The ‘Dirty Steps’: Meetinghouse Lane.
Daydreaming as I dawdled up Moss Street one Sunday afternoon, I passed an open bin, the whiff from which could have killed a small horse. This, temporarily, brought me back to some consciousness. As I recovered, I looked to the other side of Moss Street, and saw two young ‘uns sitting on the steps at the bottom of Meetinghouse Lane, itself known locally the ‘Dirty Steps’. This got me thinking about why Meetinghouse Lane is known as the ‘Dirty Steps’. I just can’t remember the stories I have heard before, so here are my thoughts.
The stench from that bin reminded me of the evocative opening pages of that great novel, ‘Perfume, the Story of a Murderer’……the infant born in a stinking fishmarket, described so well that, as you get drawn into the world of the story, you almost need a hankie over your neb to block the smell out. That curious murder novel was set in the early 18th century, and although it is a little earlier in time that I think the ‘Dirty Steps’ got its’ name, it certainly conjures up a vivid image of what conditions may have been like in Paisley back then.
Fleshers (butchers of old) had their market at the Cross in medieval times, but in 1655 the Town Council ordered the ‘troublesome’ fleshers to move to a shed to be built “where the lister tree stands”, further down the then-called ‘Moss Raw’. These fleshers of old caused considerable angst for the Town Council, mainly because of their practices, slaughtering animals in the street, leaving their ‘middings’ (waste) all around, but also because of their leanings towards political rumblings about the Town Council’s means of controlling their butchering practices and prices. By 1670 the Flesh Market had been established at the “North End of the Meetinghouse”, suggesting that they used at least part of the Meetinghouse as the place to display and sell their wares.
Today there are steps at the bottom of Meetinghouse Lane, but of course in olden times it is likely that the lane was poorly surfaced and just ran straight down to what is now Moss Street. At some time later in history the lane was beautifully cobbled. In my imagination, it is most likely that the ‘Dirty Steps’ colloquialism refers to the ‘footsteps’ of our Paisley ancestors, their (foot)steps trailing the stour from the markets up the Lane and all around from this place………..the only trace of this once lively market may be in the name ‘The Dirty Steps’. This is of course just one theory, the ramblings gathered together in the wake of a brief encounter with an inspirational bin on ‘oor wee Moss Street. I expect some Buddies will have other stories that they might like to share.
Photograph and text courtesy of Maria Jones