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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
a municipal and police burgh of Renfrewshire, Scotland, on the White Cart, 3 m. from its junction with the Clyde, 7 m. W. by S. of Glasgow by the Glasgow & South-Western and Caledonian railways. Pop. (1891), 66,425; (1901) 79,363. In 1791 the river, which bisects the town, was made navigable for vessels of 50 tons and further deepened a century later. It is crossed by several bridges - including the Abercorn, St James's and the Abbey Bridges - and two railway viaducts. The old town, on the west bank of the stream, contains most of the principal warehouses and mills; the new town, begun towards the end of the 18th century, occupies much of the level ground that once formed the domains of the abbey. To the munificence of its citizens the town owes many of its finest public buildings. Opposite to the abbey church (see below) stands the town hall (1879-1882), which originated in a bequest by George Aitken Clark (1823-1873), and was completed by his relatives, the thread manufacturers of Anchor Mills. The new county buildings (1891) possess a handsome council hall, and the castellated municipal buildings (1818-1821) were the former county buildings; the sheriff court house (1885) in St James Street, and the free library and museum (including a picture gallery) at the head of High Street, were erected (1869-1872) by Sir Peter Coats (1808-1890). In Oakshaw Street stands the observatory (1883), the gift of Thomas Coats (1809-1883). Besides numerous board schools, the educational establishments include the John Neilson Endowed Institute (1852) on Oakshaw Hill, the grammar school (founded, 1576; rebuilt, 1864), and the academy for secondary education, and the technical college, in George Street. Among charitable institutions are the Royal Alexandra Infirmary, the Victoria Eye Infirmary (presented by Provost Mackenzie in 1899), the burgh asylum at Riccartsbar, the Abbey Poorhouse (including hospital and lunatic wards), the fever hospital and reception house, the Infectious Diseases Hospital and the Gleniffer Home for Incurables. The Thomas Coats Memorial Church, belonging to the Baptist body, erected by the Coats family from designs by H. J. Blanc, R.S.A., is one of the finest modern ecclesiastical structures in Scotland. It is an Early English and Decorated cruciform building of red sandstone, with a tower surmounted by a beautiful open-work crown. Of parks and open spaces there are in the south, Brodie Park (22 acres), presented in 1871 by Robert Brodie; towards the north Fountain Gardens (7a acres), the gift of Thomas Coats and named from the handsome iron fountain standing in the centre; in the north-west, St James Park (40 acres), with a racecourse (racing dates from 1620, when the earl of Abercorn and the Town Council gave silver bells for the prize); Dunn Square and the old quarry grounds converted and adorned; and Moss Plantation beyond the north-western boundary. There are the cemeteries at Hawkhead and at the west side of the town. Under the Reform Act of 1832 the burgh returns one member to Parliament. The town is governed by a council, with provost and bailies, and owns the gas and water supplies and the electric lighting. In the abbey precincts are statues to the poet Robert Tannahill (1774-1810) and Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), the American ornithologist, both of whom were born in Paisley, and, elsewhere, to Robert Burns, George Aitkin Clark, Thomas Coats and Sir Peter Coats.
Paisley has been an important manufacturing centre since the beginning of the 18th century, but the earlier linen, lawn and silk-gauze industries have become extinct, and even the famous Paisley shawls (imitation cashmere), the sale of which at one time exceeded i,000,000 yearly in value, have ceased to be woven. The manufacture of linen thread, introduced about 1720 by Christian Shaw, daughter of the laird of Bargarran, gave way in 1812 to that of cotton thread, which has since grown to be the leading industry of the town. The Ferguslie mills (J. & P. Coats) and Anchor mills (Clark & Company) are now the dominant factors in the combination that controls the greater part of the thread trade of the world and together employ 10,000 hands. Other thriving industries include bleaching, dyeing, calico-printing, weaving (carpets, shawls, tartans), engineering, tanning, iron and brass founding, brewing, distilling, and the making of starch, cornflour, soap, marmalade and other preserves, besides some shipbuilding in the yards on the left bank of the White Cart.
The abbey was founded in 1163 as a Cluniac monastery by Walter Fitzalan, first High Steward of Scotland, the ancestor of the Scottish royal family of Stuart, and dedicated to the Virgin, St James, St Milburga of Much Wenlock in Shropshire (whence came the first monks) and St Mirinus (St Mirren), the patron-saint of Paisley, who is supposed to have been a contemporary of St Columba. The monastery became an abbey in 1219, was destroyed by the English under Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, in 1307, and rebuilt in the latter half of the 14th century, the Stuarts endowing it lavishly. At the Reformation (1561) the fabric was greatly injured by the 5th earl of Glencairn and the Protestants, who dismantled the altar, stripped the church of images and relics, and are even alleged to have burnt it. About the same date the central spire, 300 ft. high, built during the abbacy of John Hamilton (1511-1571), afterwards archbishop of St Andrews, collapsed, demolishing the choir and north transept. In 1553 Lord Claud. Hamilton, then a boy of ten, was made abbot, and the abbacy and monastery were erected into a temporal lordship ih his favour in 1587. The abbey lands, after passing from his son the earl of Abercorn to the earl of Angus and then to Lord Dundonald, were purchased in 1764 by the 8th earl of Abercorn, who intended making the abbey his residence, but let the ground for building purposes. The abbey church originally consisted of a nave, choir without aisles, and transepts. The nave, in the Transitional and Decorated styles, with a rich midPointed triforium of broad round arches, has been restored, and used as the parish church since 1862. The graceful west front has a deeply recessed Early Pointed doorway, surmounted by traceried windows and, above these, by a handsome Decorated stained-glass window of fire lights. Of the choir only the foundations remain to indicate its extent; at the east end stood the high altar before which Robert III. was interred in 1406. Over his grave a monument to the memory of the Royal House of Stuart was placed here by Queen Victoria (1888). The restored north transept has a window of remarkable beauty. The south transept contains St Mirren's chapel (founded in 1 499), which is also called the "Sounding Aisle" from its echo. The chapel contains the tombs of abbot John Hamilton and of the children of the 1st lord Paisley, and the recumbent effigy of Marjory, daughter of Robert Bruce, who married Walter, the Steward, and was killed while hunting at Knock Hill between Renfrew and Paisley (1316).
'About 3 m. S. of Paisley are the pleasant braes of Gleniffer, sung by Tannahill, and 2 m. S.E., occupying a hill on the left bank of the Leven, stand the ruins of Crookston Castle. The castle is at least as old as the 12th century and belonged to Robert de Croc, who witnessed the charter of the foundation of Paisley Abbey. In the following century it passed into the possession of a branch of the Stewarts, who retained it until the murder of Darnley (1567). Afterwards it changed hands several times, but was finally acquired from the Montrose family by Sir John Maxwell of Pollok.
The Romans effected a settlement in Paisley in A.D. 84, and built a fort called Vanduara on the high ground (Oakshaw Hill) to the west of the White Cart. The place seems to have been first known as Paslet or Passeleth, and was assigned along with certain lands in Renfrewshire to Walter Fitzalan, founder of the abbey. The village grew up round the abbey, and by the 15th century had become sufficiently important to excite the jealousy of the neighbouring burgh of Renfrew. To protect it from molestation Abbot Schaw (or Shaw) induced James IV., a frequent visitor, to erect it into a burgh of barony in 1488, a charter which gave it the right to return a member to the Scots parliament.
See Chartulary of the Monastery of Paisley, published by the Maitland Club (1832); J. Cameron Lees, The Abbey of Paisley (1878); Swan, Description of the Town and Abbey of Paisley (1835); and Robert Brown, History of Paisley (1886).
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Paisley'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/p/paisley.html. 1910.