STRATHGRYFFE AND THE BATTLE OF FLODDEN, 9TH SEPTEMBER, 1513

The Battle of Flodden took place in turbulent times. Pope Julius II had manipulated the European sovereigns, Henry VIII of England, Emperor Maximillian and Ferdinand of Spain to invade France. Despite the fact that his wife was the sister of Henry VIII, James IV of Scotland felt obligated to invade England in support his ally France. The ensuing Battle of Flodden was a national disaster for Scotland. According to George Buchanan (1582) 5,000 Scots lost their lives, including King James IV himself, his illegitimate son (the Bishop of St Andrews), ten earls, thirteen lords, a bishop, two abbots, a French ambassador and a host of local nobility. However, most of those slain in battle were ordinary men called to arms by their feudal superiors.

In the aftermath of the slaughter the bodies of the nobility were taken to nearby Branxton Church and some were buried there. The bodies of ordinary participants in the battle, and of King James IV, were less well disposed of. It is said that the King’s corpse was transported from the battle site in Northumberland to London where Henry VIII had promised to give him a Christian burial in St Paul’s Cathedral. James left as his heir a seventeen month old baby, who was crowned as James V in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on the 21st of October.

Strathgryffe suffered great losses, as did the rest of Scotland. The local nobility was decimated and hundreds of their followers lost their lives. Lord John Sempill, 1st Lord Sempill, was among the 13 Lords who lost their lives following their king. He was one of the lucky ones whose body was buried with respect. His corpse was returned to his estate in Lochwinnoch, where the Collegiate Church was extended with the addition of an apse to house his tomb.William Cunningham of Craigends was also slain in the battle. He was the second son of the Earl of Glencairn and had been granted Craigends in 1479. Robert Wallace of Johnstone Castle was another victim of the slaughter. The Wallaces of Johnstone owned the original Johnstone Castle which was situated on what later became Milliken Estate. William Fleming of Barochan, died with six of his sons. He left a seventh son who succeeded him. Peter Houston of Houston Castle, thought to have been born c 1460, also died in the battle. Houston Castle, at that time, was possibly the original tower house built on the site of a later Houston Castle, the remains of which are incorporated in the Houston House of today. Robert Crawfurd, 5th Baron of Auchinames, another of the casualties was succeeded by his eldest son. The land of Auchinames, in the west of Kilbarchan Parish, had been granted to Robert’s ancestor, Reginald Crawfurd, for services to Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn. The decimation of the local nobility and hundreds of their retainers, un-named in history, must have been a devastating tragedy in Strathgryffe.

The Battle of Flodden took place in turbulent times. Pope Julius II had manipulated the European sovereigns, Henry VIII of England, Emperor Maximillian and Ferdinand of Spain to invade France. Despite the fact that his wife was the sister of Henry VIII, James IV of Scotland felt obligated to invade England in support his ally France. The ensuing Battle of Flodden was a national disaster for Scotland. According to George Buchanan (1582) 5,000 Scots lost their lives, including King James IV himself, his illegitimate son (the Bishop of St Andrews), ten earls, thirteen lords, a bishop, two abbots, a French ambassador and a host of local nobility. However, most of those slain in battle were ordinary men called to arms by their feudal superiors.

In the aftermath of the slaughter the bodies of the nobility were taken to nearby Branxton Church and some were buried there. The bodies of ordinary participants in the battle, and of King James IV, were less well disposed of. It is said that the King’s corpse was transported from the battle site in Northumberland to London where Henry VIII had promised to give him a Christian burial in St Paul’s Cathedral. James left as his heir a seventeen month old baby, who was crowned as James V in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on the 21st of October.

Strathgryffe suffered great losses, as did the rest of Scotland. The local nobility was decimated and hundreds of their followers lost their lives. Lord John Sempill, 1st Lord Sempill, was among the 13 Lords who lost their lives following their king. He was one of the lucky ones whose body was buried with respect. His corpse was returned to his estate in Lochwinnoch, where the Collegiate Church was extended with the addition of an apse to house his tomb. William Cunningham of Craigends was also slain in the battle. He was the second son of the Earl of Glencairn and had been granted Craigends in 1479. Robert Wallace of Johnstone Castle was another victim of the slaughter. The Wallaces of Johnstone owned the original Johnstone Castle which was situated on what later became Milliken Estate. William Fleming of Barochan, died with six of his sons. He left a seventh son who succeeded him. Peter Houston of Houston Castle, thought to have been born c 1460, also died in the battle. Houston Castle, at that time, was possibly the original tower house built on the site of a later Houston Castle, the remains of which are incorporated in the Houston House of today. Robert Crawfurd, 5th Baron of Auchinames, another of the casualties was succeeded by his eldest son. The land of Auchinames, in the west of Kilbarchan Parish, had been granted to Robert’s ancestor, Reginald Crawfurd, for services to Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn.

 

Lord Semple's tomb in the Collegiate Chapel, Lochwinnoch

Lord Semple’s tomb in the Collegiate Chapel, Lochwinnoch

The decimation of the local nobility and hundreds of their retainers, un-named in history, must have been a devastating tragedy in Strathgryffe. The dead are remembered by the song (and pipe tune) “Flowers of the Forest”:

We’ll hae nae mair lilting at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are dowie and wae.
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The flowers of the forest are all wede away.

© 2016 Helen Calcluth

The Barony of Auchinames

For over four hundred years the long-forgotten Barony of Auchinames, on the west of Kilbarchan village, was the property of the Crawfurds of Auchinames. Reginald Crawfurd was granted the Barony by Robert the Bruce in 1320 for his services at the Battle of Bannockburn. It remained in the possession of the Crawfurds until the middle of the eighteenth century when Patrick Crawfurd, the 16th baron, sold the estate off in lots. The Crawfurd’s Castle of Auchinames was demolished, but the remains of their chapel, dedicated to St. Catherine, and an old knight’s gravestone can still be seen in the old Parish Churchyard.

St.Catherine’s Chapel was built early in the 15th century by Thomas de Crawfurd, 3rd Baron of Auchinames. The function of this chapel was the salvation of his soul and the souls of his predecessors and successors. The patronage was vested in himself and his heirs. By the Foundation Charter of 1401, Crawfurd gave the rental of some of his lands for maintenance of a chaplain ministering in the chapel, which was about to be built; or ministering to the altar of the Holy Virgin Mary in the Church of Kilbarchan. The charter was ratified by King Robert III and St Catherine’s Chapel was built soon after.

At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Crawfurds lost the chapel lands which were given over by charter ‘in feu’ to laymen. Mary Queen of Scots confirmed this by charter in 1565 and she ‘dispensed with the statues’. However, some years later, William Crawfurd, 9th Baron of Auchinames (1547-82), regained the endowments of St Catherine’s Chapel, and James Chalmers, a zealous Protestant, was the appointed patron. The chapel was still upstanding in 1696 when Archibald Crawfurd, 9th Baron of Auchinames included ‘the chappell of Saint Katharine, situat within the church yeard of Killbarquhane’ in the property he wished to leave to his heirs.

The chapel was shown as a ruin in the 1st ed. OS Map of 1856. The accompanying O S Name Book states that the walls of the chapel stood about 4ft high. The walls had been faced with dressed stone, and an iron railing placed on top, the enclosure being in use as a private burial ground. The iron railing has since been removed. The lower walls of the chapel still stand in the churchyard today as an enclosure where subsequent owners of former Auchinames lands were buried.
St. Catherines Chapel

 

An old medieval gravestone of a knight, irreverently used as building material, can be seen in the churchyard wall on the left of the entrance pillars in Church Street. The gravestone appears to show the spots of ermine of the Crawfurd coat-of-arms and is almost certainly from the burial place of an early Baron of Auchinames.

medieval gravestone

 

© 2016 Helen Calcluth

 

 

 

 

The Second Draining of Castle Semple Loch

When wealthy sugar planter William McDowall purchase Castle Semple Estate in the 1720s, the drainage of Castle Semple Loch became his main pastime. He employed experts to assist in his plans and also to lay out his estate, water features and fish ponds. Improver William Boucher came from Edinburgh and land surveyor John Watt mapped the loch and took levels along its centre and down the Black Cart.

In May 1727, McDowall opened the sluice of the Semple’s old dam just at the mouth of the loch. His men began digging out the Semple’s central drain, which he called the ‘boat canal’. McDowall ordered the building of a small shallow-draught boat ‘light and neatly contrived, to hold about six people, to go either with oars or sails’, to impress his visitors. He dug a branch canal from the main drainage canal up to the wall of the old Castle of Semple, which fronted the loch. The bed of the Black Cart was blasted and dug out as far down as Thirdpart Hall. During the drainage works, several dug-out canoes were unearthed from the loch bed, dating from the prehistoric period.

Overall, the drainage works had limited effect. Maps and estate plans over the years provide a snapshot of the varying water level. Although the loch was dry in summer, the inflow, especially from the Calder Water at Lochwinnoch after heavy rain, could flood the loch and destroy the crops before they could be harvested. The outlet at the Black Cart end was simply too flat to drain the water away fast enough.

The falling water level in Castle Semple loch caused various difficulties for the local folk. McDowall also ‘threw down’ the bridges spanning the loch narrows at either end. The loch was now too shallow to cross by boat. It was also too muddy to wade across easily, and the central canal was a deeper hazard. The locals now faced with a long walk round via Elliston Bridge. Rather than face a detour around the loch, some locals were brave enough to risk wading across the loch and canal, especially near the mouth of the Calder Water at Lochwinnoch.

©2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

 

Drownings in Castle Semple Loch and holding Mill Owners to Ransom

Once the water in Castle Semple Loch was lowered, the locals took a shortcut across the centre of the loch at the ‘Wading Place’ to Lochwinnoch. But this was a dangerous route. In the winter of 1767 a young lady and her footman were drowned there, in full view of her mother, brother and fiancé. Later a causeway was built and the crossing became the modern road from Lochwinnoch station to the village. Over the years, the gradual development of this road split the single long stretch of water into two lochs, Barr Loch and Castle Semple Loch.

There was another bigger difficulty for the locals. Back in 1680s, when the Semples had begun to drain the loch, they had drawn up a legal agreement that any new dry land created around the shrinking loch would become their own property. Once McDowall took control, he tried to enforce the old agreement to the letter of the law. Defying fairness and common sense, he attempted to prevent access to the shrinking loch by all those living around the perimeter, even to water their cattle.

McDowall’s desire for privacy and improvement created barriers at every turn for the local population, when going about their daily lives. McDowall also enclosed all the land along the loch and blocked the public road. The purpose was two-fold, to create separate enclosed fields, and to keep the local riff raff away from his mansion. This process of wealthy landowners denying access is familiar today, but in 1730 it was one of the earliest challenges to the public’s right to roam. The locals took McDowall to Court of Session and unexpectedly, they won. McDowall was forced to reinstate the bridges across the narrows of the loch.

The third big scheme was by McDowall’s grandson. From the 1770s he rebuilt the old dam at the east end of the loch and start of the Black Cart. His initial purpose was to re-flood the loch as a landscape feature, with man-made islands fronting his mansion.But from the early 1790s he had other reasons. By this time the loch had become a reservoir for six new water powered cotton spinning mills down the Black Cart at Johnstone and Linwood. McDowall closed the sluice in the dam and held the mill owners to ransom. They had no choice but to pay him fees in proportion to the size of their mills.

©2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

McDowall's House beside Castle Semple LochMcDowall’s House beside Castle Semple Loch

The Draining of Barr Loch: Canals and Tunnels

Canal circling Barr Loch

The final big drainage scheme was to drain Barr Loch, but keep Castle Semple Loch full of water. This scheme was the inspiration of another local landowner. In 1813, Adam of Barr purchased the whole of Barr Loch, plus about 100 acres of Castle Semple Loch. The first part of his plan was to dig a circular ditch, or canal, right round Barr Loch, to prevent the water from the burns pouring in, and carry their water into Castle Semple Loch.

Outlet of Adam’s Drain at Eliston BridgeThe second plan was to carry the water away from Barr Loch to the Black Cart down a canal which would bypass Castle Semple Loch. Adam started the lower end of his drain at the Black Cart near Elliston Bridge, where the outfall can still be seen.

The next 800 metres were in full view of Castle Semple House and had to be buried in a stone-lined tunnel. The tunnel then changed to the open canal which can still be seen following the south side of Castle Semple Loch. The canal connected to Barr Loch via a tunnel under the causeway which crossed the lochs. The scheme was carried out in 1814 by masons and Irish navvies. The water at the lowest point of Barr Loch, which was too low to drain away naturally, was raised from the loch bed up into the canal by a pump driven by a water wheel at Hole of Barr.

Although the works cost £10,000, the annual profit generated from oats and hay grown in the former loch bed, was about £1,500 a year, and the scheme paid for itself in a few years. Barr Loch had become ‘Barr Meadows’ and Adam’s scheme kept 170 acres of former loch bed dry and under crop for more than 131 years. One morning in 1946, locals were astonished to wake up and find that what had for generations been green meadows, was now a loch again. A lack of maintenance had led to the failure of the sluices and the turning of Barr Meadows back into Barr Loch.

In future, the lochs are likely to remain safe from the whims of wealthy landowners, thanks to the establishment of the nature reserve and country park. However, when visiting Castle Semple Loch, it is worth remembering that at various times in the past it was possible in a dry summer, to walk across the loch.

©2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Draining of Castle Semple Loch

 

Around 13,000 years ago, all of Renfrewshire west of the Black Cart was an island in the Clyde, twice the size of Arran and almost as dramatic. It is a sobering warning of the potential effects of climate change, that a warm period between glaciations had raised sea level by around thirty metres. At that time, it was possible to sail through the Lochwinnoch Gap from what is now Paisley, west to the Ayrshire coast at Irvine. Today this seems ridiculous, yet the Eglinton family tried to do the very same thing with a canal, until their ambitions dried up at Johnstone, less than half way from Glasgow to the coast

Half way along the Lochwinnoch Gap lies Castle Semple Loch, a focal point of the country park of Castle Semple Country Park. Three hundred years ago Castle Semple Loch and Barr Loch were one single stretch of water, six kilometres long. The lochs are only two or three metres deep, and the ground underneath is rich in decomposed vegetable matter. From the 1680s, a number of ambitious engineering projects were carried out to drain away the water, and create hundreds of acres of fertile farmland. The first scheme was more than 300 years ago, when the Semples began a scheme to make Castle Semple Loch ‘Meadow-Ground’.

The Draining of Castle Semple Loch Castle Semple Loch from Kenmuir Hill

At its east end, Castle Semple Loch drains away down the Black Cart via Johnstone, to the join the Gryfe and the White Cart, before meeting the Clyde at Inchinnan. Each successive drainage scheme had two main features. Firstly, the Black Cart was deepened at its outlet from the loch, to allow the water in the loch to drain away more easily. A dam and sluice were built at the outlet to allow the water level to be controlled. Secondly, as the loch emptied, a canal was dug down the centre to drain the water towards the Black Cart. The burns which flowed into the loch were channelled into this central canal. At the time, the Semple family were in decline, and the initial drainage scheme had limited results.

In 1726 Castle Semple was purchased by sugar planter William McDowall, on his return from the Caribbean. McDowall purchased Castle Semple estate specifically ‘in expectations of making it a profitable purchase, in the hope of draining the loch of about 500 acres, which will be of more value than the estate’.

© 2015 Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Great Wall of Castle Semple

A high stone wall encloses the original heartland of Castle Semple estate, on the north side of Castle Semple loch. On closer inspection, this wall is not a simple drystane boundary dyke, but an estate perimeter wall.

Well at Gateside great wall

More than five kilometres long, the wall starts at Garthland Bridge which crosses the Black Cart near Howwood. It follows the south side of the public road, passing North Gates, Burnfoot, Markethill and Warlock Gates. At Gateside, set into the wall, is an elaborate arched well. The Castle Semple area abounds with traditions of sacred wells, springs and fountains, some of which were formalised with elaborate stone enclosures, perpetuating the local traditions. From Gateside the wall heads south in a long arc, until it meets the West Gates of the estate. Beyond the gates it continues further, to enclose an extra strip of estate by Castle Semple Loch.

Estate boundary walls often have a distinctive style, which define the estate and its extent. In the past, when locals crossed the estate boundary wall, they would have been well aware that they were entering the property of someone important, where catching of game was prohibited.

A great deal of labour was required to build the estate wall. As part of their rental, tenants also traditionally had to provide a set number of days labour a year for the landlord, including repairing walls. When the wall was built, it pushed the public road from its rambling course, further north, outside the edge of the estate.

The wall is built of whin rubble, in a distinctive style. The rubble for the wall was obtained from numerous small quarries along its route, which can still be traced. One quarry in the north side of Gateside Hill still has a loading bay, to transfer the stone onto carts. The character of the wall and size of rubble varies to suit what was available at the nearest quarry.

sandstone copeThe most distinctive feature of the wall is the very wide sandstone cope, semicircular in cross section, with ribbed tooling on top, which provides a subtle identity to the estate. Rather than random rubble, this is built of sandstone, quarried and cut to shape. Unfortunately long sections of the wall are in very poor condition and are either crumbling or collapsed. Of more than seven thousand of the distinctive copes, a third of them are damaged, loose or toppled and long-buried under vegetation behind the wall. The same copes can be found on the boundary wall of Milliken Estate, owned by James Milliken, a friend of the McDowalls of Castle Semple.

©2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Castle Semple Temple

Castle Semple TowerAnybody travelling from Glasgow to Ayr by train, or driving on the A737 from Johnstone to the coast will be puzzled by an octagonal stone building on top of Kenmuir Hill, between Howwood and Lochwinnoch. The building is the most prominent feature on Castle Semple Estate, and commonly known as the ‘temple’. The prominence of the building has generated much speculation about its purpose.

Dating from shortly after the building of Castle Semple house in the early 1730s, the purpose of the ‘temple’ has been romanticised and lost. Ideas range from a place for viewing hunts to a local lovers’ meeting place.

The tradition that it was a hunting lodge dates from the 1780s, when the estate’s deer park was moved to Kenmuir Hill. However the deer weren’t for hunting, but were captive, to impress visitors. The whole of Kenmuir Hill was surrounded by walls and ha-has (boundary ditches with a stone face on one side, which could not be seen from a distance, giving the impression that the deer were free to roam).

The original purpose of the temple was simply a landscape feature or ‘folly’, designed to be seen from the mansion house and by visitors arriving at Castle Semple. It also served as a summer house with panoramic views. The design of the building probably comes from James Gibbs ‘Book of Architecture’, published in 1728, a sort of architect’s scrapbook of ideas. Gibbs described his designs as ‘summer houses in the form of temples of an octagonal form’.

According to a survey of 1780, the summit of Kenmuir Hill around the temple was originally planted with trees, forming twelve radiating avenues, a feature which was fashionable on estates at the time. The inspiration dates back to 1733, when surveyor John Watt, who originally laid out the estate for the McDowalls of Castle Semple, took sightings from the summit of the hill to distant features. These included Misty Law, the castles at Barr and Elliston, and church steeples as far away as Glasgow and Renfrew. But did the mapped trees ever exist on such a rocky, exposed hilltop? In fact they are indicated on Ordnance Surveys and a few survive in late Victorian photographs and sketches.

An old drawing of temple

Inside the octagonal temple, the main floor (now gone) was elevated above a basement and accessed by an external stone stair, also now completely gone. Some of the basement windows were false and always blocked off, and the remainder were barred. The basement was entered from a low door under the stair. Inside the ruin are the remains of a fireplace and a very fine ashlar chimney in the roof. In the centre of the roof was a cupola matching the original on top of Castle Semple House. Externally, the panels between the ashlar details and window surrounds were originally harled and limewashed, and the building would have stood out on the skyline even more than it does today.

In the 1830s, Andrew Crawford of Lochwinnoch described the temple as being badly damaged by fire, following a lightning strike. However it was repaired, and the roof and glazed windows were still intact in late Victorian photos. However the condition of the temple deteriorated with the decline of Castle Semple House, and the breakup of the estate. It is only thanks to the quality of construction that it is still upstanding today, despite the loss of its roof. On a sunny day the walk to the summit is worthwhile and provides panoramic views of the area, and down Castle Semple Loch past the site of the McDowall’s mansion.

© Stuart Nisbet 2014

The Game of Bullets

A long-forgotten, ancient game played throughout Renfrewshire as early as the seventeenth century was the game of bullets. Two opposing teams each had an iron ball with a maximum weight of two pounds.  The object of the game was to throw this ‘bullet’ in as few shots as possible over a measured distance.  The ‘bullet’ was thrown underhand and allowed to roll after it fell to the ground. A second ran ahead advising the player where to aim his ‘bullet’. The game seems to have included elements of bowling, curling and golf  –  games which later became popular in the county. Wagers were placed on the outcome of bullet matches. In 1674 William Cunninghame recorded among the expenses in his Diary a sum of four shillings ‘lost at Bullets among our servants’.

Bullets was a highly dangerous ball game, especially as it was played along public roads. A Lochwinnoch bulleteer named Ramsey met his death playing bullets in 1683. However, despite the danger, this traditional sport continued in Renfrewshire until the mid-nineteenth century. In 1902 some older residents in Kilbarchan remembered bullet matches being played in their youth.

Bullets was also a popular game with the Paisley weavers. Duncan McNeil who had worked as a drawboy for a shawl weaver in Charleston, near Paisley, in the early 1840s mentions weavers playing bullets in his poem, ‘When I was a Drawboy’.

‘They were a’ their ain masters  –  they hadna a boss  –

Some played at the bullets, some played pitch-and-toss.

Some had great cock-battles, an’ some foucht their dogs;

When I was a drawboy.’

PEESWEEP INN The Game of Bullets

Crowds of spectators gathered to support their local team and placed wagers on the outcome of a bullet match. One venue was on Gleniffer Road leading from Paisley to Caldwell. The old Peesweep Inn, built some time after 1810, stood near where the road from Johnstone meets Gleniffer Road and it was no doubt a place of refreshment for the bulleteers and spectators from Paisley. By 1922 the old inn had closed but an old lady who still lived there had fond memories of the game. She had in her possession some of the iron balls, or ‘bullets’ which had been used in the local matches and proudly displayed them to visitors.

What was possibly the last bulleting match in Renfrewshire took place in 1846 on the Beith Road, from where the four roads met at Damside Cottage (the old toll cottage) towards Quarrelton. The opposing teams were from Kilbarchan and Paisley. Four famous bulleteers John Hunter, a silk handloom weaver in Stirling Street, William Brown, a silk handloom weaver in Ewing Street, Alexander Meikle, a silk handloom weaver in Barholm and James Houston made up the Kilbarchan team. Soon after this match early health and safety considerations prevailed and the traditional game of bullets was banned. Descendants of Alexander Meikle still live in Klbarchan today. A game similar to bullets, but known as Kyles, was also played in Fife.

© 2015 Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Kilbarchan General Society

Kilbarchan General Society, one of the oldest charitable organisations in Scotland, was founded in 1765 by 24 heritors, merchants and tradesmen. The wealthier members could choose to pay a lump sum on joining the society and others could pay an annual fee of one shilling. The money raised was ‘for maintaining such of their own number, their widows and children, as shall by misfortune be rendered incapable of maintaining themselves’

Charitable payments to the needy recorded in the first Minute Book included fifteen shillings per year for five years to a deserted wife with three children, a cart of coal to a member who had fallen on misfortune and fifteen shillings for the burial of a deceased member. In 1800, thirty pounds sterling of meal was purchased to be distributed within the village in a time of scarcity. In 1866 the society gave one ton of coal to a destitute member and paid the apprenticeship fee of one pound to a local dress maker on behalf of the daughter of a deceased member. In 1887 forty shillings was granted to the son of a late member for the purchase of a cart. Charitable payments to the needy continued to be made regularly well into the twentieth century.

To augment society funds in the early days the members ran a meal market at the Steeple from 1766 to 1772. By 1794 the society had a capital of around £400. In the next century it amassed a considerable income from investments in companies including Kilbarchan Gas Company in 1844 and Clyde Navigational Trust in 1877.

The society also supported local hospitals and sponsored village improvements and local events. It was instrumental in providing the village with its Public Park, opened in 1888, and has had a long involvement in Kilbarchan’s Lilias Day celebrations.

In 1932, when the original wooden statue of Habbie Simson on the Steeple was being repainted, it was found that the legs had deteriorated beyond repair. The estimated cost of replacing it with a bronze statue was between £400 and £600, but the society had raised only £114 for the purpose. However, Joseph Gorman, a brass founder from Glasgow saved the day. He became a member of the society and offered to create a bronze facsimile of the old wooden statue for only £100. The bust of the original wooden statue was preserved and is on display in the Steeple Buildings.

Robert Allan Well, Image: Helen Calcluth

In 1935, at the bottom of Church Street near the spot where the Kilbarchan weaver-poet Robert Allan’s house once stood, a commemorative well was erected to his memory by Kilbarchan General Society. He is the only Kilbarchan weaver to have a monument in the village.

The first mention of Lilias Day in General Society Minute Books occurs in 1851 when the General Society was asked to join other village societies in a procession round the village. The society’s involvement in Lilias Day Celebrations continues to the present day when the Preses (chairman) of the society has a place of honour in the Lilias Day Parade. The society was especially active in Lilias Day celebrations in the 1930s. £1250 was raised from the 1930s Lilias Days, and was donated to the Royal Alexandra Infirmary in Paisley to install a bed in Ward 8 in 1935. The managers of the General Society were invited to inspect the commemorative tablet which had been placed over this bed.

Kilbarchan Steeple, Image: Helen Calcluth

In 1925 Kilbarchan General Society obtained absolute ownership of a room in the Steeple buildings known as the Ladies Room. The room houses a display of old photographs, an old painting of Habbie Simson and the head of the original wooden statue of Habbie which had been cleaned and renovated.

The society’s greatest service to the preservation of the old village was its efforts to force the County Council to carry out essential repairs to the steeple building. There was even talk of it being demolished! It was saved from demolition through the efforts of the General Society, when it was scheduled as an ancient monument in 1949. In 1954 the General Society agreed to contribute funds to the County Council towards the cost of repairs to the steeple and the Ladies Room.

Today the General Society has a membership of almost 400 and continues to give valued support to local organisations and good causes. To celebrate of the founding of the society in 1765,  a 250th Annivesary Dinner and Civic Reception will be held in Johnstone Town Hall on the 14th of November, 2015.

© 2015 Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Society