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Workshops to explore the remarkable stories of Renfrewshire women often ignored by the history books

They were remarkable women whose achievements were all too often overlooked by the history books.

Now the life and times of some of Renfrewshire’s exceptional ‘silent’ women from the Victorian and Edwardian eras will be explored in a new heritage project.

‘The Ladies A,B and C’ will investigate the contributions of Mrs Jane Arthur, Mrs Mary Barbour and three of the Mrs Coats from the famous textiles manufacturing family.

Their stories will be explored as a way of inspiring their modern day counterparts as part of a project with Social Historian Lil Brookes.

She is running a series of workshops with women from Paisley’s Disability Resource Centre.

The eight weeks project is supported by Renfrewshire Council’s Culture, Heritage and Events (CHE) Fund, and will also incorporate a tribute to the upcoming International Women’s Day on March 8.

The workshops are due to start in early February and Lil said: “The aim of the project is to raise awareness of the women’s often forgotten contribution to their community and how their stories are still relevant and interesting to women in the Paisley and Renfrewshire community today.

“A lot of the time when we talk about the famous Coats family you would never even know there were any Mrs Coats. They become silent people and don’t seem to have a voice.

“But Margaret Glen, the wife of Thomas Coats, set up the Paisley branch of the Ladies Sanitary Association, while Mrs Archibald Coats was interested in the work of the Scottish Girl’s Friendly Society. Following her death the Mrs Archibald Coats Memorial Hall was opened in Weighhouse Close. Bertha Coats was interested in many areas of welfare in the community but particularly with the wellbeing of children and she was recognised for this becoming  a Freewoman of Paisley.

“I started thinking about other women I would like to explore a little better, and one is Jane Arthur, the sister-in-law of Thomas Coats.”

The feminist and activist became the first Scottish woman to stand for a school board and was elected to the Paisley school board in 1873. She also became vice-president of the Paisley Ladies’ Sanitary Association, which promoted public baths.

Lil added: “She was a woman of privilege but seemed to use her position to have a voice. But today nobody talks about her so it’s maybe a case of giving her and the others a voice again after all these years.”

The project will also learn about Kilbarchan-born Mary Barbour, who was a key player in fighting rent increases imposed by Glasgow landlords during World War One.

In 2015 a stone cairn was erected in the village where she was born in 1875 to mark her achievements.

From the retold stories, themes relevant to women today like equality in the workplace, education, healthcare, housing issues, and sexual politics can be discussed and explored by the women taking part in the workshops.

For more information on the CHE Fund which is still accepting applications, please go to www.paisley2021.co.uk

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Weaving workshops to teach young buddies about Paisley’s unique textile story

Two designers are helping to continue Paisley’s rich textile story by delivering weaving workshops to school pupils.

Heather Shields and Shielagh Tacey have been appointed as weavers in residence to the Sma’ Shot Cottages as part of Renfrewshire Council’s Townscape Heritage Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme 2 (TH.CARS 2) which aims to celebrate Paisley’s rich built heritage.

As part of the residency Heather and Shielagh will be delivering a series of workshops every Tuesday throughout November to more than 240 pupils from St Fergus PS, Glencoats PS, Lochwinnoch PS, St Mary’s PS, West PS, St Catherine’s PS, Johnstone HS and St Columba’s HS in Paisley Museum.

During these sessions the pupils will learn about linen, silk and cotton – the fibres which were historically woven in Paisley, explore the Museum’s shawl gallery and watch a loom in action. They will also discover how a weaver creates a motif design using point paper and work collaboratively to weave part of a colourful large scale artwork using a range of hand weaving techniques.

The residency aims to encourage people to get involved in weaving in addition to conducting a research project into Paisley’s rich textile heritage. The ethos of this project ties with Paisley’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021.

The £4 million TH.CARS 2 project, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland and Renfrewshire Council aims to make the area around the High Street a more attractive place to visit and invest while highlighting the significant role Paisley has played in the weaving and textile industry.

Commenting on the residency Heather said: “Paisley has such a rich heritage to explore and through this residency it would be a great chance to team up and learn more about a subject we are very interested in.

“This project will allow us to share our skills and knowledge with the local community and we are hoping that the school workshops will inspire young people in the town to consider opportunities in textiles and design.”

Renfrewshire Council Depute Leader, Cllr Jim Paterson, said: “The weaving workshops will not only help share the story of Paisley’s unique textile and design heritage that helped make it a globally recognised name, but will also help our young people build new skills and open them up to creative career opportunities.”

At the end of the project the weavers will deliver an exhibition and talk around the residency. The weaving residency will run until the end of 2018.

To find out more about TH.CARS 2 visit www.renfrewshire.gov.uk/THCars2.

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Archaeology buffs encouraged to take part in Wee Dig

Budding Lara Croft’s and Indiana Jones’ are being given the opportunity to take part in an archaeological dig to unearth a mysterious site next to the grounds of Paisley Abbey.

The Paisley “Wee Dig 2017” will take place between 18 and 24 September 2017. This significant heritage-led regeneration project will see a previously unexplored part of the Abbey Drain site excavated to shed light on what lies beneath alongside a programme of events to allow people to get involved. This ties in with ambitions set out in the town’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021.

The north west side of the building. Original source – black & white 3½” x 5½” photograph

As part of the week-long programme of events a series of interactive workshops will be held with a number of local groups and members of the public. These sessions will involve experiencing the dig itself, learning about various archaeological techniques and looking at artefacts from previous digs. Visuals of the Paisley Abbey Drain will be featured to allow visitors to see what is under the area of the dig site.

Renfrewshire Council has been awarded £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones programme as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology to conduct a ‘Wee Dig’ of part of the Abbey Drain site.

The 12th century Abbey is renowned not only for its outstanding architecture but also as the cradle of the Royal House of Stewart as a number of the Stewarts were buried within its walls. It is also believed that Robert II, the first Stewart king of Scotland and the grandson of Robert the Bruce, was born within the walls of Paisley’s Abbey. The Abbey also has a fascinating underground history – the magnificent medieval Abbey Drain.

Community groups and members of the public will be able to participate in the Wee Dig on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 September with a programme of events, workshops and talks laid on between 10.30am – 3pm on each day. Consultant archaeologists Guard Archaeology Ltd will also be on hand to answer questions from members of the public.

School children from across Renfrewshire will also get the chance to be part of the Wee Dig. Pupils from Williamsburgh Primary School, East Fulton Primary School and Kilbarchan Primary School will attend separate workshop sessions on site earlier in the week.

Renfrewshire Council Depute Leader, Cllr Jim Paterson said: “The ‘Wee Dig 2017’ will help bring archaeology to life not only for the school children attending the workshops but also for members of the public who have an interest in learning more about their town.

“This project celebrates our unique heritage – one of the main themes of our Paisley Town Centre Action Plan 2016 – 2026 which aims to regenerate the town centre and create jobs.”

Commenting, Lucy Casot, Head of HLF in Scotland, said: “The Heritage Lottery Fund is a key partner in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and it’s our ambition that people of all ages will have the chance to discover something new about the heritage they care about. We’re delighted that, thanks to funding from the National Lottery, the wee Dig will be opening the door to fun, learning and everlasting memories for many people as we celebrate this special year.”

Consultant archaeologists Guard Archaeology Ltd will be supported all week by volunteers from the Renfrewshire Local History Forum.

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Paisley Community Trust, a Registered Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, have partnered with Paisley Development Trust to announce plans to include a new memorial garden on the proposed site for PCT’s Performing Arts and Film Theatre. The memorial garden will be dedicated to the 71 victims and their families of the 1929 Glen Cinema disaster in Paisley.


Following on from last week’s news that Paisley Community Trust’s preferred site for its proposed new Performing Arts Venue was the former Arnott’s car park, Paisley Community Trust wished to reveal some additional information on its intentions to transform the site into a new Cultural & Creative quarter for the town. As part of the extensive planning and designing undertaken by award winning Architects Stallan Brand, PCT wanted to ensure that Paisley’s history and heritage in film was remembered and included in the new transformational plans.


On the 31st December 1929, Paisley families were hit with tragedy when 71 lives, mostly children, were lost in the Glen Cinema Disaster. During a children’s matinee, a freshly shown film reel was put back in its metal canister, in the spool room, where it began to issue thick black smoke. There was no fire. The smoke filled the auditorium containing approximately one thousand children at the time. As panic set in, children fled the building to safety. However, the escape door to Dyers Wynd was padlocked and 71 children sadly died in the crush. It was the worst cinema disaster in British history.


Paisley Development Trust, the organisation behind several prominent regeneration projects in Paisley, including the successful transformation of The Russell Institute Building, hold an annual memorial each year at The Cenotaph, Paisley Cross to remember the dead of the Glen Cinema Disaster.


Whilst the Cenotaph was created to remember the town’s war dead, both Trusts have partnered to create something more fitting and significant in the town. It is also intended that the new memorial garden will feature a commissioned sculptural statue to embody the innocence of children and the hope and inspiration that the arts and film can provide to their futures. Once built, the annual Hogmanay Memorial will take place at this new location.

“We were approached by Paisley Community Trust to review their vision for a new Performing Arts and Film Theatre – we were amazed with what we saw. However, they wanted to share an idea they had to create something extra special for the town. When they told us they wanted to create a memorial garden and dedicate it to the children of the Glen we were delighted. It is such a beautiful and fitting way to create something in the town dedicated to the Glen. We are moved by the sensitive consideration Paisley Community Trust have shown in their plans.”

Marie Connelly, Trustee, Paisley Development Trust


“The Glen Cinema disaster is a tragic event in Paisley’s history. As a community trust we were very conscious of the potential sensitivities involved in bringing cinema back to the town centre. We wanted to do something extra as a community to remember those young lives lost on what should have been a great day out to the movies. When we looked at the scale of our preferred site, the concept of creating a memorial garden was born. We were delighted with the positive reception we received when we approached Marie, Tony and the team. We look forward to working in collaboration with them to create a beautiful and fitting tribute.”

Gary Kerr, Chairman, Paisley Community Trust


Paisley Community Trust will unveil its full plans to the public from 12pm on Friday 29th September until 5pm on Saturday 30th September  at the Piazza Paisley. All are welcome to come along to the Piazza to review the plans and meet with the team behind the project.

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the coats memorial

Plans are being submitted to Renfrewshire Council which would safeguard the future of one of Paisley’s best loved buildings, Thomas Coats Memorial Church.

The project would see the church transformed into a world class events and entertainment venue which could be used for arts performances, concerts and weddings.

the coats memorial

Looking to retain the striking features of this gothic inspired building, the proposal would see minimal alterations to the fabric of the building which has been under threat for many years due to rising maintenance costs.

Plans, which have support from Historic Environment Scotland, include a distinct theatre performance space and banqueting facility.

With an imposing position at the top of the town’s High Street, the church was commissioned by the family of Thomas Coats of Ferguslie in his memory and completed in 1894.

Known colloquially as the Baptist Cathedral of Europe, its spired gothic design is famous the world over.

However, this stunning building needs significant investment to be preserved for future generations.

With a dwindling congregation and a lack of essential funds required to maintain this iconic building, it is important that action is taken now.

Following year long discussions, a steering group has been working with the current trustees for the last six months to explore options to preserve this important landmark in Paisley’s history.

With the support of the trustees, a new vision has emerged to take this building forward and provide a resource which will benefit the town of Paisley for many years to come.

The man behind the project is Paisley entrepreneur, Ian Henderson, who serves as Chairman of Paisley First Business Improvement District and also sits on the Paisley 2021 Partnership Board.

“I have long been an admirer of this stunning building and like many Buddies, I am concerned that it may be lost to future generations if urgent action isn’t taken,” said Ian.

“As well as creating a world class venue for the arts and events, this proposal would also allow the continuation of University of West Scotland graduations at the church.

“Preserving this magnificent and historically important building now will bring benefits to all in the community.”

Speaking on behalf of the existing trustees, Allan Driver, said: “The existing trustees have spent a significant number of years trying to find a sustainable solution which will safeguard the future of the building, which is too important to be lost to the people of Paisley.

“Of all the options investigated, this is the proposal which we believe provides the most secure future for Thomas Coats Memorial Church.”

The plans being submitted to Renfrewshire Council, for a change of use for the building, would also allow for the continued use of the church by community groups who are currently based there.  

The current trustees of the church would hand the building over to a new trust, Coats Memorial Church Paisley Ltd, comprising of local business people who are all keen to ensure this Paisley landmark is preserved.

It’s expected the funding for the project would be a combination of private investment and grant funding. The application to Renfrewshire Council has been submitted today and is subject to a 21 day consultation period.

To see the designs being submitted to Renfrewshire Council please visit www.cmcpaisley.co.uk

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First ever Weave Festival Video

Thousands of people descended on Paisley town centre on Friday 30 June – Sunday 2 July for the first-ever Weave festival, celebrating the town’s radical history and heritage.

The bumper weekend was taking place alongside the annual Sma’ Shot celebrations – one of the world’s oldest workers festivals.

Video Courtesy of Paisley 2021 For City of Culture.

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Woodside First Aid Post Disaster 6 May 1941

               Woodside First Aid Post

                     6th May 1941

             The Complete Story researched over 5 years

                             Now available on 2 DVDs

       Contact  email: woodsidefap1941@gmail.com


Disc 1 – 1 hour 17 mins 

The Unveiling & Dedication of Woodside First Aid Post Memorial Cairn – 6th May 2012

Frank McFadyen, Woodside Registrar

James Meikle Smith, Author of Buddies War 1939-45 and Paisley’s Fallen in the War 1914-1918

James Wardrop, Deputy Lord Lieutenant – The Unveiling

Rev George Prentice – The Dedication

Roll of Honour: Rev Ken Mayne, Martyrs Sandyford with Adam Gordon, Josh Murray,

Ross Wylie, Hayden & Aaron Chivers

Mrs Jenny Enterkin (nee McDougal) lays Wreath on behalf of the People of Paisley


The Last Survivor’s Story  – Mrs Jenny Enterkin (nee McDougal)

The Parachute Cord – James Ferguson

The Unmentioned Survivor – Robert McEnhill

The Last We Saw of Helen – Mary Smith (nee Scobie)

Through Boyhood Eyes  – Rev John McLean ex-RAF


Disc 2 – 1hour 54mins 

75th Anniversary Service of the Woodside First Aid Post Disaster – 8th May 2016

Service conducted by Rev George Prentice:

Provost’s Address by Anne Hall, Provost of Renfrewshire

Recalling the Disaster, Gail Nichol

Roll of Honour:

– Bill Foulton, Director of Woodside Cemetery & Crematorium

– Martyrs Sandyford: Vera McGowan, Stephen Docherty, Andrew Jack and Rev Ken Mayne

– St Mary’s: Rev Gerard McNellis, Marie Quinn, Anne Bradley and Joan Crawford

– Lindsay Brock from the 50th Anniversary Service

– Council Leader Mark Macmillan

Laying of Wreaths:

– Provost Anne Hall on behalf of the people of Paisley

– Jenny Enterkin, Last Survivor

– Stella Gibson on behalf of the bereaved families

Bible Readings, Lord’s Prayer & Benediction

James Wilson – Woodside Orphanage

Tributes – Council Leader Mark Macmillan

The Tragic Events – Gail Nichol

Tea Dance – 1940s

Triple Tragedy – The Russell Family by the Angel of Woodside

Dr William H Gibson Chief Medical Officer at Woodside His daughter, Dr Stella, in conversation with historian Jim Smith

Dr Leo F J Skinnider, Assistant Medical Officer at WoodsideHis son James and Grand-daughters, Georgina & Susan

Treasured Memories  – From relatives and friends

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Renfrewshire honours heroic Victoria Cross recipient

A Paisley-born solider who was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for ‘most conspicuous bravery’ during World War 1 has been honoured in a special ceremony in Renfrewshire today.

Three standard bearers pictured with Officer Commanding Balaklava Company Maj C M Wood, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, Colonel DG Ross OBE, Chairman of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Association and Renfrewshire’s Provost Anne Hall.

2nd Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Arthur Henderson V.C, M.C was awarded the VC for his efforts in leading his Company though the enemy front line, despite almost immediately being wounded, to their final objective- after which he sadly lost his life.

2nd Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Arthur Henderson V.C, M.C
(Copyright/Ownership: National Army Museum)

A commemorative stone was unveiled in the grounds of Renfrewshire House as part of a national campaign to honour the bravery of VC recipients from WW1 and provide a lasting legacy of local heroes within their communities.

Commemorative paving stone

A short service was led by Renfrewshire’s Provost Anne Hall who joined Officer Commanding Balaklava Company Maj C M Wood, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and Colonel DG Ross OBE, Chairman of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Association in giving a short speech and laying a ceremonial wreath to mark the unveiling.

Provost Hall said: “Arthur Henderson gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country and all of Paisley, and Renfrewshire, should be proud of his roots in the area.

“He battled through the most difficult of adversity to ensure the safety of his fellow soldiers and fully deserves the recognition which has been bestowed upon on him.

“The commemorative stone will allow residents in the area to gain a greater understanding of how Paisley was a part of the First World War and ensure soldiers like Arthur are always remembered.”

Acting Captain Henderson was born in 1893 in Paisley and went to school locally, being educated at John Neilston Institute before moving into employment as an apprentice accountant in Glasgow.

Before the war he was a well-known cricketer and donned his whites for Ferguslie Cricket Club- where his VC medal ribbons and portrait hung in the clubhouse before being moved to Stirling Castle in the late 1980s.

He enlisted with Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders where he attained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant before becoming Acting Captain of the 4th Battalion.

His heroic deed of bravery took place on 23 April 1917 near Fontaine-les-Croisilles in France and he now lies in Cojeul British Cemetery, Saint-Martin-sur-Cojeul- and is remembered at both Paisley Abbey and the War Memorial in Gordon, Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders.

Colonel R L Steele TD DL, Royal Regiment of Scotland, said: “Sadly, we were unable to locate any of Arthur’s blood relatives and thus, it was only fitting that he was surrounded by members of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Association, who are his present-day regimental family and brothers-in-arms.

“Speaking for The Royal Regiment of Scotland and as a veteran of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, we are all immensely proud of Captain Arthur Henderson VC MC and salute his memory – his cheerful courage and outstanding leadership is a splendid example to all who have served and will serve in the future.”

Acting Captain Henderson’s VC medal now resides at The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes exhibition, in the Imperial War Museum, London.

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Russell Institute celebrates 90th anniversary

This weekend (Sunday 19th March) marks 90 years since Paisley’s Russell Institute opened its doors to the public.

To celebrate this monumental anniversary the team behind Paisley’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021 are calling for the people of Renfrewshire to share their memories and pictures of the Russell Institute.

A category A-listed building it is one of Paisley’s architectural treasures. The building, which is distinctive for its stone and bronze sculptures, was commissioned by Miss Agnes Russell who wanted to build a child welfare clinic as a memorial to her two brothers, Mr Robert Russell and Mr Thomas Russell.

The building was officially opened on 19th March 1927 by H.R.H. The Princess Mary (Viscountess Lascelles). It was latterly used as a health centre until it closed its doors in 2011 and has remained a striking feature of the town centre. 

Throughout its years of operation the ethos of the Russell Institute was to help parents keep their children fit and healthy and to diagnose and treat diseases at the earliest and most curable stages.

The purpose of the Russell Institute is evolving. The building will soon serve as a Skills and Employability Hub in the heart of the town centre following a restoration project funded by Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Government Regeneration Capital Grant Fund and Renfrewshire Council,  continuing the initial commitment to support the people of Paisley and beyond.

There are many people throughout Renfrewshire who have memories of visiting the building for a range of reasons including x-rays, baby weigh-ins and injections, vaccinations and dental appointments.

Donald Mack (67) from Paisley has very different memories of the Russell Institute. His father, Samuel Mack, was the caretaker for the building for more than 32 years and from 1955 to 1970 Donald called it home.

He said: “I lived in an apartment at the top of the Russell Institute with my parents, two brothers and sister for 15 years. It was a wonderful place to grow up, it was a great playground for me and my siblings.

“I remember falling off the bannister of the marble staircase once or twice from sliding down it with my brothers. My dad also used to make things for our home in the boiler house so we spent a lot of time there seeing what he was building.

“It was in a great location to soak up all the activity going on in the town. I remember the old trams riding past and we could see people dancing in the evenings across the road in the Co-Op building – there was always a lot to see.

“One of the strongest memories I have is of the big parade in 1959 when St Mirren won The Scottish Cup. We had a great view of all the celebrations going on in Causeyside Street – it was great.”

Paisley 2021 Bid Director Jean Cameron said: “Paisley’s bid for UK City of Culture 2021 aims to use the town’s incredible heritage and cultural story to help transform its future.

“We have a beautiful architectural legacy here in the town – the highest concentration of listed buildings of anywhere in Scotland outwith Edinburgh.

“The Russell Institute is one of the best examples of that and it is more than a building – it is part of the cultural fabric of the town. I remember my mum taking my brother and I there when we were small and thinking at the time how magical and beautiful the place was.

“Generations of buddies will have their own stories to tell and we want to mark the anniversary by helping tell them, so please get in touch with your Russell Institute memories.”

Celebrating the building and sharing stories and memories from its history complements Paisley’s bid for UK City of Culture.

If you wish to share your memories and images of one of Paisley’s most distinctive architectural gems please emailhello@paisley2021.co.uk.

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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.”