Lime Working down the Black Cart

As with the Gryfe, the river valley of the Black Cart was a focal point of the search for coal and lime. From the headwaters of the river in Barr Loch, lime works followed the Black Cart downstream.

At Kerse, the lime and coal works were drained by a pump powered firstly by water, then by a steam engine. South of Barr Loch, lime was worked at Netherhouses. At Limekiln Plantation, near Lochwinnoch, lime quarries survive in a series of tiers downhill. From the 1720s, lime was also worked along both sides of Castle Semple Loch and burnt in kilns by the lochside. One of the potential benefits of extending the Paisley Canal to Ardrossan was the lime quarries and mines along the proposed route in the Risk area.

The most intensive working of lime was further downstream, where a great ‘basin’ of lime dipped from Howwood to Spateston. A number of small early quarries led to a large scale combined venture in the 1770s, by Houston of Johnstone and McDowall of Castle Semple, at Meikle Corseford. The quarries were drained by a water powered engine driven by the Spateston Burn. More than 30 clamp kilns survive, surrounding the main quarry. Nearby is the draw kiln at Midtown. By the Victorian period, several large lime works were in operation, connected by tramways to the main railway line.

In the 1720s, several lime quarries preceded the development of the new town of Johnstone. Numerous other quarries and kilns dotted the road to Paisley, from Floors to Newton. Many were developed by Speirs of Elderslie. Near the bottom of the Black Cart in the Linwood area, limestone was mined at various depths in 19th century in conjunction with coal and ironstone.

© 2017 Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Lime Working

The best-known and most valuable mineral which was worked in Central Scotland was coal. Beyond coal, the mineral ghost of Renfrewshire was limestone. Lime had always been used in building, for mortar, harling (roughcast) and plaster. However, from the eighteenth century, much larger amounts of lime were sought for improvements to farmland. By adding burnt and powdered lime to the soil, crop yield could be greatly increased. Limestone was particularly important in regions with heavy clay soils, such as Renfrewshire. The lime was added liberally to both arable and pastoral land, at the rate of up to thirty carts per acre.

Limestone is found in thicker seams than coal, and was usually quarried from the surface. Thus traces of former workings are more abundant than with deeper coal mines. Unlike the white chalky lime found in the south of England, Renfrewshire lime is a hard, brittle, dark grey rock. It was formed under shallow seas in the Carboniferous period and often contains shells and crinoids (stems of sea lilies). Lime quarries were highly valued by fossil collectors who raided them for fish and reptile remains. Before good roads were built, the coal to fuel the lime kilns had to be found locally. Despite the relatively thin and indifferent quality of the coal in the Gryfe area, it was ideal for lime burning. In many cases it was expressly stated that the coal was only to be worked for lime burning.

In the 1790s, Kilbarchan parish had seven coal mines, all but one owned by the Milliken family. At each of these mines, the main use of the coal was to fuel lime kilns. The most familiar lime kilns were large stone-built draw kilns. Less well known, but just as common, were clamp kilns. These were long hollows dug into a slope in which the limestone was repeatedly burnt. Until recently, virtually no lime working sites were officially recorded in Renfrewshire. New fieldwork has now identified more than a hundred. Hints of early working come from place names such as Lime Craig Park (Johnstone), Kilnknowie (Corseford), and Limekilns Plantation (Lochwinnoch).

© 2017 Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Coal: A Hidden Secret

The Gryfe area is not often associated with the working of coal. In 1912 It was claimed that Renfrewshire “is not a great mining county – it lags behind its neighbours,” yet, 130 years earlier, Semple described the county as “abounding with coal”. Thus early coal mining is one of the hidden secrets of the area.

Small amounts of coal had always been worked from outcrops, but more organised workings were in the form of numerous holes, or ‘bell pits’ (shallow shafts worked close together) at Goldenlee (Houston), Brookfield and Quarrelton.

The earliest workings followed the valleys of the Gryfe, Black Cart and Locher, where the coals were shallower, and to where the workings could be drained. From Bridge of Weir, coal was worked down the Gryfe at Kaimhill, Locherside, Sandholes, Craigends and the appropriately named Coalbog. Along Barr and Castle Semple lochs, coal works appeared at Nervelston, Blackdyke, and Lochside, then down the Black Cart from Coalhouse (Howwood), and Corseford to Elderslie. The earliest and most intensive workings were in the Quarrelton area, which had one of the thickest coal seams in the country.

From the 1770s, ambitious estate owners were seeking sources of income beyond farming. Landowners, such as Speirs of Elderslie who drilled bores on his lands of Newton, was soon working coal from several pits. By the 1790s the availability of coal was described as one of the main advantages of local parishes. At Quarrelton, Corseford and Kerse, the pits were initially kept dry using pumps driven by water wheels or horses. Gradually, larger pits including Nervelston, Thorn and Elderslie added steam engines to lift out the coal and pump out water.

To anyone passing through the area around 1800, coal workings would have been a common sight. By the Victorian period, much deeper coal was worked under the flatlands of Linwood Moss and Fulton. The only visible signs were pitheads, which came and went in a few decades, leaving little trace. This led to the perception that coal working barely existed in the area. A local supply of coal had been crucial for the growing settlements such as Johnstone, Kilbarchan, Houston and Bridge of Weir. However, the biggest use of coal was not to ‘boil the pot’, but to process another little-known mineral: limestone. This will be investigated next month.

 

Collier’s house and coal pits at Goldenlee in 1750

© 2017 Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Henry Birkmyre and his Descendants

Henry Birkmyre (1762- 1844) worked as a handloom weaver in Kilbarchan, where in 1785 he married his first cousin Agnes Birkmyre. After their marriage, Henry and Agnes attended Burntshields Burgher Church. The baptisms of three of their children, Jean in 1786, John in 1788 and Agnes in 1791, are recorded in Burntshields church records. In 1792 the family moved to Port Glasgow where Henry took up employment in a sailcloth manufactury. A fourth child, William, was born in Port Glasgow in 1802. The Birkmyres prospered in Port Glasgow. Henry soon rose to the position of foreman in Gourock Ropework Co. and was made a partner in the firm in 1814. His portrait, which still exists, is said to have hung in the company’s boardroom.

Henry sent his younger son, William, to Glasgow to be trained by city merchants. This early training paid off and, following in his father’s footsteps, William was appointed as a manager in the rope works. In 1831 he married Margaret Aitken. William was regarded as a shrewd businessman and laid the foundations of the future success and world-wide expansion of Gourock Ropework Co. He retired in 1860 and died in 1862 in Ashgrove, the family home at the bottom of Clune Brae in Port Glasgow.

Two of William’s sons, Henry (b.1832) and John (b.1836) became partners in Gourock Ropework Co. A third son William (b.1838) spent some time in India, and pursued a political career, becoming MP for the Burgh of Ayr. A younger son, Adam (b.1848), attended to the family’s business interests overseas. Under the brothers’ control, Gourock Ropework Co. became renowned world-wide as manufacturers of rope, sail cloth and canvas.
All four brothers became extremely wealthy and were generous benefactors in the local community. Henry was instrumental in founding Clune Park U.P. Church in 1878. In 1881, he diversified his interests and bought New Lanark Mills from the then owner, Charles Walker. Under the Birkmyre family, Gourock Ropework Co. owned David Dale’s new Lanark Mills for the next 65 years.

John, in 1870, appointed David Bryce, a renowned architect, to build his baronial mansion, Broadstone House on the hills above Port Glasgow. He gifted Broadstone Jubilee Hospital to the community of Port Glasgow. William, the third brother, spent time in India and pursued a political career, becoming MP for the Burgh of Ayr. He gifted Birkmyre Park (later known as the Public Park) to the town of Port Glasgow. Adam owned Shallott (now part of St. Columba’s School buildings) and various other properties in Kilmacolm. In 1897, he gifted recreation grounds, now Birkmyre Park, to Kilmacolm village. He also had interests in Calcutta in India and in Switzerland where he died in 1906.
© 2017, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Birkmyre Park, Kilmacolm

Robert Lang Campbell

A young Kilbarchan Man’s Spiritual Journey – Robert Lang Campbell

Robert Lang Campbell was born in Kilbarchan on the 21st of January 1825. His parents, Alexander and Agnes (née Lang) Campbell, were members of the Chartist Church in the village. Robert and his elder brother John, much to the chagrin of their father, attended Mormon Missionary meetings. At the age of seventeen Robert, who had trained as a clerk, was baptised into the Church of the Latter Day Saints on the 9th of August, 1842.

 

Public domain: Courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University

He began his missionary work in the local area and Ayrshire and kept a diary recording his activities. In company with other Mormon missionaries he preached in the open air, in people’s homes and at local collieries. Sometimes the group was well received and on other occasions reception was antagonistic. In September he was accosted in Howwood by a drunk man with a broken glass who almost stopped their preaching and, on a mission to Dalry, the missionaries twice in one day got a poor reception from very inattentive sinners. In November, 1843, at the age of eighteen, Robert Campbell was ordained as a Mormon Priest. However, despite his dedication, he made time to visit Kilbarchan to see his sweetheart, Joan Scobie, and his family.

In January, 1845, Robert left his home country and sailed from Liverpool on his way to Nauvoo, the centre of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. The following November Joan Scobie arrived at Nauvoo after a journey of ten weeks, and Robert and Joan were married by Patriarch John Smith. The young couple settled happily in the town’s Mormon community, and Joan was soon pregnant. But peace and harmony was not to last.

In September of 1846 persecution of the Mormons in Nauvoo escalated, with a violent mob firing cannon at the Brethern. For days, battle raged in the town. Eventually a truce was agreed. The mobocrats were the victors and the Mormons were given ten days to leave the town. On 9th October the Mormon community set off on a long, arduous trek across rivers and prairie to winter quarters. Robert was given part of a wagon to store his effects and he and Joan set off on foot. One week into the journey Joan died in childbirth. Robert, at the age of twenty-one, was left alone and homeless in an alien land. Despite grieving, and now also suffering from a fever, Robert had no option but to continue the fifty day trek to the winter quarters.

© 2017, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Black Cart Mills 8 – The Candren Burn

Black Cart Mills 8

The Candren Burn

Concluding the eight-part journey down the Black Cart

Just before the Black Cart joins the Gryfe at Blackstoun, the last of its burns, the Candren, falls into the river. Along with the Espedair Burn, which falls into the White Cart opposite Paisley Abbey, the Candren Burn powered and provided process water for two dozen bleachfields south of Paisley, around half of which were on the Candren.

The plethora of high quality textiles produced in and around Paisley from the 1740s created a demand for high quality bleaching and finishing. Textile manufactories or weaving shops in the town, such as the Paisley Stocking Factory ‘put out’ work to most of these bleachfields.

The highest bleachfield on the Candren Burn was at Foxbar, followed by two at Causewayend, a mill and bleachfield at Lounsdale, then further bleachfields at Hillfoot, Bredisland, and two at Meiklerigs. Much of the burn is now culverted among Paisley suburbia, forgotten until heavy rain causes it to rise and flood property.

The burn then passes under the Johnstone Canal, where the poet Tannahill drowned, then through the site of Ferguslie Cotton Mills, to Millarston Bleachfield. Finally, it crossed Paisley Moss. After the burn passes under what is now the Johnstone Bypass (A737), it enters the Black Cart below Candren itself, near Blackstoun. Candren Bleachfield, was one of the earliest in the county, established by 1752.

 

By the 1780s each field on the burn covered at least two acres, though Causewayend (East) and Lounsdale, both owned by John Craig, were already three times this size. As well as using the burn for process water, most of the bleachfields had water powered wash mills, and latterly added other power driven machinery. Several small reservoirs were built along the burn to store water. The largest survives as Durrockstock Pond. The workers cottages for the bleachfields were the core of the settlements which now form Paisley’s southern suburbs.

In conclusion

The Black Cart from its source to Clyde has powered at least 50 mills and water driven industries. Some of the traditional grain and waulk mills lasted for centuries, others only a few decades. Some remain to be rediscovered.

 

Outlet from turbine at Johnstone Old Cotton Mill

The days of water power are far from past. Some of the bigger mills, including Johnstone Old Cotton Mill, latterly installed turbines to generate electricity from their lades. Other old mill sites on the Black Cart and its burns are now attracting interest for the small-scale generation of electricity.

© 2017 Stuart  Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Renfrewshire Tile Works 1

In the 18th century, the most obvious improvement to farmland was the enclosure of fields. Less noticeable, but equally important, was underground drainage.

From the 1750s, huge increases in quantity and quality of crops, resulted from the drainage of flat fields and bogs. The digging of ditches and filling them with rubble was common practice on any forward-looking Renfrewshire estate. Further improvements could be made by lining the bottom of the ditch with flat stones, to form underground drainage channels.

From the 1830s, interest grew in an even better solution: the laying of manufactured clay pipes, known as ’tiles’. Initially the tiles were u-shaped, not circular, as they were easier to make. Clay was pressed flat and cut into rectangles, then folded by hand over rods, to form each tile. They were then dried and fired in kilns. Laid open-side down, the tiles often included a separate flat clay ‘sole’. They were known as drainage ’tiles’, probably because they resembled the curving red roof tiles imported from Holland.

In the 1830s and 40s the ministers of Erskine and Renfrew described tile draining as the ‘greatest improvement to agriculture in recent years, which is going forward in nearly all the farms in this parish’. The drainage had particular benefits in the growing of potatoes.

Most large estates sought a supply of clay to set up their own tile works. The landowner usually provided the tiles, with his tenants carrying out the heavy work of digging and laying the tiles at regular intervals across their fields. Apart from improving drainage, the old ridges and furrows were no longer required, and were flattened out.

The best fireclays were found around the north and west of Paisley at Walkinshaw, Ferguslie, Caledonia and Inkerman. These quality fireclays were valuable enough to be mined from the same shaft as coal, which was used to fuel the tile kilns. Although these big works usually produced drain tiles, their high quality clays were suitable for a whole catalogue of sanitary ware. Most tiles for draining fields were produced at smaller rural ‘Brick and Tile Works’ which will be discussed in next month’s Advertizer.

© 2018, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Smeall Family Bible

Numerous enquiries relating to local history and archaeology are sent to Renfrewshire Local History Forum website. The Forum also on occasion receives remarkably interesting information and artefacts from the enquirers. One of the most interesting of these was from Barbara Triplett-Decrease from Michigan. The enquiry had a remarkable outcome.

Barbara had acquired an old family Bible, printed by Mark Baskett in 1763, with births and marriages of a Paisley family surnamed Smeall / Smail. The earliest entry was the birth of James Smeall on 23rd March 1761. James was the eldest of a family of eight children born between 1761 and 1783. A later family member, Thomas Smeall, married Jane Watson in Thread Street, Paisley, in 1820. Their son, Robert Smeall, born in Paisley in 1830, emigrated to America and married Sarah Lawson (b 1845) in Stonnington, Connecticut, in 1866. The last of the many entries in the Bible is the birth of Thomas and Jane’s third child in Stonnington in 1873.

The Bible itself, being a Baskett Bible, is of some historical significance. The Baskett family were printers to the king. John Baskett, said to be ‘the greatest monopolist of Bibles that ever lived’, set up in business in Oxford in 1713. His earliest published bible sells today for up to £40,000. After John’s death in 1742, his sons Thomas and Richard took over the business. In 1761, his grandson, Mark, continued business until 1769 when he sold out to another printer. Baskett Bibles were published in Oxford, London and for a short time in Edinburgh

Barbara had attempted to find descendants of the Smeall family in Canada and U.S.A. without success. Because the family could not be traced, she was keen that the Bible should be returned to Paisley and she sent it to the Forum. One of our members, Peter Crawford, contacted Paisley Heritage Centre staff, who were keen to accept the Bible and offered to have it rebound. On 19th September, 2016, Barbara visited Paisley and, at a ceremony held in Paisley Heritage Centre, she formally presented the Bible to Provost Anne Hall. The beautifully rebound Bible is now an item in Renfrewshire Archives collection.

© 2018 Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Smeath Hill Homestead

Over the last year members of the Forum have been revisiting a number of archaeological sites in the area. One interesting site was Smeath Hill Homestead. The site (NS 3155 6609) lying to the south of Smeath Hill, was first surveyed by Frank Newall in the nineteen-sixties.
The remains of a massive circular stone wall, 2.5 metres wide, surround an enclosure, measuring 15 metres in diameter. The stone built walling is intact with two entrance gaps, one on the east of the wall, and the other on the northwest. Since Newall’s survey, the enclosure has become very overgrown. Evidence of interior structures is obliterated by vegetation and only the tops of a few stones remain apparent on the surface.
However, Newall’s survey gives a detailed interpretation of the structural evidence he found in the interior of the enclosure in the nineteen-sixties. Newall states that the enclosing wall surrounded an internal circular corridor or passageway, which in turn surrounded a large single roundhouse. The corridor was bounded by the enclosing stone wall and the wall of the roundhouse.

The East entrance gap in the enclosing wall led across the corridor to the entrance to the roundhouse. The wall’s North-West entrance led to the northern section of the corridor which was subdivided into three separate cells. The southern section, also subdivided into three separate cells, was entered from the East gateway.

Circular Stone Wall

The remains of numerous Bronze Age roundhouses are to be found in the surrounding landscape, but those enclosed by defensive stone walling are considered to be Iron Age. The site can be accessed from the track leading over the moor from Muirshiel Country Park to Hardridge Farm. The homestead lies some distance to the east of the track. The moorland terrain is boggy underfoot and the site is best visited in dry weather.

© 2017, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

DALGARVEN MILL MUSEUM of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume

A group of Renfrewshire Local History Forum members visited Dalgarven Mill Museum on Saturday, 20th May, 2017. We gathered in the coffee room, where we met Mr Rob Ferguson, who took us on a conducted tour of the museum. The Ferguson family have owned the mill since 1922 when it was still a working grain mill. Mr Ferguson and the Charitable Trust he set up have transformed the old mill into what must undoubtedly be among the very best of country life museums in Scotland.

The historic mill building has been beautifully restored and the large waterwheel, on a lade fed by the nearby River Garnock, works the machinery in the mill. All the machinery required to run a grain mill, a large collection of farm implements, old kitchen and dairy utensils, trade tools and many more country life artefacts are housed on three floors of the museum.

On the ground floor we visited the current exhibition of Early Victorian Costume, 1810-1865, entitled “Corsets and Crinolines”. This excellent display is only a small part of the museum’s extensive collection of costumes. As we explored the upper floors of the museum our group was most impressed by the extensive collection of farm equipment and country life artefacts. Much of the collection has been donated to the museum by local farmers and other residents. A number of displays show typical period dwelling rooms. The sets are so skilfully designed that the characters seem alive and the viewer almost has a sense of being a welcome visitor within the characters’ home.

As well as a tour of the museum, our group was privileged to have access to the storeroom which houses the museum’s extensive collection of period costumes, and some other very exciting items which, as yet, are not on display

After our tour we retired to Miller’s Kitchen Coffee Room to sample its excellent menu. This was a fitting end to one of the Forum’s most interesting and enjoyable outings.

© 2017 Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

 

 

Images with kind permission of R. Ferguson, Dalgarven Mill Museum of Ayrshire Country Life and Costume. Further information and images can be found at http://www.dalgarvenmill