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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter VII. — The Town of Neilston

Population, Census 1901,  2,666.

Although the town of Neilston dates back to a very early period, it has not been a place of rapid growth, and an early writer, referring to it, speaks of it with questionable veracity, as a “finished town.” Whatever grounds there may have been for the opprobrious epithet when it was first used, it has no relation to its present condition, for within the last generation there have been considerable extensions made, though not of a phenomenal nature, in several kinds of buildings, villas, semi-detached villas, and cottages, besides a large number of workmen’s dwellings of a superior class, cottages, and two-storey houses. The latter were necessary to meet the requirements of the large extension that has been made at Crofthead Thread Works.

The town occupies a pleasant situation overlooking the valley of the Levern, on a stretch of comparatively level land, which extends from the top of Kirkhill in the east, to the foot of Cross-stane-brae, on Kingston Road in the south-west, and Brig-o’-Lea in the west. From the contour of the surrounding country, the town can neither be approached nor departed from without either ascending or descending a hilly incline, and this applies whether from the north, west, south, or east. The principal street passes through the town from west to east, and is a continuation of the highway leading from Ayrshire by Uplawmoor, and thence through Barrhead to Glasgow. The High Street enters from the south-west, and is a continuation through the town as far as the Cross, of the Kilmarnock Road by Kingston. At the Parish Church these streets intersect each other, thus forming the Cross of Neilston. Broadlie Road, beginning at the Cross, gives off a “right of way” through the lands of Broadlie to Crofthead, and passes thence by Broadlie Mill to join the highway from Ayrshire, which passes through the parish by Levern valley to Cross Arthurlie, Barrhead. At Barrhead, the highway divides, one section passing by Cross-stobs to Paisley, and the other by Hurlet and Pollokshaws to Glasgow. Main Street, Neilston, continues eastward, from High Broadlie to Kirkhill, thence the road continues and joins the Levern vallev highway at the east end of Barrhead.

Like most towns and villages that lay within convenient reach of Paisley, Neilston at one time carried on a large trade in handloom weaving, in all its various departments of silk and harness work, there being no fewer than forty-eight looms in the town at one period. But for many years past, this has been all changed; the looms are all gone, and with their departure, the once familiar sound of the shuttle has ceased to be heard in the neighbourhood. At one time there was also a large business carried on in the boot and shoe trade, by a long resident family of the name of Telfer, who exported largely to Ireland ; and also, in great hogsheads, to Canada. And for many years an extensive and prosperous building and contracting business was carried on in the town by Mr. Robert Wilson, who was afterwards succeeded by Mr. Robert Wallace ; whilst on the several water courses to which we have already referred, were a number of prosperous bleaching works.
Fifty years ago, notwithstanding the fact that the gas-work had been in existence from about 1837, the town, as already noticed, was badly lighted, there being no lamps on the streets; the shops, too, were small windowed, and many of them presented a somewhat dingy appearance inside, not a few of them having been converted from the weaving-shops of other days.—The small windows of bygone days are, however, largely to be accounted for by the window tax, or the tax imposed upon window glass. This tax was first imposed in 1695 to defray the expense of re-coining the silver then in circulation, and making up the loss and deficiency incident to that operation; and was renewed on the commutation of the tax on tea in 1784, and finally repealed only on 24th July, 1851. In the year 1840, the tax on windows yielded about one and a quarter millions to the revenue. But I am not aware of what houses in the parish paid this tax during its existence, nor the amount paid.—In the oldest parts of the town, the houses were mostly thatched, and one storeyed, and as some of the earliest erections stood out halfway across the street, what was wanting in regularity was thought to be made up in picturesqueness of appearance. One property in particular, which had for many years held a licence, stood so far out as to reduce the width of the Main Street to about sixteen feet. It was near the entrance to the town from the east, and there was a bend in the street at the place, which it was impossible to see beyond, as to what traffic was coming, and consequently it was a constant source of danger to drivers, as two vehicles could scarcely pass each other if they met, and as the property was rather below the level of the road, vehicles were apt to bowl into the gutter in front of it, in the endeavour to avoid a collision; so that in attempting to escape Scylla, the danger was of coming to wreck on Charybdis.

A number of unsuccessful attempts had been made to purchase this property before it was finally bought by Dr. David Pride, in 1888, with the object of having it removed. Several parties afterwards contributed towards the purchase price, and the whole was sold, house and grounds, to the Police Commissioners and Hoad Trust. By them the buildings were cleared away, and the street greatly widened and improved, the bend being practically done away with. The Police Station now occupies the ground. The names of the lady and gentlemen who so generously contributed towards carrying out this public improvement were:—Mrs. James Armour, Townfoot, £5; John Heys, Esq., of Woodside, £25; James Martin, Esq., of Broadlie, £25; Rev. Peter M‘Leod, minister of Neilston, £10; H. B. Dunlop, Esq., of Arthurlie, £5; Henry Heys, Esq., of Springfield, £5; H. M'Connell, Esq., of Broadlie Park, £5; John M‘Haffie, Esq., of Kirktonfield, £5; William Muir, Esq., Brig o’ Lea, £5; James Patrick, Esq., Neilston, £3; Z. John Heys, Esq., of Stonehouse, £2 2s.; John Wallace, Esq., Broadlie, £2 2s.

For very many years there was a weighing machine at the side of the street near this property. It belonged to a private company, but was also for the use of the general public. From their minutes the members of the company seem to have held a meeting each year on 24th January, to balance up with the weigher and sign his book. The machine was named “Neilston Hay Weighs.” The following, which is a copy, shows the names of the owners, and other matters relating to the concern :—

“At a meeting of the shareholders of Neilston Hay Weighs, held in Mr. James Brown’s Inns, Neilston, this 5th day of August, 1862.


William Carswell, Craig of Neilston.
Andrew Gilmour, Muirhead.
Matthew Stevenson, Neilston.
Andrew Gilmour, Braeface.
Arthur Renfrew, Neilston.
Matthew Anderson, Writer, Neilston.
Mr. William Carswell was chosen Preses.

The meeting having revised the list of shareholders, found it to stand thus:—

The Heirs of the late Capt. Anderson, Broadlie,
The Heirs of the late John Cochrane, Kirtonfield,
William Carswell, Craig of Neilston,
Andrew Gilmour, Braeface,
Andrew Gilmour, Dyke,
Matthew Stevenson, Neilston,
Matthew Anderson, Writer, Neilston,
The Heirs of the late Walter Stewart, Kirkton,
Arthur Renfrew, Blacksmith, Neilston,
Robert Craig, Arthurlie,
Andrew’ Gilmour, Muirhead,
Total number of shares,

The meeting having examined the foregoing accounts for the last four years, found the same correct, and handed over the balance to the chairman, being three pounds, eleven shillings, and one penny halfpenny, giving two shillings and eleven pence halfpenny on each share.

The next General Meeting to be held on the first Tuesday of August, 1863.

(Signed) WILLIAM CARSWELL, Preses.”

“Neilston, 5th August, 1862.—We, the subscribers, have this evening received from Mr. William Carswell, the Preses, our respective shares of two shillings and eleven pence halfpenny dividend.

(Signed) Matthew Anderson.
Arthur Renfrew.
Matthew Stevenson.
Andrew Gilmour.
Andrew Gilmour.
William Anderson.”

It would appear from subsequent minutes that the day of meeting was changed to the month of August, and that the last meeting was held on the 3rd August, 1866, when the “accounts were examined for previous four years, found correct, and a dividend of one shilling and eight pence paid on each share. (Signed) William Carswell, Arthur Renfrew.”

In a notebook I find it stated that these weighs were placed on the street opposite Cooper Armour’s dwelling-house, that is, where the footpath at the Police Office is now; that when the old properties were taken down to make way for the constabulary, the weighs and stones, which formed their seat, were removed to David Renfrew’s smithy; that the stones lay at the trees in front of the smithy for many a day, and were ultimately used by John Marshall, joiner, in 1900-01, who bought the smithy property at David Renfrew’s death, in building the foundation of the dwarf wall in front of the cottage; and that the metals seem to have been sold as old iron, as they disappear altogether.

But the general aspect of the town is now greatly changed. The streets are well lighted with gas-lamps, and well kept. The shops are quite up-to-date, many of them being entirely new and handsome buildings, with large plate-glass windows, and all modern conveniences.

Land Tenure and Feu-duty.

Peculiar Feus.
In very early Celtic Scotland, land was held by the tribe or clan under special conditions; the tribe being the social unit, rather than the family, as in the present day. This system prevailed in Ireland, equally with Scotland, and possibly at an earlier date. The chief had his individual rights in the land by descent, the tribesmen theirs in common; especially was this so in regard to pasture land, while certain special duties were imposed on the whole land—such as supporting the chief, the several officers, and the priest, after Christianity was introduced. These matters are more particularly referred to under Agriculture. This mode of land tenure prevailed in the Western Highlands, and in Pictland, in the time of Saint Columba, and down to the eleventh century.

With the accession of William the Norman to the throne of England by conquest, the feudal system was imposed on the land of that country ; and gradually this system was introduced into Scotland during the reigns of Alexander I. and David I.
The modern system of land tenure in our parish is almost always by feu, long leases being quite the exception. Feu-duty, or the sum to be paid annually to the granter or superior for the land feued, varies naturally according to the value of the land or the demand for it, and though usually paid in money, if arranged, can be paid in any other way of acknowledgment, and some of these arrangements are very curious in old parish towns like Neilston. For example, I am informed, in one of the old feus of the town, which has to be paid in kind, the feu-duty claimable is a box of snutf annually, and if demanded, the collector must come riding on a "white horse, and wearing a cocked hat. There is a bran new property on the old feu now, but the proprietor informs me he has never been called upon for payment of the duty. In another of these old feus, the same commodity is the medium of tender, with the difference, however, that in this instance payment must be made at the Cross. But it does not appear that there are any conditions imposed as to how the collector shall come for it, but it must be called for. In another instance I am informed the feu-duty is so many eggs, if called for; whilst as a variant on this, the duty payable on another small feu, is so many creels of peat. Needless to say, these halcyon days for feuars are passed, and the modern proprietor makes no mistakes as to the rights of nieum and the obligations of tuum as regards his position, and that feu-duty is not now so elusory as far as concerns the feuar.

The Parish Church.

The Church of Neilston, which has been in the Presbytery of Paisley since 1590, and was in the ancient Deanery of Rutherglen, is situated on the north-east side of the Cross, and is a plain square structure, having little to recommend it from an architectural point of view. The Session House is at the front of the church, which is to the south, where is also the spire, with clock, belfry, and weather-cock. There is gallery accommodation on the east, north, and west sides, access to which is by stairs inside the east and west walls, and there are three doors of entrance, one each in the east and west walls, and one under the pulpit, from the Session House. At the west side of the gate leading into the churchyard, there is a “round house,” in which the elders stood for shelter, when the collection plate was placed just inside the church gate, and before the present method was adopted of having the collection plate inside each porch at the side doors; a cloak-room has been erected opposite, on the east side on entering the gateway from the street. There is great diversity of opinion as to the age of the church. The present building was erected in 1763. But there must have been some considerable structural alterations, requiring large timber, about 1677, for we find Robert Park of Paisley appointed on 10th October of that year, to sue two men named Kirk ton and Dunlop, “ for the rest of price of the town’s timber, they got to Neilston Kirk.” This timber had grown on the lands of Sneddon, Paisley. The endowment charter (1163-72) of the Monastery of Paisley was witnessed to by Robert de Croc, and we learn that this Robert gave the patronage of the Kirk of Neilston, which then existed, to the Monastery of Paisley, pro salute anime sue (i.e., for the safety of his soul), as elsewhere noticed.

There can be little doubt that the church here referred to was a much earlier structure than the present one, and may possibly have been one of several that are known to have existed in different parts of the country, representing an earlier wave of Christianity, dating from a period long before the arrival of the Stewarts in Scotland, and therefore before the erection of the Abbey at Paisley. These old churches were “St. Mirin’s, Paisley, sixth century; St. Winoc’s, Lochwinnoch, eighth century; the old Parish Church of Killallan; the Churches of Renfrew, Polockshaws, Inchinnan (which belonged to the Templars), and the Church of Neilston.” But I have no information by whom that in Neilston was erected. This church would appear to have been included in the gift bestowed on Walter the Steward by King David I.—a gift which included nearly all Renfrewshire. It would seem, also, that as soon as this royal gift to Walter was confirmed by charter, he made certain divisions of the land among those of his followers who came with him from England, and that the lands of Neilston, along with Crookston, were conferred upon Robert de Croc.

After the erection of the Abbey, the several churches above named, with the exception of that of Inchinnan, together with the rest of the churches of Strathgryffe, were bestowed by the Steward upon the Abbey at Paisley. Most probably the fine old Gothic window in the north wall of the present church, which is much older than the general structure, represents what remains of an earlier erection on the site of the present building, and may possibly have some relation to the early church gifted to the Abbey. From structural evidence in Crawford’s time (1710), this window was supposed to be from five to six hundred years old.

It would appear, also, from a charter belonging to the first half of the thirteenth century, that the De Croc family, who at the time held the lands of Neilston, had reserved some right in the church property, or believed that they had, and a dispute arose. It was settled, however, by the De Crocs renouncing all their claims, in the presence of Walter the High Steward of Scotland and other witnesses. In any case, we find that by the middle of the thirteenth century, the monks of Paisley had obtained not only the church, but also the property of the church, of Neilston. At a later date, we learn that the possessions of the De Croc family at Crookston and Darnley had passed into the Darnley branch of the family of Stewart.

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