Paisley Town Hall
|Paisley shown within Renfrewshire|
|OS grid reference|
|• Edinburgh||49 mi (79 km) E|
|• London||347 mi (558 km) SSE|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||PA1 – PA3|
|Dialling code||0141 & 01505|
Paisley (//; Scottish Gaelic: Pàislig /ˈpʰaːʃʎikʲ/) is the largest town in the historic county of Renfrewshire in the west central Lowlands of Scotland and serves as the administrative centre for the Renfrewshire council area. The town is situated on the northern edge of the Gleniffer Braes, straddling the banks of the White Cart Water, a tributary of the River Clyde.
The town, a former burgh, forms part of the contiguous Greater Glasgow urban area; Glasgow city centre is 6.9 miles (11.1 km) to the east. The town came to prominence with the establishment of Paisley Abbey in the 12th century, an important religious hub in medieval Scotland which formerly had control over the other churches in the local area. It is regularly cited as 'Scotland's largest town' as it has yet to attain official city status.
By the 19th century, Paisley had established itself as a centre of the weaving industry, giving its name to the Paisley shawl and the Paisley Pattern. The town's associations with political Radicalism were highlighted by its involvement in the Radical War of 1820, with striking weavers being instrumental in the protests. As of 1993, all of Paisley's mills had closed, although they are memorialised in the town's museums and civic history.
Paisley is bidding for UK City of Culture in 2021 as part of plans to use culture and heritage to help regenerate the town.
Formerly and variously known as Paislay, Passelet, Passeleth, and Passelay the burgh's name is of uncertain origin; some sources suggest a derivation either from the Brittonic word pasgill, "pasture", or more likely, passeleg, "basilica", (i.e. major church), itself derived from the Greek βασιλική basilika. However, some Scottish place-name books suggest "Pæssa's wood/clearing", from the Old English personal name Pæssa, "clearing", and leāh, "wood". Pasilege (1182) and Paslie (1214) are recorded previous spellings of the name. The Gaelic spelling is Pàislig.
Paisley has monastic origins. A chapel is said to have been established by the 6th/7th century Irish monk, Saint Mirin at a site near a waterfall on the White Cart Water known as the Hammils. Though Paisley lacks contemporary documentation it may have been, along with Glasgow and Govan, a major religious centre of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. A priory was established in 1163 from the Cluniac priory at Wenlock in Shropshire, England at the behest of Walter fitz Alan (d. 1177) High Steward of Scotland. In 1245 this was raised to the status of an Abbey. The restored Abbey and adjacent 'Place' (palace), constructed out of part of the medieval claustral buildings, survive as a Church of Scotland parish church. One of Scotland's major religious houses, Paisley Abbey was much favoured by the Bruce and Stewart royal families. It is generally accepted that William Wallace was educated here. King Robert III (1390–1406) was buried in the Abbey. His tomb has not survived, but that of Princess Marjorie Bruce (1296–1316), ancestor of the Stewarts, is one of Scotland's few royal monuments to survive the Reformation.
Paisley coalesced under James II's wish that the lands should become a single regality and, as a result, markets, trading and commerce began to flourish. In 1488 the town's status was raised by James IV to Burgh of barony.
Many trades sprang up and the first school was established in 1577 by the Town Council. The Paisley witches, also known as the Bargarran witches or the Renfrewshire witches, were tried in Paisley in 1697. Seven were convicted and five were hanged and then burnt on the Gallow Green. Their remains were buried at Maxwelton Cross in the west end of the town. This was the last mass execution for witchcraft in western Europe. A horse shoe was placed on top of the site to lock in the evil. A horse shoe is still visible in the middle of this busy road junction today—though not the original. The modern shoe is made of bronze and bears the inscription, "Pain Inflicted, Suffering Endured, Injustice Done".
The Industrial Revolution based on the textile industry turned Paisley from a small market town to an important industrial town in the late 18th century. Its location attracted English mill owners; immigrants from Ayrshire and the Highlands poured in to a town that offered paying jobs to women and children. However, silk fell out of fashion in 1790. The mills switched to the imitation Kashmir (cashmere) shawls called "Paisley." Under the leadership of Thomas Coats (1809-1893), Paisley became the world centre for thread making. The high-status skilled weavers mobilized themselves in radical protests after 1790 culminating in the failed "Radical War" of 1820. Overproduction, the collapse of the shawl market and a general depression in the textile industry led to technical changes that reduced the importance of weavers. Politically the mill owners remained in control of the town.
By the mid-19th century weaving had become the town's principal industry. The Paisley weavers' most famous product were the shawls, which bore the Paisley Pattern made fashionable after being worn by a young Queen Victoria. Despite being of a Kashmiri design and manufactured in other parts of Europe, the teardrop-like pattern soon became known by Paisley's name across the western world. Although the shawls dropped out of fashion in the 1870s, the Paisley pattern remains an important symbol of the town: the Paisley Museum maintains a significant collection of the original shawls in this design and it has been used, for example, in the modern logo of Renfrewshire Council, the local authority.
Politics and relief
Through its weaving fraternity, Paisley gained notoriety as being a literate and somewhat radical town and between 1816 and 1820 became the scene of a Radical War. Political intrigue, early trades unionism and reforming zeal came together to produce mass demonstrations, cavalry charges down the high street, public riots and trials for treason. Documentation from the period indicates that overthrow of the government was even contemplated by some. The weavers of Paisley were certainly active in the 'Radical War'. A mixture of religious opinions and healthy drink-fueled debate raged at night amongst the weavers, poets, merchants, masons and others. The perceived radical nature of the inhabitants prompted the Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli to comment "Keep your eye on Paisley". The poet Robert Tannahill lived in this setting, working as a weaver. Paisley's annual Sma' Shot Day celebrations held on the first Saturday of July were initiated in 1856 to commemorate a 19th-century dispute between weavers and employers over payment for "sma' shot" – a small cotton thread which, although unseen, was necessary in holding together garments.
A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of Paisley Barracks in 1822.
The economic crisis of 1841-43 hit Paisley hard as most of the mills shut down. Among the mill owners, 67 of 112 went bankrupt. A quarter of the population was on poor relief. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel decided to act. He secured additional funds for relief and sent his own representative to the city to supervise its distribution. He convinced Queen Victoria to wear Paisley products in order to popularise the products and stimulate demand.
The American Civil War of 1861-1865 cut off cotton supplies to the textile mills of Paisley. The mills in 1861 had a stock of cotton in reserve, but by 1862 there was large-scale shortages and shutdowns. There were no alternative jobs for the workers, and local authorities refuse to provide relief. Voluntary relief efforts were inadequate, and the unemployed workers refused to go to workhouses. Workers blamed not the United States, but rather the officials in London for their hardship and did not support the idea of war with the United States.
Paisley was also the site of an incident that gave rise to a major legal precedent. In a Paisley cafe in 1928, a woman allegedly found a dead snail in a bottle of ginger beer, and became ill. She sued the manufacturer for negligence. At the time a manufacturer was considered liable only if there was a contract in place with the harmed party. However, after Donoghue v Stevenson wound through the courts, a precedent was established that manufacturers (and other "neighbours" or fellow citizens) owe a duty not to do foreseeable harm to others by negligence, regardless of contractual obligations, which paved the way for modern tort law. The case is often called the "Paisley snail."
Second World War
Owing to its industrial roots, Paisley, as with many industrial towns in Renfrewshire, became a target for German Luftwaffe bombers during World War II. Although it was not bombed as heavily as the nearby Glasgow (see Clydebank Blitz), air raids still occurred periodically during the early years of the war, killing nearly a hundred people in several separate incidents; on 6 May 1941, a parachute mine was dropped in the early hours of the morning claiming 92 victims and is billed the worst disaster in Paisley's history. The Gleniffer Braes, situated on the outskirts south of Paisley, is home to a number of "decoy ponds" (mock airfields) used by the RAF in the aftermath of the Battle of Britain as part of a project code-named "Starfish Decoy" designed to confuse German spies.
Paisley sits primarily on an expanse of low ground around 12 meters (40 ft) above sea level surrounding the White Cart Water, which runs through the town centre. There are a number of elevated hills and ridges which have been absorbed as the town has expanded. The settlement is historically centred on Oakshaw, an area surrounding a hill to the north of the current High Street. Oakshaw is a conservation area and on the high ground many of Paisley's significant buildings can be found, such as the High Kirk, the Coats Observatory and the former John Neilson Institution, which was once a school and is now converted into residential flats.
Around the centre there are a large number of older residential buildings. The town centre, Williamsburgh and Charleston areas contain many examples of Scottish tenement flats. Three to four stories tall, with shops on the ground floor and constructed of local blond and red sandstone, these tenement flats have been extensively restored and modernised over the last two decades.
Paisley expanded steadily, particularly in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, creating many suburbs around the centre of the town. Castlehead is a wooded conservation area primarily made up of Victorian villas where many of the town's leading industrialists made their homes in the late 19th century. Thornly Park, another conservation area, is located to the south of the town, just off Neilston Road heading towards Barrhead. It contains a variety of architecture ranging from mock Tudor to Art Deco. Many of the houses were designed by W.D. McLennan, a contemporary of Charles Rennie MacIntosh. McLennan also designed several local churches such as St Matthew's and St Nazarene, which is located on Gordon Street.
Particularly following the Housing Act 1946, modern Paisley grew into the surrounding countryside and several large residential areas were created in the post-war period. These include portions of Glenburn (south), Foxbar (south west), Ferguslie Park (north west), Gallowhill (North East) and Hunterhill (South East). Gockston in the far north of the town has many terraced houses and, after regeneration has many detached and semi-detached houses as well as several blocks of flats. Dykebar, situated to the south east of the centre of the town, is a residential area which is also the site of a secure psychiatric hospital.
On the outskirts of the town are a number of settlements such as Ralston, a residential area in the far east bordering the city of Glasgow. Ralston was outside the Paisley burgh boundary when constructed in the 1930s but, as a result of local authority re-organisation in the 1990s, it is now generally regarded as a suburb of Paisley.
As the administrative centre of the county of Renfrewshire, Renfrew District and, currently, Renfrewshire council area, Paisley is home to many significant civic buildings. Paisley Town Hall, adjacent to the Abbey, was funded by the will of George Aitken Clark, one of the Clark family, owners of the Anchor Mills. In competition, Sir Peter Coats funded the construction of the modern Paisley Museum and Central Library (1871), also in a neo-Classical style. The Clarks and Coats families dominated Paisley industry until their companies merged in 1896. Renfrewshire's former County Buildings, Police Station and Jail on County Square have been since demolished, and the County Council then met in a newer neo-classical building which now houses Paisley Sheriff Court.
Renfrewshire House, the modern headquarters of Renfrewshire Council, was constructed as Paisley Civic Centre. Designed by Hutcheson, Locke and Monk following a competition, the building was designed to house offices of both the county and town councils. It was intended to become a civic hub for Paisley but the absence of any shops and non-council premises prevented this from happening. It became the home of the Renfrew sub-region of Strathclyde Regional Council in 1975 and of Renfrewshire Council in 1996. It is listed by the conservation organisation DoCoMoMo as one of the sixty key Scottish monuments of the post-war period.
Other civic buildings of interest include the Russell Institute, an art deco building constructed in 1926.
Most noticeable among the buildings of Paisley is its medieval Abbey in the centre of the town dating from the 12th century. The earliest surviving architecture is the south-east doorway in the nave from the cloister, which has a round arched doorway typical of Romanesque or Norman architecture which was the prevalent architectural style before the adoption of Gothic. The choir (east end) and tower date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and are examples of Gothic Revival architecture. They were reconstructed in three main phases of restorations with the tower and choir conforming to the designs of Dr Peter MacGregor Chalmers. The roof in the nave is the most recent of restorations with the plaster ceiling by Rev Dr Boog which was added in the 1790s being replaced by a timber roof in 1981.
Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church, named for the industrialist Thomas Coats (1809–1883), is an example of Gothic Revival architecture. It dominates the town's skyline with its crown spire more than 60 metres (197 ft) high. Opened in 1894 and designed by Hippolyte Jean Blanc it is the largest Baptist church in Europe. The exterior is made of old red sandstone. Inside, the church is decorated with wood carvings, mosaic floors and marble fonts. The church also contains a 3040 pipe Hill Organ.
The St Mirin's Cathedral in Incle Street is the seat of the Catholic Bishop of Paisley. The church was completed in 1931 to replace an earlier building, in nearby East Buchanan Street, which dated from 1808. The original St Mirin's church was the first Catholic church to be built in Scotland since the Reformation. With the erection of the Diocese of Paisley in 1947 the church was raised to cathedral status.
St Matthew's Church (Church of the Nazarene) at the junction of Gordon Street and Johnston Street is Art Nouveau in style. Designed by local architect William Daniel McLennan, a contemporary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, it was built in 1905–07.
As a result of its historic textile industry, Paisley is home to many examples of Victorian industrial architecture. Most notable is the Category A listed Anchor Mills, built in 1886. The building was converted in 2005 into residential flats. Textiles have a longer history in Paisley, represented by the Sma' Shot cottages complex on Shuttle Street: a small public museum of weaving from its 18th-century origins as a cottage industry.
Another landmark connected with the textile industry is the Dooslan Stane or Stone. The stone was a meeting place of the Weavers Union in the South of Paisley and was also used as a "soapbox" and was originally inscribed with its history (now largely faded). It was moved from its original site in the corner of Neilston Road and Rowan Street to its present location in Brodie Park. Also present, arranged around the Dooslan Stane, are the four original Paisley Tolbooth stones. The Dooslan Stane is still used today as the congregating point for the annual Sma' Shot parade which takes place on the first Saturday in July.
The composer Thomas Wilson's 1988 work Passeleth Tapestry (later his Fourth Symphony) commemorates the history of Paisley across a 30-minute single movement span. Commissioned by Renfrew District Council to mark Paisley's 500th anniversary as a burgh of barony, it was premiered on 6 August 1988 in Paisley Abbey with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Bryden Thomson.
A memorial also exists in the town to the legal case of Donoghue v Stevenson, also known as the Paisley Snail Case, which established the modern rules of negligence in Scots law and the legal systems of the Commonwealth.
Paisley is home to a number of religious denominations and is an important historical centre for the Christian faith in Scotland. The town's historic patron saint is Saint Mirin (or Mirren); according to legendary accounts, Mirin settled in Paisley as a missionary sent from Ireland in the 6th century and was instrumental in bringing the relics of St Andrew to Scotland. Paisley Abbey, one of the towns most significant landmarks, was constructed as a priory in the 12th century and raised to abbey status in the 13th. It served as an ecclesiastical centre for a wide area surrounding the county of Renfrewshire for centuries until the Reformation when such religious centres were reduced to the status of parish churches. For the Church of Scotland, Paisley forms part of the Presbytery of Greenock and Paisley in the Synod of Clydesdale (see: Church of Scotland synods and presbyteries).
Other Christian communities have a number of churches in Paisley, many of which were the result of the Industrial Revolution where people from around the British Isles came to Paisley for work. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Paisley, created in 1947, is centred upon the town's St Mirin's Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Paisley. Paisley also forms part of the Episcopalian (Anglican) Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway with its main facilities being contained at the Holy Trinity and St Barnabas Church in the town centre, a congregation which united in 2004. There are currently two Baptist congregations in Paisley: in addition to Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church (see under "Landmarks - religious sites") is Central Baptist Church, which meets in nearby Lady Lane. Paisley is home to a meetinghouse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located on Glenburn Road.
Other smaller religious groups exist in the town. The Methodist Church of Great Britain has a church and central hall opposite Paisley Abbey which forms part of the Ayrshire and Renfrewshire Circuit. The Christadelphians meet in a hall on Alice Street.
Paisley is connected by road to the United Kingdom's motorway network with the M8 running along the northern edge of the town, providing access to Greenock to the west and Glasgow to the east. This forms part of the unsigned E05 Euroroute from Greenock to Gibraltar. Many major A roads converge through the town including the A726, A737 and A761. The Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, a public body, has direct operational responsibilities covering the area, such as supporting (and in some cases running) local bus services in Paisley and across Strathclyde.
The town is served by four railway stations and linked by rail to Glasgow city centre as well as Inverclyde and the Ayrshire coast. Paisley Gilmour Street is the largest of the stations, with smaller stations at Paisley St James, Paisley Canal and Hawkhead. The rail links also connect to Glasgow Prestwick International Airport and ferry routes to Dunoon, the Isle of Arran, Isle of Bute and Northern Ireland. Over the years there have been thirteen railway stations in Paisley and three rail lines that are now closed (The Paisley and Barrhead District Railway, the Barrhead Branch of the GSWR, and the Paisley and Renfrew Railway). Paisley Canal station and the Paisley Canal Line owe their names to the Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal which occupied the route of the line until 1885, when it was filled in.
Glasgow International Airport, operated by AGS Airports and Scotland's largest airport, is located to the north of Paisley at Abbotsinch. It is adjacent to the M8 Motorway and served by a bus link from Paisley Gilmour Street railway station. The planned Glasgow Airport Rail Link project, which was to run through Paisley, was abandoned in 2009. As mentioned above, Glasgow Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire is directly accessible by rail from Paisley Gilmour Street station.
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