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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter XI. — Social Relations and Progress

The change that has come over the social relations of village and rural life generally within the last sixty years is very marked in many ways. In former times, the means of communication with the larger centres of population (indeed, many of the present large centres of population scarcely existed then as such) were defective, irregular, and tedious, in addition to being expensive; the spirit and exuberance of youth had, consequently, few outlets, and such as were, were often of a kind the reverse of conducing to either self-respect, refinement, or mental elevation. Not infrequently the facilities afforded by the large number of licensed premises that then existed—Neilston, we are informed, had fifty-eight inns and alehouses—and the comparatively low price of intoxicants, with no restriction as to the hours the places might be kept open, gave a bias to this mode of enjoyment, with all its consequent evils, helped on, it is to be feared, in many instances by the example of the senior members of the community. Indeed, no greater improvement has taken place than there is in this respect among the leading classes of village communities.

Sixty or seventy years ago, and even down to times nearer our own, there seemed to be no disgrace in men in the first positions being overtaken in liquor ! But, happily, opinion has branded this practice so that it is now left a long way behind in the march of progress, and though the legislature, with its prohibitory and restrictive influences, may have aided in bringing about this altered condition of affairs, the vast change in the drinking customs—particularly in the better classes—of the country during that time is not the result of legislation, but of a more subtle influence—an influence which there is now reason to believe is percolating through every class of society at the present moment. And we look with confidence to the time arriving when the man, who at the present day is rather disposed to boast of his Saturday’s potations, will realize the stigma that attaches to such conduct, and will come to see that intemperance is a thing to be heartily ashamed of.

Many customs or usages that have now practically ceased to exist, then contributed towards developing the evils of intemperance, among young tradesmen especially. Seventy, or even fifty years ago, tradesmen, particularly those who served apprenticeships under indenture, of the then usual term of seven years, in what were considered the better class of trades or handicrafts, underwent a painful training in this respect during the seven years of their novitiate. For example, no sooner had a lad of from thirteen to sixteen years of age commenced his apprenticeship than an “entry-money,” or sum to put him on a “footing” (for such it was often called) with his new shop-mates, was imposed upon him. This sum varied in different trades from half a sovereign to a guinea or more,—for in some instances seven guineas in addition were paid for trade purposes; then a night was fixed upon, generally a Friday night, when all in the workshop, men and boys, met in a public-house, and spent the night in carousal. Towards the expense of this revel the journeymen contributed their quota, and the other apprentices added theirs. The time was usually passed in eating, singing, and drinking, and the young lad, having now made his “baptism of alcohol,” was acknowledged a fully fledged apprentice, and entered upon his particular duties as such ; next morning the workshop savoured of “stale debauch.” It was now his business to do what was known as the “scudgy-work ” of the shop: attend the fire, sweep and keep the place clean, run errands for the journeymen—including “running the cutter” for drink, for the more bibulous of them—when he was praised as being clever if he escaped being caught by the manager or employer, and felt flattered at the praise. These duties he continued to discharge, while at the same time he was being initiated into the mysteries of his calling, and he was only relieved from them on the appointment of a new apprentice; his successor taking over the scudgy-work. But the matter did not end there, for he had now to “pay up” for being freed of the “beesom”; and when the time came round for drinking his successor’s entry-money, his new fine was his contribution to the meeting. Nor was this always the end. If a young man got married, he was expected to “pay-off,” and in some instances a similar obligation followed the arrival of his first-born. In fact, the methods had recourse to for “raising” money for drinking purposes at this period were so numerous and varied,That by the time the young man had finished his apprenticeship, it was many chances against him that he had also learned something more than being a tradesman : that he had become so bound round with the merciless fetters of an acquired habit as to render it difficult, if at all possible, to be broken away from in later years.

But many of the older trades have now passed away, and those customs, “more honoured in the breach than in the observance,” have passed with them, or been greatly modified in the trades that have succeeded them; and, so far, a happier era has begun. Concurrently with these changes, improved conditions have arisen, workmen’s wages, for all kinds of labour, have greatly increased; money has become more plentiful, and where this is properly used, want is less pressing than in the earlier period referred to ; the burdens have been made lighter also by the State educating, and, where necessary, otherwise providing for the children, so that they are no longer the victims of neglect. The health of the workers is now protected, injuries compensated, and dangerous occupations specially guarded against; and when years and decrepitude have rendered them no longer able to earn their maintenance, provision is made for them by the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 ; whilst the amenities of life have been broadened out and enlarged in a way impossible to the earlier generation of artizans. With greater railway facilities for leaving rural districts, with statutory and regulated annual holidays, it has now been made possible for all classes, and at small cost, to devote their leisure to more healthful, elevating, and rational enjoyment. That this is taken advantage of is well exemplified in the large numbers of respectable tradesmen who, annually with their families, spend their holidays by the seashore, and the crowds that take advantage of the many special excursions to spend their Spring and Autumn and other holidays at different places of interest, in enjoyment and healthful exercise which, in the younger generation rising up, may lead, let us hope, to better regulated lives and greater regard for decency and social order.

Yet, in the dawn of this brighter and more elevating outlook for the toilers, it is painful to learn the extent to which the evils incident to betting on horse-racing has permeated certain of the working community in recent years, when the systematic book-maker in the city sends his vampires to raid country districts among the employes of different works. At the earlier period here referred to, this practice was either entirely unknown, or viewed only as a kind of horror carried on among a certain class of people of questionable character and reputation. Let us hope that, bv the spread of education and wider and better knowledge, a taste may be generated and acquired for more healthful enjoyment, and so stamp out these pests of society, by playing into whose hands the breadwinner’s wages are too often curtailed, and the dependent family too often made to suffer in consequence.


Closely associated with the foregoingsubject is the question, Whether or not we as a people are deteriorating in point of physique ? The recent statistics of the Anthropometric Committee of the British Association, 1882-3, would seem to show some foundation for thinking such was the case, at all events as applied to the average recruit when compared with the average British youth of the present day.

But, when we take a wider view of the matter, there are substantial grounds for concluding that the race has improved, taking like with like, for the above is scarcely a proper comparison, seeing the source from which many recruits are drawn is one where the essentials of subsistence are not always to be found when tissue growth is keenest in demand, as is evidenced by the way recruits grow and thrive every way when put on ample and regulated rations. But if we compare class with class of the present generation with those of a bygone age, the results show somewhat differently; for example :—At the tournament held at Eglinton Castle in 1839, the interesting and, in relation to our present inquiry, instructive fact was brought out, that the armour obtained on loan from the Tower, London, was mostly too small, and had to be “let out” before it could be worn by men of like social position in our own time. And as bearing on the same question, it may be noted that at the International Exhibition in Glasgow, 1888, there was a four-posted wooden bedstead among the exhibits at the Bishop’s palace, lent by the Earl of Home, the present representative of the family, which had belonged to and was used by the Black Douglas, perhaps the most powerful and formidable knight of his age for strength and prowess. On measurement, this bedstead was found to be barely six feet in length, whereas a full-sized bedstead of the present day is six and a half feet long. These two features, I think, help us to conclude that we are an improved race, stouter and taller than were the men of the earlier age. And as collaterally showing that the whole European peoples have probably improved in stature, it is reported in Laing’s Notes, as quoted by Bulwer Lytton, in Harold, that in almost all the swords of the Norman age to be found in the collection of weapons in the Antiquarian Museum in Copenhagen, the handles indicate a size of hand very much smaller than the hands of modern people of any class or rank. The descendants of a people, who have for generations been workers in mines and some kinds of factories or employment of a more or less confining character, may become stunted in growth and deteriorate in physique; but with an agricultural and rural population it is different, and this applies to the original inhabitants of Neilston parish, who have long been remarkable for size, strength, and complexion, many of them being tall, stout, able-bodied men ; some with fair, and others with dark complexions, but intelligent features; and engaged largely in out-door pursuits. They are a stalwart, big-boned race, as becomes the descendants of a people who have been influenced in their stature by the primitive Britons of Strathclyde.

The Manufactures of Levern Valley.

Within the last seventy years, the change that has taken place in the trade of the Levern valley has been such as might, without exaggeration, be designated a complete revolution. In 1831, when Charles Taylor published The Levern Delineated, the trade of the valley consisted mainly of cotton spinning; and from Crofthead factory, with 16,000 spindles, to Levern mill, erected in 1780, at Dovecothall, there were, he says, six cotton mills on a large scale; in the New Statistical Account, 1837, Rev. Dr. Fleming also speaks of the parish as abounding in cotton mills, printfields, and bleachfields. But since their day, the trade of the valley has undergone a very marked change. There are now only two bleachfields that were in operation then, Kirktonfield and Arthurlie ; two cotton mills, West Arthurlie and Levern mill; two printworks, South Arthurlie and Gateside printfields—for Millfield printwork has been unemployed since shortly after joining the calico combine, 1899. Several of the bleachfields and one printfield that then existed have been razed to the ground, viz., Waterside, Lintmill, High Crofthead, Holehouse, and Nether Kirk toil bleachfields, and Fereneze printfield; whilst Broadlie flax mill has been converted into a bleaching and dyeing work ; Gateside cotton mill is now a waterproofing manufactory, and \Y est Arthurlie bleachfield is now a skinnery, the Spinning factory a bakery, and Cogan’s or Craig’s Mill, long in a state of comparative ruin, is now a laundry. These changes point to a revolutionary alteration in trade. Not that the work of the valley is lessened thereby, or the output decreased, for the contrary is the case; employment has been enormously extended, and become more varied in character, much of it, especially in the lower ward, being entirely new industry, whilst some of the works where the industry remains the same have been more than quadrupled in size.

Crofthead Thread Factory and Spool Turning Work is now the first or highest work on the Levern—formerly there were four works higher up. Of recent years this work has undergone great extension, and now gives employment to fully 1,500 operatives, many of the girls coming to it by train from Glasgow, Pollokshaws, and Barrhead, Bleaching, dyeing, and mercerising is carried on at Broadlie Mill; and Kirktonfield is specially noted for muslin, curtains, and lace bleaching. In Gateside, printing is carried on in the long-established Gateside printworks ; and waterproofing, a new industry, has been established in what was formerly Gateside Cotton Mill. In Barrhead, trade occupations are very varied, and represented by—South Arthurlie Printing Works, an old-established concern; Shanks & Company, Ltd., Sanitary Engineers, a new and large industry giving employment to about 2,000 hands; Arthurlie Bleaching Work; Cross Arthurlie Skinnery, a new industry; Sanitas and Darnley Sanitary Engineering Works; Grahamston Foundry and Engineering Works; Pulley Makers; Flock Spinners; Boilermakers; Brass Finishers; Copper Works; Arthurlie Bread and Biscuit Factory; Co-operative Bakery; Pottery Works; Wool and Hosiery Works; Cabinetmaking; Joiners; Plumbers; and Blacksmiths.

These diversified industries bear evidence to the spirit of enterprise and progress that has been everywhere spreading by leaps and bounds in the district—especially in the lower district—until what was only, even a quarter of a century ago, a comparatively small community, has now become the populous and prosperous Burgh of Barrhead.

It is interesting to note how very early the industry and push, that seems always to have characterised the Levern valley, had established a connection with the rising cotton industry of the country by erecting what was the second mill in Scotland. In the light of the present day it seems not a little remarkable that the first cotton mill should have been erected at Rothesay on the island of Bute. But the circumstance is explained by the fact, that in 1765 the laws of Britain required that all Colonial produce should be landed in Britain before it could be imported into Ireland, and for the accommodation of the Irish colonial trade, Rothesay was made a Custom House station. Taking advantage of this, a cotton mill, the first in Scotland, was erected in 1778 by an English firm. But it soon afterwards became the property of the celebrated David Dale, of Lanark mills fame, a man of great enterprise, and a native of the neighbouring town of Stewarton, where his father was a grocer. Levern mill, erected in 1780, followed closely after, being, as already noticed, the second of its kind in Scotland.

The Old Parochial Board.

The provision made for the poor and destitute of the parish under the old system, in which the landlords of landward parishes assessed themselves and were relieved of one-half by their tenants, the management of which was by the minister and elders of the church, was often precarious in its nature, and always unsatisfactory. But in the year 1845 the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, came into force, and by it the circumstances of the poor of the parish were placed upon an entirely different footing, and came under the care of the Parochial Board, the duties of which were carried out by an Inspector of Poor; the sick poor, in addition, being attended to by the Parochial Medical Officer. In our parish, which was non-burghal, the qualification for becoming a member of the Board was being owner of lands and heritages of the yearly value of £20. The funds for the relief of the poor were raised by assessment, towards which owners and occupiers of houses both contributed, and the whole administration of parochial affairs was under the superintendence of a Central Board, the Board of Supervision in Edinburgh. There were no special chambers for the meetings of the Board. The meetings were held monthly, generally in a room in the Inspector’s house set apart and paid for by the Board as an office. Under this system the able-bodied poor had no claim, but poor persons of seventy years, or even under that age, who were so infirm as to be unable to gain a livelihood by their work, all orphans, and destitute children under fourteen years, and all suffering from mental disease were eligible, and all who were certified by the Medical Officer as being unable to earn their maintenance, were provided for. And, under certain conditions of residence, foreigners, and people from other parishes, could acquire a settlement and claim, entitling them to relief when destitute. Where •doubt existed as to the alleged destitution being genuine, the Board had the power of putting the matter to a test by offering the party admission to the poorhouse as a residence. In Neilston, forty years ago, there was a small poorhouse, under the care of a matron, in which provision was made for the aged and infirm, and by this arrangement the poor and sick of the parish were comfortable and well provided for.

But with the introduction of the new form of Local Government, the old Parochial Board has become obsolete, and superseded by the Parish Council since 1895, under which the Poor Law administrators are elected and representative. But though the venue has been changed, the law in its power and purpose remains the same and unchanged. The Chairman of the Parish Council under the new law is ex-officio a member of the Commission of the Peace.

That there is, however, ample scope for improvement in the present methods of Poor Law administration has been abundantly shown by the voluminous reports of the recent Poor Law Commission. Both sections of the Commission unhesitatingly condemn the present system, and therefore, when Parliament comes to deal with the question, we may naturally look for legislative reform of such a drastic character as will bring the whole organisation of the Poor Law more into harmony with present day opinions and recent cognate enactments; embodying, probably, recommendations from both the majority and minority reports of the Commission.

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