Johnstone’s Smallest Square

by Margery Parker, of Johnstone History Society

Situated at the corner of Beith Road and the Linn Brae, almost unnoticed, there is a seated area known as Gordon Square. It is small for a square, much smaller than the well-known Houston and Ludovic Squares, and many people may not recognise it as being worth much attention. This little square is dedicated to the memory of General Gordon of Khartoum! If you visit the square you will see a memorial tablet on the gable end of the old building which once was Quarrelton School.johnstoneSS1

General Gordon was born on 28th January, 1833, in Woolwich, England. He was the son of a Royal Artillery officer, and followed his father into the military life and had a distinguished military career. In 1862 he was sent to protect the European trading station of Shenghai from the Taiping Rebellion. After defeating the Taiping Emperor, Huing Hsui, he brought to an end the civil war which had raged in China for years.

In recognition of his service, Governor Li Hung Chang presented him with the highest honour possible in the Chinese Empire, the Order of the Yellow Jacket. With this accolade he became, with fifty nine others in the empire, second in rank to the Emperor himself. It was after this that he became known as George ‘Chinese’ Gordon.

He returned to England and was stationed at Gravesend. During this time his father became very ill. His father’s illness affected him greatly and he entered a stage in his life where compassion and good works were a driving force. He personally nursed his father during the last days of his life. Later he did some teaching in the local Ragged School, he nursed, clothed and fed the sick and opened up army land for the poor to farm. He set up pensions for several elderly people and it is believed that he gave away ninety per cent of his army stipend. This he continued to do until his death at the Battle of Khartoum. Along with his entire garrison, he was killed on 26th January, 1885, two days before his fifty second birthday.

But what is the connection with Johnstone? The Laird of Johnstone, George Ludovic Houstoun, had met General Gordon and had corresponded with him during his many travels. Saddened by General Gordon’s death, the Laird had the square built in ‘a tranquil tree-canopied setting’ to the memory of his friend.

johnstoneSS2Gordon Square with the gable end of the old Quarrelton School building

© M. Parker 2010

The Deserted Settlement of Laigh Lawfield

A little east of High Lawfield Farm on the road from Kilmacolm to Houston, an old track winds down from the road to the ruins of Laigh Lawfield Farm and continues as a marked pathway to Knapps. Information from old maps and parish records establishes early settlement and land use at Lawfield.

The first direct evidence of a fermtoun or farm settlement at Lawfield is marked on Pont’s map in the late 16th century. By the 1730s, Lawfield had developed into three small settlements – Laigh Lawfield (the original settlement), High Lawfield and Gateside. Only High Lawfield exists today, but the ruins of the deserted settlement of Laigh Lawfield can still be seen.

At Laigh Lawfield (see sketch below) the foundations of at least half a dozen stone structures stand to height of little more than half a metre with about twenty well-established sycamore trees growing out of the ruined walls. The raised round platform on the south-east of the site was a mill powered by horses and it is possible that the u-shaped arrangement of stones to the south may be the remains of a corn kiln. The farm was deserted by the 1890s when the OS map shows no fully roofed buildings on the site.

From the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century High Lawfield was farmed by a family named Laird. Gateside, the smallest of the three farms, no longer existed during this period.

Laigh Lawfield was occupied by Allan Speir in 1731. The Horse Tax Records document David Scott as the farmer at Laigh Lawfield in 1797. He owned two working horses and paid a tax of four shillings. In 1841 another D. Scott, aged 55, with two agricultural labourers and two female servants, farmed Laigh Lawfield. 

Laigh Lawfield

Laigh Lawfield

© H. Calcluth 2010