rear in Braids Road, was completely destroyed in a huge explosion.

Workers who had arrived for the 6.45am shift had to run for their lives. Local firemen, ambulance men and workers tore at the rubble in the search for casualties, while anxious relatives stood waiting for news. Four men were killed and four badly injured. A local policeman described the disaster, “I have seen terrible things during the war, but never anything like this”.

Over the years the company was greatly reduced.  In 1996, the company finally closed its doors and the Knorr soup factory was demolished.  All that remains of  the huge imprint of Paisley is the office block at the corner of Braids Road, housing has been built on the remaining land.  The old tennis courts were refurbished in 2011 and can still be used today.

I’m sure many of you will have your own memories of this iconic landmark.  Please share any experiences you may have of Brown and Polson below in the comments section..

One thing we will all agree on is that Brown & Polson has been a huge part of the people and the history of our great town.