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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter IX. — Barrhead

The population of this rapidly rising burgh was, in the census of 1901, 9,855, but is now computed to be over 10,000; in 1811, it was 1,230. Writing about the last third of the eighteenth century (1773), Crawford, in his History of the county (p. 170), says:—“Gavin Ralston, of that Ilk, Esquire, had lately feued off a new town for building upon, which appears to do well, that he called the name of the place Newton-Ralston; and it is further observed that in Newton-Ralston, Barrhead, Dovecot-hall, and Grahamston, there are about 70 weavers’ houses, containing about 130 looms; all the four places lying contiguous to one another, and having the rivulet of the Levern running through between them, at which place another small rivulet, the Kirkton, hath its influx into the Levern.”

Such is the unpretentious description of the beginnings of the now prosperous and busy burgh of Barrhead, the extension and growth of population in which, within the last quarter of a century, has been quite phenomenal. So much so, indeed, that Crawford’s observation regarding Newton-Ralston still applies—“that it appears to do well.”

So late as 1837, this now busy centre was merely a thriving village, with its several hamlets, or clachans—as named by Crawford—no more than met together. It is said to owe its name to the first buildings of the predominant member of these hamlets being situated at the head of some bars, or rigs, of ploughed land on one of the oldest farms in the neighbourhood—hence Barhead. Barrhead is about two miles northeast of Neilston, three miles south-east from Paisley, and eight miles south-west of Glasgow, the distance being reckoned from the cross in each case respectively. The turnpike road from Ayrshire to Glasgow passes through the burgh from south-west to north-east, and, at Cross-Arthurlie, the main road to Paisley branches off to the north. The principal thoroughfare is one long street—Main Street—stretching from the west-end of Kelburn Street, at the junction of Neilston Road to Chapelbrae, at Dovecothall, on the Darnley Road. But the extension of Cross-Arthurlie Street, along Paisley Road, almost to Cross-stobs, has added an additional long street to the town. From these principal thoroughfares several side-streets branch off to the south of the town, leading to a number of handsome villa residences.

Of recent years, and particularly since the adoption, in 1894, of the “ Burgh Police (Scotland) Act,” the town has been extending in all directions, while the streets have undergone great improvement at the hands of the Council. In 1901, Carlibar bridge across the Levern, at Dovecothall, was reconstructed and greatly widened, towards the cost of which, as it is quite convenient to the main entrance gate at Carlibar, Mrs. Glen generously contributed £600. The shops and places of business generally are all up-to-date, and have every convenience for carrying on their transactions with facility and expedition. The Co-operative Society have a number of prosperous branches in different quarters of the town, besides holding large blocks of residential tenements.

For many years, in its earlier periods, the trade of Barrhead was handloom weaving, when, as we have already learned, there were no fewer than 130 looms. Following this, the industry was mostly confined to printfields, bleaching works, and cotton mills; and it is matter of history that Levern mill, situated on that water at Dovecothall, was the second of its kind in Scotland (the first having been erected at Rothesay), and the first in the Levern valley. To these branches of trade was subsequently added engineering in all its departments. But of recent years trade development has been by leaps and bounds, largely due, no doubt, to actual and prospective facilities by railway extension ; and now the various industries embrace a wide range, some of them, such as the sanitary works, being entirely new occupations in the district. The industries now carried on include calico-printing, cotton-spinning, foundry and engineering, several sanitary works, pottery, brass-foundry, copper-works, flock-spinning, pulley-works, skinnery, boiler-works, bakery, hosiery, bleach-fields, laundries, etc., giving employment to thousands of operatives of all classes, with a corresponding increase of population and prosperity.

On the south side of Main Street, and in a quite central situation, the Municipal Buildings of the burgh have been erected, the site having been the gift to the town of the late Provost Colonel Z. John Heys. The structure has a very handsome front, and is of red sandstone, towards the cost of which Mrs. Glen, of Carlibar, with characteristic liberality, contributed £1,000 ; whilst the clock, which is placed in an ornamental tower, is the gift of then Bailie, now Provost Paton, of the skinnery. The formal opening of the buildings took place in April, 1904, when Mrs. Glen, who performed the interesting ceremony, further presented the burgh with a handsome gold chain and badge of office for the Provost ; she being at the same time made the recipient of the gold key with which she had so gracefully performed the opening ceremony.

There are commodious Public Halls; Constitutional and Liberal Club Rooms: Mechanics’ Institute and Library; Amateur Dramatic Club; Choral Society; branches of the Union and National Banks, and of the Bank of Scotland; postal, telegraph, and telephone offices; a bowling-club, and golf links, the latter on Fereneze braes; and an Agricultural Society, which has its annual exhibition in May.

There were three companies of Volunteers, now merged into the Territorial Forces; there are an Angling Club; a Burns’ Club; a Boys’ Brigade; Boy Scouts; an Art Club, inaugurated in 1904; a Masonic Lodge, “Union and Crown”; a British Women’s Temperance Association. Formerly a Fair was held at Barrhead on the last Friday and Saturday in June annually; and as already noticed, there was formerly a horse-race.

There are twenty-five licensed houses.

Churches in Barrhead.

The Established Church, or, as it is more familiarly named, the “Bourock Kirk,” is a quoad sact'a parish church, and was erected under the provisions of 7 and 8 Viet., c. 44, to meet a greatly-felt want in the lower ward of the parish at the time. It was opened for service on 23rd July, 1840. This church was the scene of considerable commotion, in 1843, when the Rev. Mr. Brewster, Paisley, in terms of the Presbytery’s appointment, arrived at the gates to preach the church vacant against the Rev. Mr. Salmon, who had adopted the views of the followers of Dr. Chalmers, and found them shut against him. After the church bell had ended, Mr. Brewster read the edict, and thereafter proceeded to Neilston, where he preached in the parish church, and again read the decision of the Presbytery; leaving Mr. Salmon and his congregation in undisturbed possession of their church for the time being. This gentleman, however, went over to the Free Church at the Disruption, in the same year.

North Arthurlie United Free Church was erected as the Burgher Meeting House, in 1790. It is a substantial, but severely plain structure, quite in accordance with the belief in simple and unadorned church architecture that characterized many religious bodies at that period. This church has a large burial-ground around it. Before the union of the Free and United Presbyterian Churches, this was the United Presbyterian church of Barrhead.

The South United Free Church is situated on the south side of the main street, in the centre of the town. It is placed a little back, and has a considerable space between it and the street. It has a very good front, with double belfries, one at each corner; and the Mr. Salmon who has just been named was its first minister.

The Roman Catholic Chapel of St. John, which was opened on 17th October, 1841, is a large erection situated on the north side of Darnley Road, in Prior Park, near Dovecothall, at the top of what is now known as Chapelbrae. The Presbytery-house, a two-storey building, is within the same enclosure.

The Evangelical Union have a comfortable church on the west side of Arthurlie Street; and the Wesleyan Methodists a chapel on the south side of Cross Arthurlie Street. In addition, there is a strong and active contingent of the Salvation Army, a Young Men’s Christian Association, and various other Christian agencies.

There is an affiliated branch of the Victoria Nursing Association, to which Mrs. Glen gave Craig-Newsky Cottage in 1904 as a home for the district nurse at a cost of .£630 ; in addition, there is a Burgh nurse, and branches of the following friendly societies—Ancient Order of Foresters; St. Andrew’s Order of Ancient Gardeners; Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds ; and other agencies making for social elevation and thrift.

Schools of Barrhead.

For many years school accommodation in Barrhead was of the most meagre description, and all scholars who aimed at a higher education were under the necessity of coming to Neilston to the Parish School. This want became so much felt that a few years before the Education Act came into force, the principal inhabitants of the town had a commodious school erected by voluntary subscription to meet the circumstances, and in January, 1870, the new school was opened. Under the Act of 1872, this state of matters was, of course, all changed, and school accommodation, commensurate with the requirements of the population, has been amply provided.

There are three large public schools under School Board management, in addition to a large school at Chapelbrae, connected with the Roman Catholic denomination, successor to an earlier school opened in Water Road in 1842. The benefits of Mrs. Glen’s bursaries apply to all the schools under the Board.


By railway communication between Barrhead.

For many years the 01 and Glasgow, was by the Joint Line, which, in 18G7, was opened through to Kilmarnock, forming the Glasgow, Barrhead, & Kilmarnock Joint Line; whilst connection with Paisley was by omnibus, which ran several times a day. But now the town is the centre of a network of railways, having connection with all the principal railway systems of the country; and the Paisley & District Tramway connects with Barrhead, and will shortly, it is expected, connect with Rouken Glen, and let us hope, with Neilston. In point of fact, the town of Barrhead is at present over-railwayed, as one of the lines has not yet been opened.

One engineering feature of the Paisley, Barrhead, & District Railway cannot be passed over without remark, viz., the large viaduct which carries the line over the hollow where Arthurlie Skinnery is located. It is a long and beautiful series of arches, thirty-eight in number, built of white freestone, and is one of the largest, if, indeed, it is not the largest railway viaduct in the kingdom, surpassing that at Berwick-on-Tweed.

Water Supply.

The water supply of the burgh is from the Balgray or Gorbals gravitation reservoir, which supplies the south-side of the city of Glasgow, and is very ample.

Sewage Scheme.

As was naturally to be expected, where sanitary engineering is a special industry, the town has excellent provision made for the disposal of its sewage on the septic tank principle. These works are designed to serve a population of 10,000, and to purify a maximum flow of sewage and storm-water of 400,000 gallons per day. The purification of the sewage is effected solely by bacterial agency, without chemicals, labour, or motor power, and without the production of sludge. The inauguration of these works took place on 15th June, 1899.

Roman Catholics in the Parish.

In the year 1791 the population of the parish was 2,330, and in that number there was only one Roman Catholic.1 In 1836, there were 1,061; in 1858, 2,770 ; in 1861, 3,000 ; in 1893, 3,400. This remarkable increase must be due to some special cause. It is not that the original inhabitants have gone over to the older Communion, for, with the exception of mixed marriages, which have no bearing on the question, there is no evidence to show that there has been any tendency in that direction. The true explanation will probably be found in the considerable immigration of Irish people to Scotland that followed the unsettled condition of Ireland after the troubled period of 1798. Having landed in the western counties of Wigton and Ayr, they appear to have spread through Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire in a north-eastern direction to the great centres of unskilled labour, supplying the market with thew and muscle. Settling in these districts, they have established many places of worship and schools to meet their religious and educational requirements ; evincing no special anxiety to return to their native land, they have become in many instances a prosperous people.

The Volunteer Movement.

The French nation has, on more than one occasion, led to the embodiment of Volunteers in Great Britain.

In 1803, the first Napoleon having established a great camp of 300,000 troops of all arms on the heights of Boulogne, for the purpose, as was alleged, of invading our country, a Volunteer Force—stated in the Estimates of 1803-4 to amount to 463.000 men—was raised in defence of the nation. To this body the County of Renfrew contributed 2,700 men. I have no knowledge, however, as to what number, if any, of these Volunteers was raised in the parish of Neilston, but our proximity to Paisley, where the first Volunteer corps in Scotland was embodied, makes it at least probable that our parish was represented in that earlier movement.

In the late “fifties” the armament of the French nation had become so very formidable, both on land and sea, under the third Napoleon —following their successes in North Italy in 1859—and their being no specially apparent objective, British statesmen, from certain ominous rumours and crowings, became convinced that the preparation could have only one meaning—a contest with Great Britain. In these circumstances, therefore, for Britain to have neglected the means of resistance and defence would simply have been infatuation.

Our military system, of non-compulsory enlistment, makes the increase of the army a slow process, even in emergency. The manhood of the nation saw this, and also realised the threatening danger, and everywhere came forward spontaneously offering their services in tens of thousands in defence of the country, thus constituting a remedy so far for our slow enlistment. It at once became apparent that this Volunteer Force, well drilled in the use of the rifle, would become a formidable defence in any attempt at invasion.

At this period, the men of Neilston and Barrhead formed themselves into two Volunteer Companies. Rifle targets were erected on Capellie Braes for practice; drill was set about in thorough earnestness; and the greatest enthusiasm pervaded all ranks of our “citizen soldiers,” so that when the “sham fight” took place on Capellie Moors, 1864, our local Volunteers were ready to take an active part in the manoeuvres.

In the annual National Competition established at Wimbledon to encourage Volunteers, Colour-Sergeant John Clews, of Neilston, early distinguished himself as a successful shot, winning the Caledonian Shield in 1864, the Wimbledon Cup in 1868, and many other prizes, reaching the final stage of the Queen’s Prize in 1868. Major Grier, of Barrhead, another successful prizeman, was six times in the final stage of the Queen’s Prize—1877, 1884, 1885, 1888, 1889, 1890—and won the Gold Cross. Sergeant Pollock, Neilston, reached the final stage of the Queen’s in 1891 ; whilst Major Pollock of Barrhead, another very successful prizeman, won the Queen’s Prize and Gold Medal in 1892, and in the same year the Silver Medal in the Grand Aggregate. In 1896 he was also the winner of the Prince of Wales prize of £100. On reaching home from London, the whole district turned out to welcome their successful volunteer with a triumphant procession, who, being chaired, was carried through the town, led by the brass band to the strains of the “ Conquering Hero.”


The inhabitants of this ancient parish have been conspicuous for patriotism and valour from the earliest times. We have already seen that there is reason for believing that as far back as 1138, at the Battle of the Standard, the men of the Levern valley—the “Levernani”—were present; that at the battle of Largs they again showed their valour, under the Pi’ince and Steward of Scotland, in repelling the Norwegian invasion ; and that at the ever glorious victory of Bannockburn, 1314, they again upheld the reputation of the district that gave them birth. It is therefore not surprising that we should find the same spirit animating their successors during the Boer War.

Previous to the introduction of the Territorial system, there were four companies of Volunteers in the parish—one in Neilston and three in Barrhead—recruits for which were drawn from the hamlets and villages around, and from the town of Neilston and the Burgh of Barrhead.

The business of the Volunteer is, of course, home defence, but during the terrible experiences of the Boer War in South Africa, and especially after the dark days of December, 1899, that followed the Colenso and other reverses, when the military resources of our country were strained in a manner never before experienced, the eyes of the nation turned to the Volunteers, amongst the reserve forces, and a call was made on them for volunteers for foreign service at the front. Then the men of this ancient parish, especially of the capital town, showed themselves second to none in their patriotism and courage in the hour of need, and in their devotion to Queen and Country, as is shown by the subjoined statement.

When the call was made by the Queen for a first Active Service Corps, for the front, from among her Volunteer Forces, three members of Neilston “C” Company—then only sixty-five strong—offered their services, and were accepted. At the call for the second Active Service Corps, six volunteered, but were finally, at the time, not required. And when the third Active Service Corps was called for, thirteen offered their services, and of these three were accepted. Of the number who thus volunteered their services and were accepted, three lost their lives— two having been shot, and one killed by railway accident. The names of the brave young men who thus sealed with their lives their devotion to their country’s cause, were Private John M‘Corkindale Campbell, Private George Williams, and Private John Clannachan, to whose memory the beautiful Celtic cross already referred to has been erected in the churchyard.

During the short stay in Stirling Castle, to which these young men were sent before sailing for the Cape, they were enrolled as Honorary Burgesses of the ancient Burgh of Stirling. Subjoined is a copy of one of the Burgess Tickets, the Burgh Arms being encircled by the motto, “Burgh of Stirling, Opidum Sterlini”—

At Stirling, the Fifth day of February, in the year One Thousand Nine Hundred.

Which day the Magistrates and Town Council of the Burgh of Stirling, being convened, they receive and admit Private J. Campbell, 3rd (Renfrewshire) Volunteer Battalion, Princess Louise’s (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), to the Liberty and Freedom of an Honorary Burgess of said Burgh, on the occasion of his volunteering and being accepted for active service with Her Majesty’s forces now engaged in the South African War.

Extracted from the Conncil Records of said Burgh by

Thomas L. Galbraith, Town Cleric.

In Barrhead, under identical circumstances, where there were three companies—“B,” “F,” and “K”—mustering about three hundred strong, on the Queen’s call being made for a first Active Service Corps, there were no volunteers. In response to the call for a second Active Service Corps, one member volunteered and was accepted. And on the call for a third Active Service Corps being made up, one member offered his services and was accepted; but in reality this last volunteer was a Neilston young man, who had joined the Barrhead Company only for comrades’ sake, as he was employed in Barrhead. Happily, these two young men were spared to return home when their period of service was over.

In addition to the members of the Volunteer body, Neilston had a considerable contingent of Regulars, Yeomanry, Reservists, and Militiamen, besides members of Baden Powell’s Mounted South African Constabulary, on active service. Of this number was Captain John Orr, of Cowdenhall, who was resident in South Africa when the war broke out. He early volunteered for active service, and was present at the battles of Dundee and Elanslante, in the latter of which he was severely wounded. He is more fully referred to elsewhere.

James Orr, Esq., also of Cowdenhall, volunteered for service at the front with the Imperial Yeomanry, and was wounded in action at Lindley. He is again referred to.

Private William Anderson of Neilston, who served with the mounted constabulary, was seriously wounded, being shot through the chest in action at Rooival in April, 1902, when acting as an advanced guard to Colonel Dunop’s column under Colonel Kekewich; the Boers being concealed in a mealy-patch, assaulted the advancing column.

Indeed, at one period of the war, the small community of Neilston had no fewer than twenty-five of its number in the field on active service in South Africa. And as showing how thoroughly the practical sympathy of the community, from the highest to the humblest, was with the brave fellows at the front, a public meeting of the inhabitants was called by Lady Georgiana Mure, of Caldwell,—whose husband, Colonel Mure, was at the seat of war at the time with the Renfrewshire Militia, 4th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders,—to see what could be done to minimise the suffering the men had to endure in the bivouac on the open veldt during the terrible frosts at night. The result was that the people all went to work with hearty goodwill, and the following letter, which appeared in the Glasgow Herald at the time, bespeaks the practical outcome :—


Caldwell House, May 21.

Sir,—Will you kindly grant me space in your columns to thank all who have so generously given me donations of clothing and other comforts for the men of the 4th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (Renfrewshire Militia), now serving at the front, particularly Mrs. Orr of Cowdenhall, and the workers in Crofthead Thread Works, the workers of Kirktonfield, Broadlie Mill, Gateside Laundry, the children of the public school, and the people of Neilston district; also the Boys’ Brigade, Christian Endeavour Society, Sabbath School and Choir, and people of Uplawmoor district, through whose kindness I have been able to forward 237 shirts, 670 pairs socks, 10 semmits, 42 cholera belts, 127 helmets, 14 shanters, 345 handkerchiefs, 7 pairs drawers, 24 mufflers, 7 pairs mittens, 1 vest, 3 pairs braces, 11 pairs wristlets, several dozens bootlaces, bath towels, letter cards, and pencils, quantity of thread reels, buttons, soap, combs, needles, pins, paper and envelopes, box cigars, cigarettes, several pounds tobacco, pipes, pocket knife, and large number of magazines, which comforts I am sure will be highly prized by the men of the battalion, and give them kindly remembrances of friends at home.—

I am, etc.,

Georgiana Mure.

This action, which was common to a great many other parishes throughout the country, is of historic importance as showing how deeply the people’s feelings were strained by a practical patriotism in the hour of our country’s danger.

But this practical sympathy on the part of the non-combatant portion of the people is no new practice, nor is it always homeward bound, but a duty transmitted to us as an inheritance from generations bygone, who carried out the same beneficent spirit in their own day. For during the terrible struggle of the Franco-German war in the early seventies, when the feelings of every civilized community were strained beyond measure at the awful sufferings of the brave men of both nations then writhing in mortal combat, the same endeavour to help to mitigate the horrors and distress of the wounded was carried out in our community, when bales of lint and cases of surgical instruments were forwarded to the Red Cross services of both nations.

The following interesting letter from William Mure of Caldwell, in 1815, on the glorious occasion to which it refers, and the circular letter of the Waterloo Subscription Committee of London on the same occasion (with the privilege of copying which the writer has been favoured), show that the same beneficent spirit actuated our forefathers in similar trials. Writing to a friend in Beith, Mr. Mure says :—

Dear Sir,

The Waterloo Subscription Paper of the City of London enclosed in a letter from the Secretary, dated 4th July, and addressed to Beith, was sent me yesterday from the Post Office, where I have this day returned it.

There has been a County Meeting at Ayr, where liberal subscriptions were made. District meetings have also been held at Kilmarnock and Maybole. I don’t know whether any of the inhabitants of Beith or the neighbourhood will be inclined to contribute in their own district to this fund so desirable, and in raising which such a noble example has been set in London, but perhaps it may be proper that an opportunity were afforded them, and if a meeting takes place at Beith, I will attend it, if in my power.

As Vice-Lieut, of Renfrewshire, I have, in the absence of Lord Glasgow, joined some other gentlemen in a request to the Convener to call that County together at an early day on this laudable business, and a meeting will be held about the middle of this month, for which I reserve my subscription, preferring to make it on this occasion at Renfrew instead of in Ayrshire, on account of the part I am required to take as Vice-Lieut, of Renfrewshire.

I write you on this subject, as I understand you opened the letter from London at the Post Office, and I beg to submit to your judgment what you think best to be done with regard to promoting at Beith the object of the London Committee. Perhaps Mr. Muir might think it advisable to recommend a collection at the church, on which account I shall be glad if you had an opportunity of seeing him to-morrow, and showing him the letter

and Subscription Paper. If anything occurs to communicate, I shall be glad to hear from you. I mean to be in Beith Church on Sunday afternoon, and will call at the Mans© between sermons.

I remain,

Dear Sir,

Yours ever truly,


R. Montgomerie, Esq.>



Copy of Subscription Paper referred to.

Waterloo Subscription Committee Room,

City of London Tavern,

4th July, 1815.


While the glorious Victory of Waterloo will have impressed the inhabitants of in common with all their fellow subjects, with a due sense of thankfulness for its important advantages; the unexampled cost of Human Life, by which this astonishing and unparalleled Victory has been achieved, must have excited also their sympathy and commiseration.

The Committee for conducting the Subscription for the benefit of the Families of the Slain, and of the numerous severely Wounded of the British Army, convinced that you will find pleasure in every proper means to promote this good work, have directed me to call your attention to the propriety of convening a public meeting of the Inhabitants, or of taking such other steps as you may deem most proper to procure the assistance of all classes to the laudable purposes of this just, and necessary act of liberality and beneficence.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,



P.S.—All communications per Post are to be directed

Waterloo Subscription,


And to be put under Cover directed

Francis Freeling, Esq., etc., etc.,

Post Office, London.


The New Territorial Army.

The new Territorial Army scheme came into force in 1908, and with its introduction into the country the old Volunteer system may be said to have passed everywhere into the crucible. How it may come out will largely depend upon the encouragement received from headquarters. In the meantime, the four companies referred to, one in Neilston and three in Barrhead, may be looked upon as in a state of animated suspension. Difficulties have cropped up, but as there is an inclination on the part both of men and officers to join the new force, these difficulties may be got over in such a way as to admit of their enlistment under the new regulations.

In point of fact, this has in part been realised, as a very efficient company has been already formed in Barrhead, composed of men and officers drawn from Neilston and Barrhead districts, with headquarters in the burgh town, where a new drill hall is to be erected, on the east side of Paisley road, to meet their requirements. The architects are Messrs. Craig Barr & Cook, Paisley.

In the meantime, this change has made a very material alteration in the numbers of men in the respective services. Under the Volunteer system—that passed away, 31st March, 1908—there were upwards of 400 men in the several companies in the parish; whereas, the full complement of the present Territorial company will muster only 120—of which its present strength is 89.

The Territorial Force is, however, gaining popularity; and as the War Office is giving active assistance, it may be naturally expected that the number of those to join it will increase in the parish, as the system becomes more generally known and better understood.

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