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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter XXI. — The Place-Names of the Parish

The study of the place-names of any district is often of much interest, as frequently thereby meanings are found attaching to them that are at first quite hidden, or only, if at all, obscurely revealed. In some instances, as will be seen from those of our parish, the local names throw light, not onlv upon the physical and geographical condition of the land as it was in the remote past and as it continues to be even now, but in others they indicate conditions of its past natural history that would not be readily discovered now, as they have very long ago ceased to exist. Especially would this seem to apply to words of Celtic origin, whether Gaelic or Cymric—Highland, that is, or Welsh. Take examples from one or two of the place-names in the parish as illustrative of what is here meant. For instance, the local name The Moyne, from the Welsh word maim— peat. Here we have disclosed at once a whole description of the character of the tract of land bearing that name, which is one vast moor of peat. Again, the local name Knockglass—Gaelic, cnoc=hill, glass=green — Greenhill. What more descriptive designation could have been selected for the lands of this hill farm?

As a matter of fact, identical or cognate names to these are to be found in adjoining parishes, and also in places further apart, even different counties, showing that the same natural objects had suggested identical or kindred names to the kindred tribesmen who invented them, and who, though inhabiting those separate and isolated localities, all spoke a common language. It has already been shown that the lands of the parish were at one time included in the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde, which for a very long period was possessed by the Strathclyde Britons, a Celtic people speaking a Celtic tongue. In these circumstances, therefore, it might naturally be expected, notwithstanding the remoteness of the period, that they would have left behind them some evidence of their protracted stay—for they continued in possession until a comparatively late date—in the names, for instance, of the most outstanding physical aspects and conditions of the land, its hills, moors, and specialties of land and water; those features, in short, least likely to undergo or be exposed to change. Now, this is exactly what is to be found. Many centuries have passed away since the Gaelic language was regularly spoken by the people of this parish, but many of its place-names still bear evidence of having been originated by a people speaking that tongue. No doubt the names have in many instances undergone change of form in spelling and pronunciation as they have come down to us through the ages, and that their original meanings and significance have been correspondingly obscured. But, notwithstanding this, it is still possible to trace backward through the root meanings of the words and discover some, at least, of the reasons and ideas those early people had in their minds when giving or associating, as they did, those very descriptive names to the different places and localities. For example, take the Celtic name, hiock-an-cte— which means the hill of the hind. When that word was coined and given to the hill and surrounding land, it would appear that the stag or red deer roamed wild in the broad moorland and district, and that the hinds were so much accustomed to assemble about this hill as to suggest to the early people the distinctive name, Knock-an-ae. Whilst another name belonging to the same class—Knockmade, the hill of the wolf, or Wolfhill, the local name of another hill in the parish—probably takes us back, by its name, to the period when the wolf was to be still met with in the uplands, and had to be combated with by the inhabitants.

By other of our place-names, again, the ecclesiastical conditions of the parish in mediaeval times are recalled and brought before us. The “Mains,” for instance, was the designation given to the “granary of the Abbey homestead” by the monks—a place, we learn, which was usually under the charge of a lay brother, or sometimes one of the monks.

Other names in the parish are, many of them, either Scottish or English, and are mostly self-explanatory, whilst a few have been derived from the proper names of persons, either owning or holding the land or occupying some special relation to it.

Subjoined is a list of the names, given alphabetically, with their meanings :—


Aurs Road—Obscure. Possibly Old British. Having some relation to Walton Burn, which crosses this road, and which, before being covered over, would be a broadish, shallow stream. Several river-names resemble it. Cf. Ahr, a tributary of the Rhine ; Scot. Ayr; Eng. A ire; etc.

Alt-Patrick—Gaelic, alt, a stream, and proper name, Patrick—Barn of Patrick.

Auchentiber- Gaelic, achaclh, field : cn, the, = Gaelic an : liber, a well—Field of the well.

Auchenback—Gaelic, achadh, field : cn, the, = Gaelic an : bac, crook, or Gaelic, bac, bank of moss, etc., from Norse, bakki—The moss field.

Balgrav—Gaelic, bail' greigh, the stead or town of the stud or herd (of horses, etc.). Greigh, stud of horses, connate with Lat. gre.r, giegis, horse-stead. The surrounding land, including that now under water by the Gorbals Gravitation Reservoir, having been in olden times most likely used for grazing young horses, this was the horse-stead where they were brought together, as occasion might require.

“Barrhead—Gaelic, barr, a hill: Engl, head, end—The end of the hill; from Neilston—as in Townend, end of the town.”

Boghouse—Gaelic, hybrid, bog, a marsh, and Engl, house—A dwelling in the marsh.

Braco—Gaelic, brago: obscure. Evidently a compound. Possibly Old British. If Gaelic, bras;o = brcch, a wolf, and viagh, plain, or field—brechmagh, wolf field; brae being assumed a variant of brcch. Possibly phonetic. A moor extends from this place northeastward to Paisley, which in very early times was covered with forest.

Brockburn—Gaelic, broc, a badger ; Scot. burn—The burn of the badger.

Caldwell—Possibly Celtic, root as held (in Dun held), wood, cognate with Gaelic coil it, and well—The well in the wood. Having, possibly, special reference to the fine well within the policies, known as “The Brandy Well.”

Capellie—Gaelic, caiplich, from capall, a horse—Horse pasture.

Capellie-moor—Gaelic, caiplich, from capall, from Latin, cabalhts, a horse : moor—Moor for pasturing horses.

Caplaw—Gaelic, caiplich—A hill for grazing horses. CJ'. caiplich in Highland place-names, stretch of moorland for pasturing horses. It is a little remarkable that this hill has always been used for grazing young horses, and is so now.

Carswell—cars, a level tract, and well—A well in a level tract of land. Derivation of cars is doubtful: if Celtic, it may be Pictish. It may be Cross-well (or even Norse, kross-vollr, the field of the cross).

Chappell—Gaelic, caibcal, a cell or church. There is a tradition that St. Conval had a cell or primitive church here at a very early date.

Commore—Cymric, cwm, a valley or hollow : mor, great—Great or big hollow. The accent is on more. In the bottom of this valley the ruins of Waterside and the Links of Levern are situated.

Corkindale-law—Norse, Thorkeloll’s, Gaelic, Corkadalc’s, hill, hybrid—A proper name with suffix law, a hill.

Cowden valley—Gaelic, calluinn, hazel, and valley ; hybrid—Hazel valley.

Cowden burn—Hazel burn.

Cowden muir—Hazel muir or moor.

The hazel is not a conspicuous growth in any of these places at the present day; but in very early times, and before this tract of country became so public and altered, it probably was so, as the valley would be very suitable for its growth, and at present the tree or shrub grows freely to the west of it, at Uplawmoor.

The Craig—Gaelic, creag, the rock. The name of a farm on the east skirt of the Pad, a large trap hill west of the town.

Craig o’ Carnock—Gaelic, crcag, a rock or hill: carnach, place of cairns—Cairnplace rocks or cairnshaped hill. This trap hill has quite the shape of a very large cairn or tumulus. It is quite a detached hillock, and Macdonald, in his Rambles, describes it as “presenting a sort of facsimile in miniature of Arthur’s Seat.”

Craigheads—Gaelic, creag, a rock, and heads—Rock of projections.

Craigiebar—Gaelic, creag, rock : bar, obstruction—Rocky obstruction. Or, craig a' bharr, “rock of the top,” or rock with a projecting top.

Dodhill—Cumbrian—Mountain with round summit.

Dubs—cf. Gaelic, dubh ; Old Welsh, dub, black—Black pools.

Duchallaw—Gaelic, dubh, black, choill, wood, black wood ; derivative, dubkallach; and Sc. law, hill—Blackwood-hill.

Dumgraine—dum for Gaelic, tom; Cymric, tom, knoll or hillock : hence grain-knoll— Grain-hill.

Duncarnock—Gaelic, dun, fort: carnach, stony—Stony-fort.

Durduff—dur for Gaelic, torr ; Welsh, tur, hill of conic shape : dubh, black—Black conical hill.

Fereneze or Fereneneze, Fernieneese (1296), as it is spelled in some old records—Gaelic, fern, the alder, or j'eama, alderwood : innes, mead or marsh—Aldermead or Alderwood marsh. Cf cognate place name Ferinish in Morvern Parish. This hill is situated at the north-east end of Levern Valley and has a varying height of about 500 feet. At its most prominent part it occupies a somewhat angular position at Grahamston, Barrhead, where it turns northward, in the direction of Paisley, to join Gleniffer Braes ; whilst, in the direction of Neilston, it turns westward to join Capellie hill range. At the top of the hill the land extends backwards with an irregular surface, having Harelaw Dam, through which the boundary of the parish passes in this direction, in one of its hollows. In the earliest records all these hills—extending from Paisley to Caldwell—are described as being covered with forest, and that, as the wild deer were abundant on the hills, they were preserved as a hunting forest for the Stewards of Scotland, their hunting lodge being Blackhall, Paisley, part of which still exists, and John le Hunter, de la Forreste de Pasly, is mentioned in Ragman’s Roll, Anno, 1296. There is also a village of Fereneze referred to, and most probably this village was situated on the southern, or what is now Barrhead, slope of the hill, and in the vicinity of Chappell, where the ancient religious house of St. Conval then was; where an old well and some ruins, thought to be relics some way associated with the early chapel, still exist. The place-name probably had been suggested to the ancient name-makers by the free and vigorous growth of the alder tree in the marshy uplands and in the ancient forest. And it is only necessary to observe the healthy and vigorous growth of the alders planted a few years ago at Rockwood, to see how suitable the environments of Fereneze still are for the growth of this particular tree.

Head of Side—Gaelic, hybrid, Engl., head : Old Gaelic, side, fairyhill—Head of fairy hill. Possibly connected with the circular mound (fairy circle) lower down the hill at the east end of Loch Libo. Side, the old spelling is here given ; and if the etymon be right, it takes us back to the old form when the d was as yet unaspirated in the word (eighth or ninth eentury) ; sidhe being a much later spelling.

Kilburn—Gaelic, hybrid, cell, kil, church : Scot., burn, a stream—The church stream, or burn. Most probably from the bum (Levern) which comes from the vicinity of the very early church at Waterside and flows past the farm, forming its boundary in Midge Glen.

Killoch—Gaelic, r/w, head (n assimilated to / following), and loch—Head of loch or loch head.

Knockanae—Gaelic, cnoc, hill: an-agh, hind ; gen. aigh—Hill of the hind.

Knockglass—Gaelic, choc, hill; Old Welsh, cnoch, tumulus: Gaelic and Old Welsh, glas, green —Greenhill.

Knockloch —Gaelic, cnoc, hill : loch, loch—Hill loch.

Knockmade—Gaelic, cnoc, hill : madadh, mastiff (wild dog), wolf—Hill of the wolf.

Levern (river)—Celtic, from Pictish or Old British root cognate with Latin /wo; cf. Leven, Lorat. The idea is “flowing water.”

Linnhead—Gaelic, hybrid, linnc, a pool or water, and head, Engl.— Head of the pool.

Loch Libo—Libo is very obscure and, possibly, of great antiquity, even pre-Gaelic. Cf ljft'y, Dublin.

The Moyne—Cymric, maim, cognate with E. Irish mom, peat, bog, or moss. Same name occurs in The Moyne, a peaty stretch between Durness and Tongue.

Moyneinoor—Cymric, ninirn, peat: Celtic, mor, big, great—The big moss. Which, in this situation, extends miles into the adjoining parish.

Plvmuir—Obscure. The meaning seems to be “ Muir-ton,” ply being through Old British in the sense of “ton.” Cf Armorican, ploit—Moor-dwelling; and quite descriptive of the farm.

Polleick—Celtic, baile (farm), town, or steading, and lie, genitive of Icac, flag or flagstone— town of the flagstones; having reference to the outcrop of limestone flags under the steading.

Paisley Road—Paisley, Gaelic, Paislig, from Latin, basilica, ultimately through Greek, /WiXkctj, palace, or abbey, and road, A.-S. pa. t. of ridan, to ride. The ride or road to the Abbey. At the early period here implied, the busy burgh of Barrhead would be non-existent, and the people of the parish would mostly find their way to chapel by this road to Paisley, or the Abbey.

Syde—Celtic, side, fairy hill ; possibly connected with the circular mound above the east end of Loch Libo.

Tinnoch—Gaelic, leine, fire—Where Beltane fires were probably kindled.

Whitehouse—Mid. Engl.—Whiteam, house. Latin writers used the word Candida as in Candida casa at Whithorn.


Arthurlie—Proper name, with suffix lie—Mid. Engl., a field—Arthur’s field.

Auld Barn—Scot.—Old barn.

Banklug—Doric—A tautology ; beside the bank of a stream.

Barnfaulds—Doric—Barn enclosure.

Bogsidc—Scot.—Beside the bog or marsh.

Boghouse—Scot.—Dwelling in the moss.

Boon the Brae—Doric—Above the hill.

Bowfield—Scot.—A hollow field.

Braeface—Scot.—The face or slope of the hill.

Broadlie—A.-S.— Broad, with Mid. Engl, lie suffix, broad fields.

Burhouse—Scot.—Dwelling beside a stream.

Burnhouse -Scot.—A dwelling beside a stream.

Colinburn Glen—Proper name, Colin’s burn ; glen, A.-S., small valley.

Craigha’—Scot. “ rock-liall ”—House on the hill.

Croftliead—A.-S., cognate with Dutch kroft, a little hill : and Eng. head—Head of little hill. Darnley—Proper name.


Dyke—A.-S.—A ditch; probably referring to the ditch between Dyke and Greenhills farms. Fauldhead—Doric—Pastoral; top of sheep-fold.

Fifthpart—Doric—Agricul.; a farm where one-fifth part of the multure was thirled to a mill. Finnybrae—Proper name; and brae, a hill slope.

Foreside—Front of a hill slope.

Gateside—Doric—by the side of the gate or road ; by the wayside.

Glanderston—Probably a proper name ; with the A.-S. suffix ton.

Grahamston—Proper name ; with A.-S. suffix ton, town.

Grange—Engl.—A granary.

Greenfield moor—The green fields of a moorish farm.

Greenhills—Engl. (Name of a farm.)

Greenside—Engl. (Name of a farm.)

Harelaw—Scot.—Hill of the hares.

Hartleyhill—Proper name, and hill.

Hillside—Engl.—The slope of the hill.

Holehouse—Scot.—House or dwelling in a hollow.

How-Craig—Scots—Hollow in the rocks.

Jaapston—Probably a proper name; and the A.-S. suffix ton, a farm town.

Kirkhill—Scot.—A hill near the church.

Kirkstile—A.-S.—Stigel to climb; and probably derived from a step or stile leading to a lane or pathway to the church in early times.

Kirkton—Scot. kirk: A.-S., ton, dwelling or enclosure—A dwelling near the kirk. Kirkton-field—Scot., kirk, and ton, and field—Dwellings in field near the kirk.

“Kissing-tree.” The stubby old thorn bearing this name, which stood near the summit of the path across Fereneze Braes from Neilston to Paisley, passed away about fifty years ago. The associations of the name, however, seem to have been too interesting to allow it to die out, and so there is still a “ kissing-tree ” on the Braes, but not that referred to by Macdonald in his delightful Rambles, under date 14th August, 1852. Knowe—Scot.—A little hill.

Loanfoot—Scot.—Lower end of narrow road.

Luckiesfauld—Doric—The old woman’s enclosure.

Mains—Mediaeval Eccl.—The granary of the Abbey homesteads.

Mali’s mill—Doric—Mary’s mill.

Maukens Glen—Doric—The hares’ glen.

Middleton—A.-S., midd, middle : ton, town—The middle farm town.

Midgehole Glen—Doric—Probably a corruption of image hole. There is a tradition that the iconoclastic reformers threw an. image, taken from the church at Waterside, into the pool under Kilminning’s fall on the Levern, in this glen, hence the name. Milnthird—Engl, mill, and third—A farm where one-third of the multure was thirled to a particular mill.

Mossneuk—Doric—Corner of the moss.

Muirhead—Doric—Head of the moor.

Muirhouse—Doric—Dwelling in the moor.

Neilston—Proper name ; with suffix ton, town.

Neilstonside—Doric—Beside or near Neilston.

Netherton—Engl, nether, lower : A.-S., ton, enclosure—Lower farm town or steading.

Neukfoot—Doric—The bottom corner.

Ouplay—Up-hill; variant of Uplaw.

Over-Carswell—Above Carswell. See Carswell.

The Pad—Doric—A large trap hill, so named from the resemblance it is said to bear to the pillion or saddle-pad nsed by ladies, when it was customary for them to ride sitting behind gentlemen.

Parkhouse—Doric—A dwelling in the field.

Pattieston—Doric—Proper name Peter; with suffix ton, a dwelling.

Peesweep—Doric—Named from the cry of the lapwing—vancllus tristatus—common round the moorland road where this house is situated.

Picketlaw1—picket, a small military out-post; and lagh, a hill—Hill of the pickets.

Shilford—Doric—Corruption of shallow ford. In early times the water from Thortor burn crossed the road here on its way to Loch Libo.

Sergeantlaw—Military—Hill of observation during military occupation of the country.

Sidebraes—Scot.—Hills on the north side of Loch Libo valley.

Smithyhill—Doric—From a farrier’s shop at one time on the hill.

Snypes—Ornith.—Probably from the birds of that name which frequent the marshy places round this farm.

Springhill—Engl.—Hill of water springs.

Stewart Raiss, or Raiss Castle—The name of an old castle now in ruins on the south bank of the river Levern, east of Barrhead.—Obscure. An old map of 1654 gives the orthography as Res. Possibly the word is Old British, with some relation to the river which runs close past it: and a proper name.

Tod-plantain—Nat. his.—The fox plantation.

Thornlie moor—Doric—Thorn ; lie, field : muir—Thornfield-muir.—Doric—On the other side, or across the stream.

Athort the burn.

Threepgrass—Mediaeval agric.—Grass of the three-penny land.

“Two-penny land of old extent”—Norse, peighinn, penny—Name attached to certain land on the west border of the parish, indicating Norse methods of valuation of land in Celtic Scotland.

Uplaw—Doric—Up hill.

Uplawmoor—Doric—Up hill muir.

Walton—Scot.—A stone-walled dwelling as opposed to an earth or “clay biggin.” Wardlaw—If’ard, to watch : law, a hill—Watch-hill.

Wardhill—A variant on the above name. These hill tops were probably places for giving warning by means of fire-signals in times of inter-tribal strife.

Waterside—Engl.—Beside the water.

Windy ha’—Doric—A dwelling in a windy exposure.

Witch Burn—Doric—A name probably derived from electrical phenomenon—as St. F-lmo’s fire—being witnessed during a thunderstorm, and ascribed by superstition to witchcraft. The writer had ail experience of such a nature, and at this very bridge, during a professional night journey in an electrical storm. It was about two o’clock a.m. The night had been very stormy, and was at the time intensely dark, the whole sky— except along the eastern horizon, which showed a faint streak of light—being filled with dense clouds, darker than the ordinary nimbus cloud. The wind blew in great gusts from the north-west, across the high land of Caplaw moor, with occasional sharp showers of small hail; and at intervals broad sheets of lightning, accompanied by a quite audible, soft fluffy sound, passed sluggishly from the masses of cloud in the west to those in the east. The road through Greenfield moor dips into a slight hollow, where the moorland stream passes under the bridge at Witch Burn; and the writer, who was on horseback, was surprised to observe that, immediately on the horse getting into this hollow, both its ears became lit up with a shimmering phosphorescent glow, as if from a tiny light in each ear, and at the same time the creature becoming restless and uneasy, snorted as if its nostrils were being irritated also. Scarcely had there been time to realize these conditions, before the same phenomena overtook the rider, who had evidently now himself entered this electric stratum, as his eyebrows immediately began to emit a faint crackling sound and his moustache and locks to twitch and coruscate and shimmer with a luminosity similar to that displayed by the horse’s ears. On getting beyond the bridge, under which the water was running, the phenomena entirely disappeared. It was evident that the atmosphere at this place was highly surcharged with electric fluid ; that the electrically-laden clouds were so low as to admit of their electricity combining with that of the earth; and that the points of hair of the horse’s ears and nostrils, and the writer’s eyebrows and moustache, had become the medium of rendering it visible, in a manner analogous to the electrical brush. There can be little doubt that the name, Witch Burn, attached to this and the stream on Uplawmoor road, had its origin in some experience similar to the above, at a time when superstition exercised greater influence over the human mind than it happily does in the present age. So far this view is supported, as regards superstition, by the following story, from a gentleman whose family has had long connection with this parish. His grand-uncle, a man of substance, and owner of several farms at Sproulston, Kilbarchan, was in the habit of coming to Neilston to see his brother, who owned Holehouse farm, the journey being usually made on horseback. As evening had generally set in before he left to return, he always required two or three persons to accompany him and see him as far as the Witch Burn, in Greenfield moor, on his way home, so great was his dread of being caught by witches at that place after dark. When nearing the burn, he was suspicious and watchful, but when safely past that uncanny spot he became cheerful, and could bid his escort “good-bye,” in excellent spirits. This would be about a hundred and forty years ago; and no doubt his friends considered his caution highly commendable, their own safety being assured by their number on the way back.

Waukmill Glen—Doric—IVaulk, to thicken : mill and glen—The glen of the fuller’s mill. An art introduced into this country by the Flemish merchants early in the twelfth century.

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