Kilbarchan Old Parish Church Building


Kilbarchan Old Parish Church Building

Kilbarchan Old Parish Church,

The old Kilbarchan Parish Church building, with its long history and its unique appearance, is of great significance in the heritage of the village. There has been a church building on the site since, and probably before, the late middle-ages when in 1401 Thomas Crawford of Auchinames built a small chapel, dedicated to St. Catherine, in the kirk yard. In the 12th century Kilbarchan Parish Church had come under the jurisdiction of Diocese of Glasgow and later of Paisley Abbey. After the Reformation things changed and in 1590 the church became part of the newly formed Presbytery of Paisley. In the 17th century the Cuninghames of Craigends, as Patrons of the church, had a private aisle and burial place within the building.

By 1724 the church building was in a sad state of repair. The heritors appointed James Baird, a mason from Govan, to rebuild the church. Parishioners assisted in the work. The main body of the church was demolished, leaving only the Cunninghame Aisle, with its crow-step gable upstanding to be incorporated in the new building.  A small bell tower was erected on the west gable and a to-fall was built on the south wall as a burial place for the Houstons of Johnstone Castle.  Eight years later George Houston sold his estate to James Milliken and the to-fall became the burial place of the Milliken family and was thereafter known as the Milliken Aisle. The interior of the church had lofts or balconies at the east and west gables.

In 1792 a separate one storey session house was built in the churchyard.  Apart from the building of an additional storey on the Milliken Aisle, little change was made to the main church building before 1858 when architect, Alexander Kirkland, was appointed to make alterations to the building. The main part of the church was extended on the north by twelve feet and the tower on the north-east corner of the building was added. This increased the seating capacity of around 400 in Baird’s original building to 550.  Robert MacKenzie, the minister from (1895-1934) described the building as presenting ‘an artistic though somewhat quaint and unusual appearance’. It is now a B-listed building.

Since 1858 only minor functional extensions have been added to the exterior of the building which has served as the Church Hall since the new church was built in 1901. In 2018 both church buildings were sold by the Church of Scotland. The 1901 church will be made into flats, but the future of the 1724 old Kilbarchan Parish Church building has not yet been decided. Hopefully, it too will be preserved in some form and continue as an iconic focal point in the village.

© 2019 Helen Calcluth

John Love, a Kilbarchan Weaver

John Love (born in 1806) was a typical Kilbarchan weaver. He was also a well renowned bee-keeper.

In 1841 he and his wife Mary lived in the upper storey of Mount Pleasant, the last house on the right in Shuttle Street. Mary’s brother Robert Climie, her two sisters and her widowed mother were also part of the household.

John Love and his brother-in-law, Robert Climie, had their loomshop on the ground floor of the property. Both were silk handloom weavers. John’s wife, Mary, worked as a pirn winder and their twelve year old son was learning the weaving trade.

John and Robert cultivated flowers in their large garden and kept bees. John, however, was the gardening expert and was well-renowned as a Kilbarchan florist-weaver. The garden was a floral display of roses, herbaceous plants, and grafted fruit trees. However, the greatest attraction in the garden was John’s display of ‘pinks’ (carnations). He was acknowledged as the Scottish champion ‘pink’ grower.

John had numerous bee-hives, but one bee-house was unique. It was a model of a two-storey dwelling house, complete with chimney and chimney sweep. John’s other skill was as a taxidermist. His collection of numerous, carefully stuffed specimens of natural history was on display in his house.

In the mid-1870s John, who had been a tenant in Mount Pleasant for almost forty years, was forced by a new owner to vacate the property. John and his unmarried daughter, Elizabeth, moved to Paisley where they continued to work now as worsted weavers, in less pleasant surroundings.

John stayed in Paisley for some years, and then at the age of seventy-six, moved to the island of Bute to look after a fruit garden where he grew, among other produce, strawberries and Caledonian plum trees and kept bees. However, John missed his old home in Kilbarchan.

Like many ordinary Kilbarchan weavers, he often took the time to communicate his feelings in verse. In one letter sent from Bute to a friend, John wrote the touching lines,

Yes! that is the tale I whisper,

As I muse in the firelight glow,

As I sit in the hush of the evening,

And think of long ago.

After five years in Bute, John was pleased to come back to Kilbarchan and lived with a family named George at Bleachfield House in Merchant Close. In 1891 his friend described John, who looked only in his late sixties, as ‘a yellow haired laddie of eighty five summers’. He was of middle height, nimble, fleet of foot and of an amiable disposition.  He was a healthy individual who had sought medical attendance only once in his long life. John Love died in Kilbarchan in 1896 at the age eighty-nine

© 2020 Helen Calcluth

The Glasgow, Paisley, Ardrossan Canal

The Glasgow, Paisley, Ardrossan Canal was first proposed by James Watt in 1773. In 1804 a survey by Thomas Telford led to parliamentary permission to build the first phase of the canal from Glasgow to Johnstone. Hugh, 12th Earl of Eglinton, was the chief investor in the project. He had recently built his new deep sea harbour at Ardrossan and was keen to have direct access by canal to Glasgow.  Other investors included William Houston of Johnstone and William Dixon of Govan. A canal in the vicinity of their coal and iron mines would afford them easy access to Glasgow markets. Canal access to Glasgow was expected to be considerably more efficient than transporting goods by wagons on the turnpike roads. Work began in 1805. In addition to transportation of goods, a passenger service was planned.

The first section of the canal, from Paisley to Johnstone, opened on the 6th November, 1810. Amid great celebration the Countess of Eglinton was launched. Four days later, on the Martinmas Day holiday, tragedy struck. When passengers from Johnstone were disembarking at the canal basin in Paisley, an excited crowd of holiday makers on a family day out surged on to the boat causing it to capsize. Of the eighty-five people who lost their lives on this disastrous day at least one quarter were children.

The full stretch of the canal from Glasgow to Johnstone was completed in 1811, but because of the death of the Earl of Eglinton in 1819 and the lack of further funding, construction of the remaining section to Ardrossan was abandoned.

Two more passenger boats, the Paisley and the Countess of Glasgow were added to the fleet. The cabin class fare was 1s.3d. and the second class fare was 10d. In 1814 the canal sold over 35,000 fares and the service was popular with all classes of society.  In 1815 John Cuninghame of Craigends recorded in his diary that he had sent his chaise to Johnstone to meet friends arriving by boat from Glasgow. By 1836 there were twelve passenger sailings per day on the canal.

The Glasgow, Paisley, Ardrossan Canal appears to have been a profitable project for the investors until 1840 when, with the advent of the railways, the canal passenger service had competition. The Glasgow & Paisley Joint Railway opened the first rail line from Glasgow to Paisley in 1840. Rail travel between Paisley and Glasgow was quicker by train than the two hour journey by canal boat and when the rail company reduced its fares in1843 the canal passenger service was no longer viable. Although the passenger service ended in 1843 the canal company continued to transport goods until1869.

The canal became quieter and seems to have become a repository for stolen goods. It is reported that in 1852 brass fittings, and copper piping, stolen from the Kilbarchan horse-drawn fire engine, were found in Johnstone Canal by three local men. Kilbarchan Front Committee gave the men 7s.6d. for the recovery of these valuable fittings.

In 1869 the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company purchased the canal.  This rail company continued to operate the transport of goods on the canal until 1881. In that year they began work to build a second rail line from Glasgow to Paisley, largely following the route of the canal. The canal was drained in 1882 and their Canal Line to Paisley opened in 1885.

©2019 Helen Calcluth

Kilbarchan Old Parish Churchyard

Work in progress

October, 2018
Since the church closed two years ago, the church yard has been poorly maintained, except for occasional grass-cutting by Renfrewshire Council. By the end of the summer the grass was long, more than twenty unwanted saplings were thriving in Captain Stirling’s burial enclosure, and other gravestones were obscured by bushes and undergrowth.
Our volunteer members strimmed and raked the long grass, weeded overgrown plots, removed unwanted bushes and saplings and collected all the rubbish in plastic bags for removal.

Volunteer group with Peter wielding the strimmer (and Ian as a shadow)

Interestingly, in the process, we found a number of unrecorded graves. We hope to be able to photograph all the gravestones in the churchyard when the weather improves
The committee would like to thank our volunteers who helped to tidy up Kilbarchan Old Parish Churchyard. We would also like to express our thanks to Inchinnan Historical Interest Group for the use of their strimmer.

Alistair and Ian removing bushes from overgrown burial plot.
Anne and Jean clearing Stirling Enclosure of saplings and weeds
Awaiting uplift

DANGER IN THE COTTON MILLS

The radical rising of 1820, when weavers John Lang of Kilbarchan and John Speirs of Johnstone were accused of high treason, was a time of particular danger to workers in cotton mills in Glasgow and Renfrewshire. This was because, at a time when the price paid for spun yarn had fallen, mill owners had been forced to cut spinners’ wages to keep their businesses viable. This led to some of their workforce downing tools and to the employers engaging a new cohort of spinners at the lower rate of pay.
Mayhem ensued! The cotton trade came under the control of a secret conspiracy among the former workforces. The leaders of the conspiracy had total control over the masters and by ‘violent and nefarious means’ forced them to appoint a new workforce, chosen by the conspirators, and to pay higher wages.
Particularly vicious attacks on spinners who had chosen to work at the lower rate occurred in Johnstone and Elderslie. The first victim was Alexander Fisher, a spinner in William King, senior’s cotton mill in Johnstone. Twice in 1820, his dwelling house was attacked by gun-fire. On the first occasion the shot spread window-glass into the bed where his children slept. On the second occasion the gun shot hit the ceiling with no injury to the family. But the attacks continued. In November on his way to work two men waylaid and viciously threw vitriol in his face and chest causing him the loss of sight in his left eye. Despite this, he went back to work to support his large family. Another attempt on his life was made on 14th December when Alexander was at work in the mill and two shots were fired at him. But fortunately they fell short and struck the wall.
Brothers, Peter and Arthur Dorran, were spinners in William King, senior’s cotton mill in Elderslie. They, too, were victims of attacks in December 1820. On a road crowded with men, women and children returning home from the mill, Peter was attacked by three villains and had vitriol thrown on his face. He was unable to return to work to support his family. His brother, Peter, was fired while at work in the mill.
The homes of Rae and Muir, two spinners at Watts, Logan and Company in Johnstone, were also attacked by gun-fire in December, 1820. On New Year’s Day, 1821, James Henderson, another spinner at Watts, Logan and Company, was returning home with his wife and family. James was carrying one of his children on his back when a man with the intention of shooting him pointed a pistol at his heart and fired. Fortunately, the pistol misfired and James and the child on his back were uninjured. After this incident the attacker was arrested.
These horrific incidents spread fear and terror among law-abiding citizens whose only desire was to work to support their families.

© 2018 Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Semples of Beltrees, 6 Robert Semple, 6th Laird of Beltrees

Robert Semple, 6th Laird of Beltrees, born in 1687, was the eldest son of Robert Semple and Mary Pollock. We are indebted to him for preserving a number of the poems and impromptu verses written by his grandfather, Francis Semple. Robert, too, is thought to have dabbled in verse. Among his manuscripts is a poem, Ramillies. This amusing poem, written in the Scots vernacular, is the story of a young girl who ran off with a sailor, after being forced by her father to marry a much older man. Its authorship is attributed to Robert.
Robert had a long healthy life, living to the age of one hundred and two! In 1722 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Cochrane of Mainshill. Elizabeth, who predeceased him, was said to have been a very elegant lady. The couple lived in Thirdpart in Kilbarchan Parish and had eight children between 1726 and 1737.
In his home village of Kilbarchan Robert Semple was well-remembered and renowned, not only for his longevity, but also for an incident in his childhood. At the age of ten, he was staying with his parents in Pollock Castle, the home of his uncle Sir William Pollock. The hanging and the burning of the Bargarran Witches was scheduled to take place on Gallow Green in Paisley on the 10th of June, 1697, and young Robert was keen to witness the spectacle. To prevent him from going, his parents hid his shoes. However, this didn’t stop him. He managed to leave the house, and walk barefoot to Paisley where he joined the immense crowd who had gathered to watch the spectacle. The memory of this eventful day stayed with him all his life and was a tale often recounted in his old age. In the last decade of 19th century an old weaver in Kilbarchan was proudly heard to say ‘I knew a man who knew a man who saw the last witch burnt in Paisley’. The man was Robert Semple!
As a young man Robert, 6th Laird, went to sea. In his old age he recounted an unusual event in his adventures. On one of his sea voyages he went ashore at Archangel in Russia. Robert was watching sea animals in a pond where, apparently by chance, he witnessed a sea animal snapping at the Czar, Peter the Great, and biting the cock of his hat. Destinations of his other sea voyages are unknown.
Before the age of thirty, Robert was back in Renfrewshire where he was appointed as a burgher of Renfrew in 1716. He was regarded as a man of integrity and good judgement and was well respected in the community He later became Collector of Cess for Renfrewshire and a long-serving Justice of Peace. In 1724, when Kilbarchan Parish Church was rebuilt, Robert was a subscriber and one of the five heritors who organised the rebuilding of the church. In recognition of his work, a door (now long blocked up) on the south side of church was named the Beltrees Door.
In 1758, Robert sold Thirdpart and its farms to William McDowall of Castle Semple. He still retained the title, Semple of Beltrees. Where he lived after the sale of Thirdpart is uncertain. In 1777, at the age of ninety, Robert feued land on what was then part of Milliken Estate in Kilbarchan and built Belltrees Cottage, naming it after his family’s former estate. According to his daughter, Arabella, not long before his death he was still able walk twenty miles a day. Robert Semple died in Beltrees Cottage in 1789 at the ripe old age of one hundred and two!
© 2019, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Semples of Beltrees, 5 Robert Semple, 5th Laird of Beltrees

Robert Semple, 5th Laird of Beltrees, was born in 1656. He married Mary Pollock, eldest daughter of Robert Pollock of that Ilk in 1678. Robert and Mary lived at Thirdpart and attended the Parish Church in Kilbarchan. Their three daughters, Jean (1679), Elizabeth (1680) and Grizel (1682) were christened in Kilbarchan. Their son and heir, Robert, was born in 1687.
Robert Semple had securely inherited Thirdpart in 1682 on the death of his father, Francis. Unfortunately, he also inherited his father’s debts. On 13th of June, when his son was only five months old, Robert, as heritor of Thirdpart resigned the feu to his infant son, presumably in an attempt to ensure the ownership of the estate for the family.
Robert’s main interest in life appears to have been addressing the legacy of debt left to him by his father. A list of debts, signed by Robert Semple, was compiled on 13th April, 1686, to be paid off by his factor, James Semple. The list included thirty items, totalling what appears a considerable sum in 1687. The largest debts were £300 to be paid to Robert Chapman, a merchant in Glasgow and one hundred pounds Scots to Mr John Stirling, a former Kilbarchan Parish minister. Many smaller amounts were to be paid in merks.
Robert also attempted to restore to family the lands at Carberry in Ireland. These lands had been granted to his great-grandfather, Sir James Semple, by James VI in 1606, and were later violently appropriated by Cromwell’s forces. Due to rebellions in Ireland, neither Robert the 3rd Laird of Beltrees nor Francis the 4th Laird had pursued the recovery of these lands. In dire straits, Robert Semple, the 5th Laird, did go to Ireland around 1703 in an attempt to regain the lands, but no subsequently legal claim took place.
In 1697 the family were staying at Pollock House, the residence of Mary’s brother. Whether this was a temporary or a semi-permanent arrangement is unknown. In 1704 Robert Semple of Beltrees was listed as a Commissioner of Supply for Renfrewshire45. Commissioners of supply were responsible for the upkeep of roads and bridges.
In his lifetime Robert saw the return of a Stewart monarch to the throne, the Church of Scotland firmly returned to Presbyterianism, and the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. Perhaps surprisingly, after the numerous shifts in monarchy, government, religion and politics, this situation survived in its entirety for more than two hundred years.
Robert was still alive in 1710, when he and his wife received a letter from his son, Robert, but is known to have died before 1717, when his wife married her second husband, John Cochrane. Hopefully, for Mary, this marriage was less financially troubled than her first one must have been!
© 2018, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Semples of Beltrees, 4 Francis Semple, 4th Laird of Beltrees

Following the family tradition, Francis, too, was a poet of considerable merit. He married Jeane Campbell (his first cousin) in the Parish of Lochgoilhead on 3rd April, 1655, and had two known sons, Robert in 1656 and James in 1657, both christened in Kilbarchan Parish.
Francis was involved with the Engagers, who prioritised loyalty to Charles I above their Presbyterian convictions. The Engager army had invaded England in 1648, where it was decisively defeated by Oliver Cromwell’s army at the Battle of Preston. Whether Francis was actively involved in the battle is unknown. The Church of Scotland strongly disapproved of the Engagers’ activities and in 1649, in retribution, Francis was seated in front of the pulpit in Kilbarchan Parish Church, in full view of the congregation and had to confess and give evidence of his repentance 1649. Two years later he again had to appear before the congregation to confess the sin of visiting his relative ‘old Lady Semple’ who had been excommunicated from the Church of Scotland for her papal sympathies.
Francis had inherited his father’s debts, but continued to move in the upper echelons of society. He appears to have been over-generous to his friends, standing surety on numerous occasions. He was also a spendthrift, selling off his assets in an attempt to maintain his lifestyle.
More importantly, Francis Semple is remembered for his excellence as a poet. His lyrics for songs include the original version of Auld Langsyne, adapted over a century later by Robert Burns, and Maggie Lauder which makes mention of the Kilbarchan piper Habbie Simson,
There’s nane in Scotland plays sae weel,
Sin’ we lost Habbie Simson
Francis’s poems give us an insight into his character and lifestyle. He was a great admirer of his acquaintance, the Duke of Albany (later James II). His poems honouring the Duke of Albany were written in a serious, respectful tone. In contrast his impromptu epitaphs show his cutting wit. On the death of Lady Schaw of Greenock, he wrote,
Heir lyis interrit, forbye a witch
Ane oppressor baith of puir and rich:
How scho fends, and how scho fares,
Naebodie kens, and as few cares.
A number of his poems are humorous personal narratives, written in the rich Scots vernacular. These poems show Francis as a bit of a likeable rogue, not afraid to make public his brushes with the law, and his financial difficulties. The theme in his poem Banishment of Poverty, as the name suggests, is his perpetual pecuniary struggle. Among his many trials and tribulations Francis again mentions his local village. He writes that he first met Poverty in Kilbarchan, ‘where Habbie’s drones blew many a blast’ and says of his enemy, Poverty,
For there he gripped me full and fast
When first I fell in cautionrie
Francis died in 1682 in relative poverty, having relinquished his estate and moved to Burnfoot, a small house in Lochwinnoch Parish. Sadly, despite his undoubted merit as a Scottish poet, he unfortunately left a very large legacy of financial debt to his successors.

© 2018, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Semples of Beltrees, 3 Robert Semple, 3rd Laird of Beltrees

Robert Semple, 3rd Laird of Beltrees, was born c1595 and most likely spent his early childhood years at Beltrees in Lochwinnoch Parish or in the family house in Paisley. He was well-educated and matriculated at the College of Glasgow in 1613. He married Mary, daughter of Thomas Lyon of Auldbar and had a son, Francis, and a daughter Elizabeth. In 1626, on the death of his father, Sir James Semple, Robert inherited his title and the lands of Beltrees. He lived through difficult times – the Reformation, three Civil wars, and the Commonwealth. He was a staunch Presbyterian and fought as an Officer in the Royalist army in support of Charles I and Charles II. He was instrumental in promoting the restoration of Charles II in 1660.
His main claim to fame, however, is that he was a poet of considerable talent. Unfortunately only three of his works are known to have survived. His poem, The Life and Death of Habbie Simson, gives a humorous account of Habbie Simson, the famous Kilbarchan piper. It is written in a stanza form which was later to become known in literary circles as the ‘Habbie Stanza’. This form was used a century later by Robert Burns.
Robert Semple was a contemporary of Habbie Simson and the poem can be regarded as a valuable local history resource. The poem tells of occasions and events where Habbie played his pipes, – the kirkyard on Sundays, weddings, Kilkbarchan Horse Races, St Barchan’s Day Feast, the gatherings of Spearmen, and Clark plays in Edinburgh. Robert Semple’s second surviving work is Epitaph on Sanny Briggs, written in the same Habbie stanza. Sanny Briggs is said to have been nephew to Habbie Simson.
His third work, on a more serious theme, is A Pick-tooth for the Pope or The Packman’s Paternoster. The poem takes the form of a dialogue between a packman and a priest. It was originally written by his father, Sir James Semple, and was augmented and enlarged by Robert. The poem takes the form of a discussion between a simple packman and a priest. Throughout more eight hundred lines of rhyming couplets the packman politely questions the parish priest, whom he addresses as Sir John, on modes of worship and dogma of the Church of Rome – the need for mass and prayers to be in Latin, the Pope as successor to St. Peter, and, what he regards as, undue exaltation of Virgin Mary. Despite the serious nature of the theme an ironic humour pervades the work. It was printed in Edinburgh 1669.
Around 1650, Robert and his family moved from the old hall at Beltrees to Thirdpart in Kilbarchan Parish. Robert appears to have taken an active part in village life. In 1660 he was witness to the baptism of Marie, a daughter of Alexander Hamilton, in Forehouse, Kilbarchan. Robert Semple died later in the 1660s.
© 2018, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Semples of Beltrees, 2 Sir James Semple, 2nd Laird of Beltrees

James Semple was the eldest son of John Semple, the Dancer, and Mary Livingston, who was one of Mary Queen of Scots’ four Marys. He was born in 1566, the same year as King James, I and VI. James was brought up at court and received his early education with the young king, under the tutelage of the Scottish historian and scholar, George Buchanan. The two boys remained life-long friends.
James Semple of Beltrees married Geillis Elphinstone, and had at least two sons and four daughters. Geillis appears to have been a fashionable lady. Her personal possessions included velvet gowns and other pieces of luxury clothing, gold chains and rings, silverware and luxurious feather beds. However, she was still a caring mistress and in her will left 500 merks to her faithful servant, Mareoun Paden.
James Semple of Beltrees, unlike his father, the dancer, was of a serious disposition. He was a Scottish diplomat, a poet and a zealous Presbyterian. King James appointed him as Ambassador to England. In 1599, at his friend the King’s request, Queen Elizabeth of England sent a court order to her Majesties Officers to provide good horses and to ensure the safe return of James Semple to Scotland. Soon after his return he was knighted and thereafter was known as Sir James Semple of Beltrees. In 1601 he was appointed as Ambassador to France and in 1602 as Sheriff Substitute of Renfrewshire. However, Sir James, was best known for his literary works. Some of his works, mainly controversial treatises in defence of Presbyterianism, still survive.
Sir James transcribed King James I’s Basilikon Doran, which was first printed in Edinburgh in 1599. This was a treatise written to instruct his heir on how to be an efficient monarch and giving in detail a monarch’s Christian duty. The work was intended to be secret and, initially, only 7 copies were printed. Sir James showed one of these copies to Andrew Melville, a leading Scottish Presbyterian, who leaked details of the King’s controversial views on religion to Scottish Presbyteries. This caused endless trouble and displeased the King, whose animosity towards the Presbyterian Melville intensified. In 1606 the King imprisoned Melville in the Tower until, with the help of Sir James, he was eventually released in 1611. After his release, Melville was appointed Professor of Divinity in the University of Sedan in France. At Melville’s request, Sir James became involved in a controversy with Daniel Tilenus, a Silesian theologian. He published his Answer to the Defence of the Bishops and the Five Articles in 1622. This document was a vigorous reply in defence of Presbyterianism. Three other theological works by Sir James still survive today.
Sir James was also a poet, but only one of his poetical works survives. This is a long satirical poem which he entitled ‘A Pick-tooth for the Pope or The Packman’s Paternoster’. The theme was, again, the defence of Presbyterianism. It took the form of a dialogue between a packman and a priest. Sir James is said to have written the poem from his own translation of a Dutch manuscript. His poet son Robert, the 3rd Laird of Beltrees, later added to the text.
Sir James may not have spent much of his busy life at Beltrees in Lochwinnoch Parish, but his stone house with a tower still stood there in 1612. James outlived his wife and died in his house at the Cross in Paisley in 1626.
© 2018, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum