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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter XIII. — Notable Events, Customs, Characters, and Incidents

The Queen’s Jubilee.

On the occasion of the first Jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria (1887), amid splendid summer weather, Neilston and Barrhead were the scene of right loyal rejoicings. From an early hour signs of coming enthusiasm were visible, and as the day wore on, the buildings were gay with bunting; strings of bannerets were thrown across the streets, and flags of many descriptions were displayed from the windows and house-tops, many of them bearing expressions of loyal good wishes. In Barrhead, the band marched through the burgh amidst general rejoicings : at Neilston, as the shades of night came down, electric lights flashed from the top of the clock-tower at Crofthead thread works, lighting up the country around. A bonfire was kindled, and a grand display was produced by setting off a large number of brilliant rockets. The streets were perambulated by an enthusiastic company amidst great rejoicings and the singing of snatches of popular songs. Later in the evening, to the inspiring strains of the violin and cornet, dancing on the street was kept up for several hours by the younger members of the community.


This dam is the reservoir for supplying South Arthurlie print-works with water, and is situated on a much higher ground about two miles to the west of the works. The accident occurred when the works were stopped for the New Year holidays, and is supposed to have been caused by some interference with the water-levels at Walton dam, immediately above it, and to which it is a supplementary reservoir. The embankment gave way during the night of the 30th December, 1842, when the great volume of water thus let suddenly loose rolled down the valley through which Glanderston Burn flows to the printfield below, dashing amongst the buildings there with very serious consequences. Several families resided at the works, and there were many narrow escapes, but one family had eight of its members cut off without the slightest warning. Most probably the disaster would have been more destructive than it unfortunately was, had it taken place at any other than the holiday time. The members of the unfortunate family who lost their lives were interred in the burial-ground of what is now Arthurlie U.F. Church, where a large tombstone was subsequently erected to their memory, with the following inscription :—

Sacred to the Memory of Mrs. M'Intyre, aged 48, and her daughter Margaret, aged 8 years ; also, Robert Johnston, aged 45, and his wife Margaret M'Nae, aged 50, and their children, Henrietta, aged 26, Archibald, aged 21, and Margaret, aged 17 years; also, their grand-child, Margaret Henderson, aged 4 years, daughter of Henrietta; who perished together in their own house at South Arthurlie Field, on the night of the 30th December, 1842, in the flood occasioned by the bursting of the embankment of Glanderston Dam.

“Truly, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.’'—1 Sam. xx. 3.

“Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”—Prov. xxvii. 1.


In the year 1851—when the general heart of the country, with pleasure and pride, was looking forward to the approaching great world’s show, the first International Exhibition, then being raised in Hyde Park. London, in which the Prince Consort was taking such an active and praiseworthy interest—a great gloom fell over the inhabitants of the parish of Neilston and neighbourhood, and many hearts were suddenly stricken by an irretrievable loss through the dreadful explosion at the Victoria Pit, Nitshill. This pit is situated just beyond the boundary of the parish at Barrhead, and the sound of the explosion was heard there and over a wTide area for miles around, causing an anxious and uneasy feeling amongst the people who heard it, from the dread that something mysterious was impending, though no conception could be formed of its nature at the time. This appalling catastrophe took place on the morning of Saturday, between four and five o’clock, 15th March, 1851.

The pit had been working for many years before the disaster, and the underground arrangements were of such a superior character that the pit had the reputation of being one of the best managed and healthiest in Scotland, as well as one of the safest. The explosion took place in the Hurlet shaft, which was about 170 fathoms deep, whilst the workings below covered an area of 70 acres. Sixty-four men and boys had been checked off as having descended the shaft that morning before the explosion took place, and of that number only two men were taken out alive, whilst sixty-two were killed. Many of those who had met with such a sad end resided in Barrhead and several in Neilston ; where a profound feeling of sympathy prevailed for the sufferers left—the orphans and widows. Many funerals took place on Saturday, 22nd, and Sunday, 23rd, when a large number of the dead were buried in the little graveyard attached to St. John’s Chapel at Barrhead. Conscious of the far-reaching effects the catastrophe would have upon the living sufferers, men’s minds were early drawn to take steps such as the urgency called for. Messrs. Coats, Paisley, to whom the pit belonged, subscribed £500 towards a fund in aid of the stricken people, and the Earl of Glasgow, who had arrived early on the scene from Hawkhead, and had taken an active part in helping the rescuers, with a noble generosity, also subscribed £500, besides giving £50 as a reward to the heroic explorers, who, at the risk of their own lives, had volunteered and gone down the shaft as a search party. The disaster was thought to have been caused by the roof having fallen in in some part of the workings, by which a large accumulation of gas had taken place.


Fifty years ago many of the older inhabitants here possessed a vivid recollection of the disastrous accident on the then Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal, since converted into the Canal Railway, which occurred on the 10th November, 1810, and cast a gloom over the whole district, some Neilston people having friends in the disaster. The Canal, which had its Glasgow terminus—Port-Eglinton—where Eglinton Street Station of the Caledonian Railway now is, had been in use as far as Johnstone for some time, and the fly-boat which plied regularly between these ports had just brought a full complement of passengers from Johnstone as far as Paisley, and put into the landing-stage there, when an excited crowd of excursionists, not giving time for those on board to land first who wanted to do so, rushed on to the deck of the little craft. This extra side weight caused the vessel to heel over, and immediately two hundred people were thrown into the canal basin and struggling for life, and although the water was only about six feet deep, eighty-five of their number were drowned.


At various times coal has been wrought in the western division of the parish, especially about Caldwell, Uplawmoor, and Loch Libo. At the loch the coal seam dips under the water from its southern margin, and here the remains of the old engine seat of a former pit are still to be seen. About the end of the eighteenth century—1793—the waters of the loch, unfortunately, burst through upon the men underground, deluging the workings. How many men were in the pit at the time of its occurrence is not said, but six or seven of their number were drowned. One of the men, we learn, was a servant of the Rev. John Monteath, D.D., afterwards minister of Houston, who had gone with a horse and cart for coal, and who had gone down the shaft out of curiosity, or at all events without any special message. The bodies of the unfortunate men were never recovered.


Fifty years ago several of the oldest Irish residents in Neilston could tell that they quite well remembered the rebellion in Ireland of 1798 ; and of seeing the French warships appearing in Killala Bay, on the shores of which they then lived, and of the French troops being quartered in the town of Killala, County of Mayo. It is interesting to observe that this military adventure brought out one of those generous courtesies that sometimes pass between gallant foes. General Humbert, commanding the French, having been defeated and taken prisoner at Carrick-on-Shannon—out-manoeuvred by Colonel Yereker of the Limerick Militia— was one day at mess asked to give a toast, and immediately gave “General Vereker”; being informed that Yereker was only a Colonel of Militia, he exclaimed, “ Vraiment! mais c’est dommage (Indeed ! that is a pity), for he is de only general I have met with since I came to Ireland;” and this though he had been opposed by Generals Luke and Lord Cornwallis.


Among customs that still existed in the parish fifty years ago, though then dying out, was that of the baptismal cake; in which, when a child was to be presented for baptism, the mother baked beforehand a special christening bread, designated the “blithemeat cake.” The cake, or so much of it, was carried by the person, mother or nurse, who took the infant to church, and was presented by her to the first adult person whom she chanced to meet. If the person who received the cake was aware of what was expected of him in the ceremony, he would immediately take the child in his arms and accompany the mother or nurse part of the way to church, as an evidence of his good-will towards the family. But on the solitary occasion on which the writer was presented with such a cake, being totally ignorant of the part he was expected to take in the affair, he simply received the cake with thanks and continued his journey, rather surprised at the nurse’s insistency, as she offered no explanation.


This custom, though also rapidly dying out, was occasionally practised in the parish fifty years ago, especially at country marriages. The broose was generally ridden by well-mounted young farmers, tolerably mellowed with the national beverage, and was a spectacle greatly enjoyed. The object of the race was, of course, to be first to welcome the young wife; and guns were fired into the air when she was seen approaching. When the bride reached the threshold of her future home she was frequently lifted over it, lest she should stumble, an omen of ill-luck, and, as with her Roman sister of old, a farle of oat-cake, or sacred cake baked for the purpose, was broken over her head,1 as a sort of invocation that she might always have abundance of the staff of life. It is to this custom, more common in his time than it is to-day, that our national bard alludes in his address to his “Auld Mare Maggie” :—

“At brooses thou had’st ne’er a fallow
For pith and speed.
But every tail thou pay’t them hollow
Where’er thou gaed.”

The writer had an experience of being sent for on one occasion to see professionally a young birkie who had, in the comparative darkness of the night and his zeal and hurry, ridden into the midden-stead that lay empty, except for some water, convenient to an entrance into the farm court. No doubt, in this case the “barmy noddle” had contributed to the mistake ; but it was so far satisfactory that there was practically no injury done.


Firing the whin, or gorse, on Capellie and Fereneze hill slopes, as darkness came down on the evening of “May Day,” was a common practice among the young people of Neilston until well within the memory of many of the older inhabitants of the present day; and numbers of them can, doubtless, recall merry evenings spent on the braes, between Killoch Glen and the locale of the “kissing tree,” romping round the bonfires on these occasions of welcoming in “the good old summer time.”

This custom was, doubtless, a relic of the very ancient Celtic festival, celebrated by the Druids about this season of the year, when the sacred fires were kindled—not without the suspicion that they were frequently the scene of human sacrifice and suffering—with the new light, which was produced by forcibly rubbing together two pieces of wood. These rejoicings, with the amount of superstition surrounding them, lingered long in the Hebrides and Western Highlands generally, but they seem to have been common enough in other parts of Scotland as well. The merry-making associated with them is referred to by the royal bard, King James I., in his poem, “Peblis to the Play”:—

“At Beltane when ilk bodie bownes
To Peblis to the play,
To hear the singin’ and the soundes
The Beltane, suth to say.”


Another practice indulged in by the youthful maidens of Neilston, in common with many other places, on this eventful May Day evening was to “gather the yarrow,” that they might try the fates as to the appearance of their future partner in life. To be effective and propitious, this had to be done just as the sun went down. Having culled the plant, it was taken home and placed under the pillow, where its reputed influence was expected to evoke the necessary dream; and just before “slumber’s chains had bound ” the fair one, the following rhyme had to be slowly repeated :—

“Yarrow, fair yarrow!
I hope before this time to-morrow
That you will show me
Who my true love shall be;
The colour of his hair,
The clothes that lie’ll wear,
And the words that he’ll speak,
When he comes to court me.”


The method of celebrating the marriage festival by Penny Wedding was occasionally had recourse to among a certain class of people in our community.

On such occasions, the custom was for each guest—and the more the merrier—to contribute towards the expense incident to carrying out the marriage in this fashion, and also to help the young couple to start in their new sphere of life. The assembly generally took the form of a night’s dancing in one of the halls, when the local disciple of Paganini was requisitioned, and the fun went fast and furious for several hours. But for many years this practice has been given up, and paying weddings are now things of the past.


Fifty years ago, when the spread of knowledge was still trammelled by the tax upon paper and newspaper duty (removed in 1861), when the evening paper was yet a thing of the future, and a daily paper a luxury beyond the reach of many, even middle-class families, it was no unusual thing in our good town, where the desire was to keep abreast of the times as regards news, for several persons to join or club together in procuring a daily paper amongst them. The writer was one of five who jointly carried out this economical method of procuring the Glasgow Herald daily for many years.


During the exciting period that for some years preceded the passing of the great Reform Bill of 1832—more particularly after the disastrous affair at Manchester in 1819, known as Peterloo, when a political gathering was dispersed by cavalry, and from 500 to 600 people were killed— the whole country for miles around Paisley was in a state of intense political ferment, aggravated by the suffering the people endured through bad harvests and want of employment. For three years, from 1817 till 1820, many meetings of an alarming and riotous character were held in Paisley under Radical and Chartist leaders, requiring, in some instances, the intervention of the military force for their suppression. Fortunately these disturbances did not lead to any loss of life, but the destruction of property was very considerable in different parts of the town.

As was to be expected in an advanced community, the people of Neilston did not escape the contagion of this political commotion. From the nature of a special part of their trade, the people of Neilston were brought a good deal into contact with Paisley, then the great centre of the hand-loom industry, and through this they came to have strong sympathies with the movement that was there in progress. A great meeting was held on Meikleriggs Moor in September, 1819. The people assembled in thousands from the surrounding towns and villages, carrying Hags draped with black in sympathy with their compatriots who had fallen in the struggle at Manchester; and we learn that the brass band from Neilston entered the grounds playing “Scots Wha Hae,” at the head of a contingent of followers. The Magistrates of Paisley, at an earlier date, had issued a Proclamation forbidding the carrying of flags at this gathering, and a rumour got out during the progress of the meeting that the Hussars had been sent for to disperse it. This may have helped to break up the meeting a little earlier, but it had not the effect of improving the temper of those taking part in it, and consequently when those of the eastern section were on their way home, they got engaged in a riotous disturbance in High Street, which, at the Cross, required the assistance of the cavalry for its suppression. “But the Neilston contingent, with their band playing, turned down Storie Street, then just outside the burgh, and got quietly away.”

The intelligent moderation displayed in this instance was not, however, acceptable to all the members of the j)arty, as the people of Neilston were not without keen representatives in the struggle ; and a story is told of some physical force Radicals and Chartists who, after a rousing meeeting in the Masons’ Arms Hall, with deputations from other parts, were resolved to “go out” against the oppressor. The intention was, according to the “plan of camjjaign,” first to march to Paisley Cross, whence, with increased numbers, they would proceed by way of Renfrew, to Dumbarton, and, in emulation of the brave Sir Thomas Crawford of Jordanhill, would seize the castle there, and place the guard in irons. Having done this, and supplied themselves with arms, they would march to London, increasing in volume as they neared the capital, and there demand the charter. But, as the day approached for the grand start being made, it became rumoured that the Yeomanry were on the alert, and that a domiciliary search might be made of suspects, which had the effect of giving their zeal pause; and, finally, the fiasco burst up. And in later years and happier times, when the object of their agitation had been practically granted by statesmen who “took occasion by the hand to broad base the constitution on the people’s will,” and their own better sense had asserted itself, they could join with others heartily in the laugh at the Chartist escapade, even when at their own expense.


The late John Carswell, sometime minister’s man, church officer, gravedigger, postman, and registrar, was quite a type of characters that were to be found in many old and somewhat isolated towns fifty or sixty years ago. His family, by his maternal relatives of the name of Gemmell, had been continuously “ church officers and gravediggers for over seven hundred years, as proved from church records.” John, or Johnny, as he was generally called, was an all-round man, about seventeen stone weight, and not by any manner of means a teetotaller. To a blustering manner, he added a good deal of natural shrewdness and wit, a straight out and honourable man. In his time he had been brought into contact with the ministers of most of the parishes around, through the occasional interchange of pulpits. On one occasion, when the minister of Neilston, the Rev. Dr. Fleming, was preaching at Eaglesham, he had his man Johnny with him as coachman. John, having seen the horse duly stabled, attended the church in company with his brother beadle, occupying the same seat with him. The sermon having got fairly under weigh, the home beadle, by way of courtesy, after helping himself, handed his snuff-box as a friendly greeting to the stranger, who, having helped himself, returned the box to its owner. This, as a matter of course, they thought had passed unnoticed, but such was not their luck; the preacher had observed the proceedings, and, being a strict disciplinarian, could not allow this flagrant want of attention to pass unchecked ; so, suddenly stopping in his discourse, to the no small surprise of the congregation, including the beadles, he leaned over the pulpit and, looking the culprits straight in the face, remarked with great deliberation: “There are some of you more concerned about your noses, than the salvation of your souls.” Needless to say, more caution would be exercised when next the kindly beadle ventured to pass the “mull” in the kirk.


The Rev. Dr. Fleming was a powerful and resourceful preacher, and during the many years he presided over ecclesiastical affairs in the parish, was held in the highest esteem by the people, but he did not get on very harmoniously with the heritors. Law pleas, and bickerings of various kinds, led to estrangement, and they seldom saw eye to eye in things pertaining to the management of the church. The disproportion between the accommodation of the church and the population of the parish at this time, 1826, led to considerable friction. The minister wanted more accommodation for the people; whilst the heritors contended the church had ample sitting room for those of the inhabitants for whom they were obliged to provide sittings, viz., the agricultural section of the community. This demand resulted in the heritors rouping the seats for people other than the farming population, a practice which was continued for some time. At a public meeting, however, the people resolved that they would attend church and disregard the seat-rouping. This led to legal proceedings, when it was ultimately found the heritors were in error in acting as they had done; and rouping the seats was prohibited by interdict, greatly to their annoyance. Some of them even left the church and ceased to worship with the reverend doctor, and began to attend a dissenting church in Barrhead; which the reverend doctor, in consequence, designated the “Jaw-hole.” During this period of disputation, the minister preached to one section of the congregation in the churchyard from what was called “the tent,” a square box on four legs with a covering over it, and steps leading up to it, as to a pulpit; and in the church to another section, the heritors, their families, and supporters; and this practice he continued one way and another for eight years. On a particular Sunday, as the open air service was being thus conducted, a fine large goose wandered into the churchyard among the people—or, as some aver, was thrown in by one of the malcontent heritors—when it began screaming and gabbling in its own peculiar way, greatly to the annoyance of the worshippers. The reverend doctor, however, who was a keen satirist and wit, was equal to the occasion. Pausing in his discourse and addressing the church officer, he said, “John, take that poor creature out, and send it down the hill to gabble with its kindred geese in the jaw-hole.”

On the misconduct being repeated the following Sunday, the minister, again pausing, remarked, “ It is perhaps well, at all events it is so far pleasant to think that the owners of this creature are not unmindful of ordinances; for since they have not come themselves, they have had the grace to send a suitable representative.” These retorts w'ere more than the obtruders had calculated upon, and finding they were only supplying a means by which they were themselves chastised, the unseemly disturbance thenceforth ceased.

Another instance of the reverend gentleman’s ready wit is given, on an occasion in which he had applied to the heritors to have his garden properly fenced round. The spokesman of the heritors who waited upon him to examine the defects, said, “Well, suppose we give your garden an effectual enclosure in the form of a strong fence of ‘stabs and railings.’ "Stabs and railings, sir,” replied the reverend doctor, “I have had nothing else since I came amongst you.”

“Smeekin’ Johnny.”

Sixty years ago, in the bleaching works about Neilston, where a large number of unmarried women were employed, most of them girls from “Far Lochaber” and other parts of the Highlands, it was the custom to provide them with lodging accommodation inside the work, in what was known as the woman-house ; a practice now wisely discontinued, as its tendency in most instances was not towards elevation. At this period there was no limitation to the number of hours women might be obliged to work, and frequently they were called to labour at a very early hour. To ensure there being no excuse for not being up in the morning, the night watchman was sent to the woman-house to rouse them in plenty of time. One morning some of the girls had been more than usually somnolent, and had not got to their work in what their irate employer thought a reasonable time after being wakened, so he resolved to give the sleepers a rude awakening. For this purpose he filled the sleeping apartment with the fumes of chlorine, liberated from chloride of lime, bleaching powder, by the action of sulphuric acid or vitriol, seemingly ignorant of the physiological effects of the gas upon human life. Some time afterwards, wondering at the continued nonappearance of the women, the foolish man fortunately sent some one to see how they were relishing their fumigation ; when it was discovered that the inmates were all but suffocated ; many of them barely escaping with their lives after strenuous medical efforts and attention. Legal proceedings were only stayed by subsequent liberal treatment. But ever afterwards the fumigator was known in the neighbourhood by the sobriquet of “Smeekin’ Johnny.”

The following quatrain of some doggerel verses written at the time indicates sufficiently the 'smeekin’ process :—

“The chemic barrels were brought o’er,
Paddy set them soon a-reekin’,
‘Now,’ quo’ Johnny, steek the door,
And let the bitches get a smeekin’!”


The practice of street preaching dates from a period long anterior to the inception of the Salvation Army, in country towns at least, and in our good town it was not without a following. The place usually selected for these meetings was the Cross, near to the church gate, and convenient to a tavern at the Cross which we shall designate the “Pump Tavern,” from a pump well that stood just beside it. The landlord of this tavern, an irate and peppery old “son of a bung,” had frequently had his temper sorely tried by the attacks his trade and he were weekly subjected to by a special preacher of the name of H . . . . cock. At length, however, the proverbial last straw was reached, and “ Old Pump,” as he was called, unable to contain himself any longer, fumed out of his den, and attacked the preacher with such sustained volleys of expletives as made him fain to beat a retreat, “Old Pump” winding up the final volley with, “Dang ye, sir, ye may be a H ... . cock, a gem cock, or a midden cock, but I’ll let ye see ye’ll no craw at my door as you’ve been doin’, without bein’ tell’t o’t.”

On another occasion, the worthy landlord of the “Pump” had been hay-making. When he began work, the strength of the wind had been such as suited the operation ; but suddenly springing into quite a little gale, the hay got blown out of the old man’s arms as he carried it across the field to be ricked. Having borne with the annoyance for some time, he at length lost what little patience he possessed, and threw the whole of what was left in his arms into the wind, at the same time exclaiming, as he addressed his windy enemy, “There, dang ye, tak it a!”


It is scarcely matter for surprise to learn that, during the witch-hunting time, towards the end of the seventeenth century, Neilston did not escape suspicion. Pardovan informs us that “our General Assembly, July 29, 1640, had ordained all ministers carefully to take notice of charmers, witches, and all such abusers of the people, and to urge the Acts of Parliament to be execute against the people.” When such was the state of matters “in the green tree,” we do not wonder when we learn at a later date that “a number of witches were apprehended in Tnverkip, Lin wood, Neilston, and Kilallan, 1650,” against whom “an appeal was made to the Committee of Privy Council for their punishment.” It would appear that this appeal was listened to, and that after the wretched people were duly “worrit,” the following decision was given out:—“ 26th July, 1650, find Janet Hewison, in Kilallan guiltie of divers points of sorcerie and witchcraft, and seriouslie recommend her to the Lords of Secret Council or Committee of Assembly that ane Commission may be granted for her trial and punishment.”

Who the suspects from Neilston may have been, that “were apprehended,” is not set forth, but whoever she or they were, it would seem that with the others from Linwood and Inverkip, they had passed through the prescribed ordeal of being “worrit” scathless. No easy matter in these terrible Councils. But Neilston’s connection with witchcraft did not end there. In 1697, when “Christina Shaw, the impostor of Bargarran, who pretended she was bewitched, and made credulous ministers believe her rhapsodies,” we find the Laird of Glanderston was of the Commission for Inquiry and of Justiciary with others; whose finding was “that there were witches,” and that further inquiry should be made. In consequence of this recommendation, a new warrant of Privy Council was issued, 5th April, 1697, subscribed by Polwarth, Chancellor; Douglas, Lauderdale, Annandale, Carmichael, W. Anstruther, and Archibald Mure ; when, after a trial, which is painful reading in the light of the present day, seven wretched people, three men and four women, were condemned to death as guilty of the crime of witchcraft. During the incarceration of these poor creatures, the Rev. David Brown, then minister of Neilston, was appointed to deal with them; and accordingly, on Wednesday, 9th June, 1697, he preached at Paisley prison, being the day before the execution, a sermon on the sin of witchcraft from the text, In his closing paragraph he says “One word further, and that is, delay no longer to Renounce your deed of gift to the Devil, . . . and give away yourself to the Son of God from head to foot. Ye have put it off before and since the sentence; ye have been much dealt with, and now it comes within a day of your stepping into eternity, and we are come to you the day before your death, entreating you to put it off no longer. 0 be serious ! God hath exercised a great deal of long-suffering toward you [how little they had experienced from man!], and ye have hardened your hearts; and now we are come to you in your adversity, at last to desire you to take Jesus Christ, and if you will not take Him, we are free of your blood, and Jesus Christ is free of your blood; and if ye should endure a thousand hells, ye yourselves are only to be blamed for the slighting the reat salvation.”

Next day, for a crime that could not possibly have any existence, these poor creatures were led out and executed on the Gallow Green of Paisley, having, we are informed, “ been first hung for a few minutes and then cut down and put into a fire prepared for them, into which a barrel of tar was put, in order to consume them the more quickly! The names of the miserable victims were, John Lindsay, James Lindsay, John Reid, Catherine Campbell, Margaret Lang, Margaret Fulton, Agnes Naismith— Sacrificed at the altar of the three fatal sisters—Ignorance, Superstition, and Cruelty.”


The desire to evade payment of the duties imposed by the Excise upon particular commodities seems almost like an instinct with a certain class of people, and to no commodity does this seem more especially to have applied in early times than to the production of whisky in our country. From a very remote period the private still has been in use, and in some districts many exciting scenes and hazardous adventures have resulted from the endeavour of officials to effect a capture. The days of the adventurous smuggler and his hardy crew are, of course, long past, when foreign importations were common enough, when a kilderkin of gin or a keg of brandy might arrive by night in some mysterious way from an unknown quarter to certain folks. In any case, this class of hazard had more to do with sea-coast villages than with inland country towns. But as showing that rural towns are not always free from this form of enterprise, it may be mentioned that between thirty and fifty years ago, Neilston had at least two illicit manufacturers doing business with the private still after their own fashion. One of them was situated in a comparative ruin in a romantic glen, not a mile west of the Cross, while the other was located in the middle of a peat-bog, not a mile south of Hartfield dam, in the moorland neighbourhood of old Peesweep Inn, though both concerns were not going at the same time. It is a trite proverb, “that woo’ sellers ken woo’ buyers,” and from each of these fountains of “mountain dew” many gallons of stuff were sent forth in the winter season when the moon hid her glory,—

“That were brewed in the starlight,
Whaur kings dinna ken.”

But this is now, happily, a thing of the past. The increased number of police, and their more thorough surveillance of the district, has rendered this form of illicit traffic all but impossible ; with the result that, for many years past, the parish has been free from this nefarious practice.


In 1820, during the tenancy of Mr. James Arneil, the farm of Capellie was the scene of a very daring and successful burglary. On the night of the 13th November of that year, some hours after the inmates had retired to rest, several burglars found entrance to the dwelling by breaking open the door leading to the milk-house. The party were well armed, and on reaching the kitchen, some were placed so as to overawe the servant women in bed, and compel them to remain silent, whilst the others ransacked the rooms. Mrs. Arneil, awakening by noise she heard, became conscious that something unusual was going on in the house, and at once suspecting robbery, got up, and, with her daughter, escaped by a window. Before running off* for help, she had caution and courage enough to look into the room where the noise came from, by the window, and there she saw the desperadoes busy at their work of plunder—Miss Arneil being too much excited to observe anything that was going on. Mother and daughter now ran with all haste to the adjoining farm—Nether Capellie—then occupied by Mr. Brown, to obtain help. Two of the Brown family set out with despatch for Capellie, and on nearing Arneil’s house were met in the courtyard by a gang of seven burglars, who, on being challenged, gave vent to some dreadful oaths—some of the villains shouting “ shoot them,” whilst one of the gang flourished a drawn sword over Mr. Brown’s head. Ultimately, the order was given to let them pass—whilst at the same time the gang made off* with all speed. Mrs. Arneil went next to the old mill on Killoch Burn (since razed to the ground) for further help, but finding that there were only female inmates, she remained for shelter. It was discovered that the burglars had been successful in carrying away ten pounds in money, a gold watch, and a large quantity of body clothing. Subsequently, five of the burglars were apprehended, and brought to trial at the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh. They were Alexander Hamilton, Robert Muir, Samuel Maxwell, James Donnelly, and a wretch of the name of Dolin, who, by turning Crown witness, gave evidence against the others, and was set at liberty. Hamilton and Maxwell were hanged on 12th December, 1820. It is interestin': to note, in connection with this otherwise wretched affair, that Mr. Brown here referred to, who so pluckily, in the middle of the night, came to the assistance of Arneil’s family in their distress, was the father of the late Provost Brown of Paisley, who was then tenant of Nether Capellie farm, and there the late Provost passed his early life.


By the will of the late James Cowan, Esq., of Rosshall, the sum of £10,000 was bequeathed to the Burgh of Barrhead for the purpose of providing a public park, to bear his name. The want of such a place, and the amenities it presents, was beginning to be felt by the rapidly growing population of the burgh, and when it became known that, through the generosity of Mr. Cowan, this desideratum would be provided for, a sense of grateful satisfaction pervaded the whole community.

Mr. Cowan was a native of Barrhead, in which his father at one time carried on a varied and active business, and which had been also the scene of his own early business efforts ; and though he had not resided in the burgh for many years, he appears to have always entertained a warm feeling for his native town and a deep interest in its welfare, as shown by his munificent benefaction.

But the gift imposed a somewhat difficult task upon the Town Council, as it is not always an easy matter to find land that will be at once suitable and convenient for such a purpose. Many things have to be considered—the prospective growth of the town; the condition of the ground as regards improvability with years; its convenience to the population; its surroundings in respect of preserving its amenities as to health, outlook, and openness to sunshine—its general adaptability, in short, as a place for healthful recreation for the young and middle-aged, and restful resort for the aged and infirm.

After much inquiry and negotiation—with commendable deliberation and reserve on their part—the Town Council were in a position to announce that they had been able to confirm the minutes of the Special Meeting of 14th February, 1910, at which it was unanimously agreed to select the Parkhouse site, which is situated to the east of the town, for the public park, and on the terms offered by Mr. Turner, the proprietor.

The grounds extend to forty acres, and will cost £4,750. There will thus be left, after providing for laying off and making the park, a large sum with which to maintain it in proper condition for time to come.

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