The Kilbarchan Linen Merchants,  5: John Houston, another Kilbarchan Linen Merchant

The name Houston is one of the oldest family surnames in Kilbarchan dating back to the early 1600s. John Houston, the Kilbarchan linen merchant, married Margaret Naismith from Lochwinnoch Parish in 1750 and had nine children. He was a leaseholder in the village with houses and a yard in Merchant Close, and in his later years lived in Old Hall in Shuttle Street.

John Houston’s linen manufactury in Kilbarchan was established in or before 1755 when he bought the land adjacent to the Barbours’ Auchinames Bleachfield. By 1779 some of his weavers were working in silk, producing quality silk gauze for export to Dublin. He was extolled as one of the principal manufacturers in the village and a ‘Dublin Merchant’ by Semple in 1782.

Like other of the Kilbarchan merchants, John Houston had business interests outwith the textile trade. He owned a large brewery in Kilbarchan. When the linen industry in Kilbarchan was in decline in the 1780s, John Houston must have felt the need to increase his income or consolidate his capital. In 1786 he placed an advert in the Glasgow Mercury – ‘To be let at Kilbarchan – a brewery and malthouse with every article necessary for carrying on the business, in good condition’ and a ‘large new still to be sold’. It is not known if a subsequent letting arrangement, or the sale of the still, took place.

Rather than concentrate on his Irish interests, John Houston entered into partnership with a Paisley manufacturer in 1789. This newly established Paisley firm, Dundas Smith & Co., specialised in plain and embroidered muslins. The business had a factory in Paisley and employed weavers, warpers, winders, tambourers (embroiderers) and clippers. From 1790 and until 1802 Dundas Smith & Co. marketed their goods in England and exported cotton and linen goods to Jamaica.  John Houston lived to a ripe old age. In 1807 he was described as ‘about 87; quite agile and strong; can walk to Paisley and return as cleverly as a man of twenty’.

© 2022  Helen Calcluth

Further information on the Speirs, Barbours, Hows and Houstons is contained in “Kilbarchan and the Handloom Weavers” (Chapter 3, pp 31-42). Available on the website Publications.

Glentyan Estate Photographs by Charles Hunter, taken in, or before,1922

Glentyan House was built by Alexander Speirs, a local linen merchant, in the late eighteenth century. A subsequent owner, Richard Hubbert Hunter, owned the estate from 1898 until his death in 1939. He kept the gardens well maintained and invested in new additional features to enhance his estate. His son Charles, who inherited the estate on the death of his father, was a keen photographer.

Some years ago, a box of Charles Hunter’s glass negatives was given to me by Charles’s sister, Elspeth. When I first saw the negatives, they were carefully wrapped in pages of an old newspaper, dated 1922. The photographs provide a unique visual record of Glentyan Estate around one hundred years ago.

Charles Hunter, took the above photograph of Glentyan House in, or before, 1922. The frontage of the house remains as it was one hundred years ago, but the tower with the flagpole on the roof has been removed.  Elspeth Hunter, remembers that during WW2 the tower was used as a look-out post by the ARP wardens. She remembers being in the tower with her parents on a dark night when a German plane flew overhead and family members on duty had to quickly cover the bright white  letter ‘W’ on their warden helmets in case they were spotted by the German pilot.

Glentyan  House. showing roof tower, Charles Hunter

In the image above, a  painted wooden plaque of Richard Hunter’s coat of arms can be seen  in the apex above the front entrance. The armorial bearings in the centre of the plaque showed two hunting horns and ‘the sun in his splendour’, topped by  a falcon and the Hunter clan motto, SEMPER SUBLIMA . The plaque, too, has now gone. After gracing the house for around one hundred years, sadly, in 2010 this colourful wooden plaque fell to the ground and shattered.


(Click on image to enlarge)

The  image above shows the brightly coloured plaque.  ( some letters of the motto can be distinguished in the enlarged image )   –   Top right showing SEMPER and a rather vague SUBLIMA

Charles’s photographs of Glentyan  Estate taken in the early 1920s, also include the beautiful formal rose garden at the rear of house.

Glentyan House, rear view and rose garden, Charles Hunter

Included, too, is this excellent image of the enormous glass house in the walled garden.  Only the much-ruined wall of the walled garden remains today.

Glass House in the walled garden, Charles Hunter

Richard Hunter kept his woodlands and gardens well maintained and invested in new additional features to enhance his estate. The most significant was the creation of an artificial lake, now known as Glentyan Loch. His additions also included a full sized tennis court. Glentyan Loch, and the tennis court, were used by the family for leisure and recreation. The photograph below shows the boat house on the left with a punt gun, used for fowling, moored centre front.

Glentyan Loch and boat house, Charles Hunter

A main feature on Glentyan Loch was the Japanese Bridge which separated the loch from the old mill dam which had powered Glentyan Corn Mill.

The Japanese Bridge, Charles Hunter

Charles Hunter’s box  contained over sixty glass negatives. His sister Elspeth wanted them to be kept in Kilbarchan. Ian Trushell processed the photographs, and the glass negatives are now in safe keeping in the village.

© 2021  Helen Calcluth

Kilbarchan Laundries 1, Glentyan Laundry.

In the 1870s Robert Gibson, born in Newton on Ayr in 1826, was the founder of Glentyan Laundry in Merchants Close. Robert was brought up in Kilbarchan. His father, an Ayrshire handloom weaver, had moved to Kilbarchan, and in the 1840s the Gibson family lived in Barholm where James and three of his sons, including Robert, were silk handloom weavers. Robert married Mary Love in 1861. Over the next twenty years, the demand for handloom weaving declined and the number of village weavers dropped from around 883 to 678.

Robert must have seen the writing on the wall. Before 1881, he had established himself as a ‘washer and dresser’, living with his family in Merchants Close. (A ‘washer and dresser’ was a laundryman.) Robert set up his laundry in the old bleachfield building in Merchants’ Close and he and his family lived in Bleachfield House (later known as Woodside Cottage). The laundry was a family concern. Robert’s three eldest daughters were ‘laundress ironers’ and the youngest, Elizabeth, aged 13, was a ‘laundress collar machine ironer’. Matthew, aged 18 was a ‘ mangler and packer’ and John had worked as a washer and dresser.

Work in the laundry was hard and, at times, dangerous  –  steam presses, hot irons,  and moving machinery.  One serious accident occurred in 1900. A local girl, Mary Munn was seriously injured in the laundry when her hair became tangled in an overhead revolving shaft. She seems to have made a good recovery and later married Robert’s youngest son, Tom.

Robert’s Glentyan Laundry appears to have been a very successful, lucrative family business. In 1885 Robert still rented the laundry building and house from Thomas Mann of Glentyan, but by 1895 he was owner of both properties. In 1898 his wife, Mary, died and Robert appears to have taken a backseat in the business and his sons became partners in  the laundry. However, in 1904 sons John and Tom, as partners, left the business to set up their own establishment at the other end of the village, and Glentyan Laundry was sold to James Guthrie McVicar.

James McVicar, too, was an Ayrshire man, born in Newton on Ayr on 20th August, 1879. According to his descendants, his father, also named James Guthrie McVicar, had business dealings with the Kilbarchan weavers in previous years. He is documented in census records as a mercantile cashier. Young James became proprietor of Glenyan Laundry and Woodside Cottage before his marriage to Agnes Rintoul from Glasgow in 1908. The couple had two children, Agnes, (b 1909) and William (b 1915), both born in Kilbarchan.

When  James took over the business, the laundry was mainly steam powered. The building with an adjacent chimney, shown upstream from the main laundry building on the OS map of 1812, was probably the boiler house. Glentyan Laundry served the village through WW1, but after the war, times were hard and James was concerned that trade was not picking up. As a member of the Laundry Trade Board (Great Britain), in 1922 he forwarded an objection to the Trade Board concerning their proposals on changes to piece rates for laundry workers. Trade seems to have improved in the 1930s. In 1941 James, aged 61, died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage.  His wife Agnes died the following year and the laundry closed a few years later.

James’s grandson  found this painting (unknown artist) of the Glentyan Laundry and Woodside Cottage among family papers. It dates from the early 1900s.

Merchants Close  (early 1900s) Courtesy of Ewan McVicar

© 2021 Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Kilbarchan Laundries 2, Cartbank Laundry.

Cartbank Laundry was founded about 1903 by brothers, John and Tom Gibson, the sons of Robert Gibson, the owner of Glentyan Laundry. Cartbank Laundry was built on what is now the flat grassy area, on the right of the entry to the cycle path opposite Waterston Terrace. Over the seventy years of its existence little change was made to the west frontage of the main building, and the cobbled path leading up to the laundry which, according to family descendants, was designed specifically to allow easy access to horses and carts. It was still in its original form when photographed in 1974. The building on the right was a later addition.

From an early age the two brothers had worked in their father’s laundry, gaining experience in all aspects of the trade. They were ambitious young men and well able to run their own business. In 1910, both brothers were married with young families and lived Easwald Bank. John was in No.18 and  Tom was in No.17. Business prospered and before 1915 John, the elder brother, bought Riversdale in Tandlehill Road and Tom bought  St Katherines in Ladysmith Avenue. The brothers were now men of property   –     no more bed recesses,  no more shared toilets, and their own private gardens!

In the 1920s Gibson Bros. of Cartbank Laundry continued to expand and modernise. They had clients not only in surrounding villages, but also in Paisley and Glasgow. They no longer used horse and cart for deliveries, and owned  a small fleet of delivery vans. In the 1920s it was a regular procedure for Cartbank Laundry delivery van drivers to hand over their week’s takings to the company’s main office on a Thursday. Unfortunately, this regular procedure was public knowledge in the area. On the evening of  February, 1925, two robbers broke into the laundry main office and over three hundred pounds of silver coins were stolen. (More about the Cartbank robbery in the subsequent article, “Robbbery in the Laundry”.

The following advert appeared in the Brochure for Kilbarchan Fete which was held in Glentyan Estate on 8th June, 1929.

In 1937 Gibson Brothers became a Limited Company, with John and Tom as Directors and   members of the next Gibson generation joined the family firm. John died in 1950, and Tom in 1965, and the next generation of Gibsons continued to run the company.

In the 1960s, laundry businesses all over the country, including Cartbank Laundry, saw a slow steady decline in demand for their services. Although Cartbank Laundry was still a viable, solvent  business, the company ceased trading in 1974. The laundry buildings, later used as a store by the paper manufacturers, Smith and McLaurin, were destroyed by fire  in July, 1977.

Above sketch is based on OS map: Renfrewshire, XI7, 1912

Excellent images of Cartbank Laundry are available on Canmore. Click on link below.

© 2021, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Kilbarchan Laundries 3, Robbery at the Laundry

In the 1920s it was a regular procedure for Cartbank Laundry van drivers to deliver their  week’s takings to the company’s main office on a Thursday. After closing time on Thursday 19th February, 1925 two men, John Feeney and Robert Robertson, gained entry to Cartbank Laundry’s premises by forcing an outside door with a tyre lever. They gained access to the main office and stole an estimated total of £500. Their plan had been to blow up the laundry  safe  with explosives (their bag of explosives was later recovered from the crime scene), but this original plan was scrapped when they found a large quantity of loose coins and notes in an unlocked rolltop desk. The robbers, with heavy paper bags filled with notes and coins and with their pockets bulging with loose silver, hurriedly left the scene. They jumped on to a passing tram car bound for Paisley to make their escape. Relieved, they  sat on the top deck of the open-topped tram.


Open-topped tram in Low Barholm, Kilbarchan

But that is not the end of the story. When the tram reached Johnstone High Street, one of the robbers dropped a bag of silver coins. The paper bag burst open! Some coins spilled on the floor and some fell from the moving tram on to the street below. In a state of panic both robbers tried to make their escape, but the tram conductor, John Sinclair, who had felt suspicious when the two boarded the tram in Kilbarchan, caught one of the men. An elderly gentleman who was passing by jumped on to the tram platform to assist John. While under their restraint, the apprehended robber threw handfuls of silver coins, amounting to almost fifty pounds, to gathering spectators asking them to help him to escape and inciting them to help themselves to the  scattered coins. The police soon arrived on the scene and the man was promptly arrested. Meanwhile, the second robber escaped the scene.

But the saga continues. After half an hour’s delay, the tram continued on its journey to Paisley with Detective Sergeant Murray of Johnstone Burgh Police on board. When the tram reached the Thorn, the second robber, who had escaped from the tram in the High Street, unsuspectingly, again boarded the tram. He was immediately recognized by the conductor and speedily arrested by Detective Murray.

Later, a third man, who was walking from Johnstone through Elderslie, dropped a bag of silver coins on the pavement. He told some people who had helped him to gather up the scattered coins, that the money was his shop takings. When this incident was reported to the police he was regarded as a possible third suspect in the Cartbank robbery.

The two apprehended robbers appeared before Sheriff Hamilton in Paisley. John Feeney, a habitual criminal, was sentenced to four years penal servitude and David  Robertson received a two year jail sentence. Most of the stolen money, including thirty pounds from the shower of silver coins scattered on the pavement, was recovered and returned to Gibson Brothers.

© 2021 Helen Calcluth. Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Who do you think they are? Kilbarchan Parish Churchyard

Before the neglected Kilbarchan Parish Church burial ground completely disappears below the undergrowth, some research into the identity and lives of the people who were interred therein may be of interest. The two stones shown in the image above stand side by side against the wall of the old church. Both stones have the same shape and identical ornamentation, and appear to be carved by the same stone mason and dedicated to the same James Black. The inscription  on the larger stone on the left of the image above reads “Dedicated to the memory of James Black farmer in Penneld who died April 1785 aged 64 years”. The inscription on the smaller stone reads “JB  MW  1785”. But who was James Black?

James Black, in Lochermiln, married Mary Wilson (MW) in 1751. Mary was the eldest daughter of John Wilson, and Mary Henderson of Sandholes. James and Mary started their married life in Locher Mill where the first two of their seven children, Agnes and Mary, were born in 1752 and 1754. Before 1757, the family moved to nearby Penneld where James converted the old corn mill at Nether Penneld on the River Locher into a barley mill which he operated for some years. By his early forties, James appears to have been a man of significance in the community and a prosperous farmer and miller. In 1760 he was wealthy enough to purchase Glentyan mill in Kilbarchan village from Patrick Crawfurd, the last laird of Auchinames, and in 1763 he was appointed as an elder in the Parish Church. In 1770 he demolished his barley mill and on June 12th, 1775, he sold the lands of Glentyan with the corn mill to Alexander Speirs, the linen merchant who built Glentyan House. By 1782 he was carrying on both lime and coal work at his farm called Moor of Waterston and at Tween–of-hills, the property of Robert Napier of Milliken. Both John and his wife died in 1785. It can be assumed that Mary died a few months after the death of her husband, and a second stone was erected.

James and Mary’s second daughter, Mary Black, married James Semple, Jun. of Middleton in 1776. The Semples of Middleton (now part of Linwood) were thread manufacturers in the old Kilbarchan Parish. Mary died young, in June 1779, aged 24 years. She too is interred in the burial ground. Her large gravestone lies flat on the grass beside Captain Stirling’s fenced enclosure. (See below)

Mary Black

© June 2021,  Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Witches and Warlocks of Renfrewshire

There are many tales of witches and wizards from biblical times to the present-day, but nothing in comparison to the actions of the reformed churches after they denounced the Church of Rome, accusing it of being in league with the devil himself. From a misunderstood text in the old testament (Exodus 22.18) “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” the church in Scotland embarked on a dark and evil pathway towards legalised murder in the guise of piety. Acting on this slender foundation, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1563 that would lead to thousands of men women and children tortured in the most heinous manner, strangled and burnt at the stake.  Less fortunate individuals in England were burned alive. Accounts of these trials and executions that we find on record in Scotland total 4400 victims. Europe wide the estimate was 50,000. Many were not recorded and the exact number will never be known.

Renfrewshire was late in taking up the challenge of eradicating Witches and nearly one hundred years passed before it raised its ugly head in the Shire. The year 1664 saw John Hamilton minister of Inverkip charged with taking a bribe of 50 merks from an alleged witch he was protecting. He was discharged and the poor woman in question died in prison before her trial. For the next thirty years Inverkip had the reputation as a centre of black magic. Other towns of note were Greenock with Kilmacolm and Inchinnan a close third.

Paisley was rather slow with its involvement in witchcraft, but they made up for that in 1676 when Sir John Maxwell of Pollock died. Five witches and a warlock were accused of procuring his death using a wax image, sticking pins in it, and melting the image at a fire. Five were found guilty and garrotted then burnt on the Gallowgreen on the 20th February 1677.

The most notorious witch trials that took place in Scotland relate to the bewitching of Christian Shaw, daughter of the Laird of Bargarran, a small estate on the road between Bishopton and Erskine Ferry. Christian’s father had paid a visit to America at the time of the Salem witch trials and it is thought Christian, having overheard a conversation, took revenge on a servant claiming that the servant bewitched her. The case was reported to the Privy Council in January, 1697. Wholesale arrests were made throughout the county of Renfrew, the victims were handed over to the pricker, stripped naked and had their body checked for places that did not bleed when punctured with a large darning needle. If found, these blood-free spots were immediately declared to be the Devil’s mark. The accused victims’ fates were sealed. A total of twenty one men and women were put on trial. Of these, three men and four women were held to be involved in the bewitching of Christian Shaw and sentenced to death by throttling and burning on Gallowgreen on 10th June, 1697. One of the commissioned judges was William Cunningham of Craigends (see April Advertizser), who was later made an honorary burgess of Paisley. When the Bargarran witches had been disposed of, Christian Shaw made a remarkable recovery and went on to be a very successful business woman.

The 1563 Act was repealed in 1736, with the last execution of a witch in Scotland taking place at Dornoch in 1722.

© 2020, Peter Crawford

William Cunninghame, 8th Laird of Craigends

Over one hundred years before John Cuninghame, 13th Laird of Craigends kept a diary, William the 8th Laird, too, kept a diary. Unlike the 13th Laird’s very personal diary, William Cuninghame’s diary was mainly in the form of an account book of his household expenses, but it still gives an interesting insight into his life and activities.

At the time of writing, William was heir to his father, Alexander, and was known as Master of Craigends. He married his first wife, Anne, daughter of Lord Ruthven, in April 1673. William and Anne lived in the old Craigends House with Laird Alexander and his wife. Although the couple had no children, William was trustee to Anne’s son, William, from her previous marriage to Cuninghgame of Cuninghamehead.

William’s diary is complete from November 1673 until December1680. Every item of William’s household expenditure is meticulously itemised and dated.  He regularly paid his father the cost of boarding in the household. Boarding expenses ‘for horses and all’ amounted to over five hundred pounds sterling each year. William also gave money to his wife, ‘the lady’, for her expenses, and paid his own personal servants. William and Anne made regular visits to Anne’s family at Freeland in Perthshire and William, on occasion, travelled to Edinburgh to attend to legal matters on behalf of Anne’s son. The expenses incurred on these ‘voyages’ are recorded in detail, including board and lodgings, cost of servants on the journey, stabling and feed for his horses and gratuities given to servants at inns. At home, William frequently gave money to beggars and to ‘poor men at the gate’.

William was a frequent visitor in Kilbarchan village.  In 1675 he appointed James King, to erect a ‘leaping-on-stone’ (used to assist in mounting a horse) close to the Parish Church. He gave regularly to the Parish Church, paid for repairs, and contributed to the parish schoolmaster’s salary. As staunch Presbyterians, the Cuninghames were opposed to the imposition of Episcopacy on the Church of Scotland. William’s diary entries include financial support given to Presbyterian ‘outed’, ministers expelled from the church for their beliefs.

Like all country lairds, William went hunting. This pursuit entailed expense for saddles, bridles and shoeing horses. His other leisure pursuits included bowling, curling, tennis and the ancient game of bullets. With the exception of tennis, which was played in Paisley, he appears to have engaged in these sports with his servants or tenants. His main expense was the money he lost in wagers, including twelve shillings ‘lost in tennice with Rossyth, in September 1675.

William dressed well and made numerous payments to tailors and shoemakers. His wardrobe included, a coat and breeches of purple cloth, fixed with ties made from fifteen ells of purple ribbon; suits adorned and fastened with silver buckles and buttons, and silver-buckled shoes. He wore a periwig and used bone and timber combs, a little pocket brush and a supply of sweet hair powder for his hair. His sword and scabbard were held in place by a belt.

William became the Laird on the death of his father in 1690. He married his second wife, Christian, the daughter of John Colquhoun of Luss, and had five children, including a daughter Lilias (b 1791). Lilias, is still celebrated in the village today in the annual historic pageant known as Lilias Day. William died in 1727 and was succeeded by his eldest son Alexander.

© 2020, Helen Calcluth

John Cuninghame, Laird of Craigends (1759-1822), 2

John Cuninghame, 13th Laird of Craigends, inherited Craigends estate in 1792. In 1800 he married his second wife, Margaret, the daughter of Sir William Cuninghame-Fairlie of Robertland. John and Margaret had five sons and six daughters.

His memorial stone in the entrance tower of Kilbarchan old Parish Church extols his kindness, wisdom, sincerity and his trust in God. It also makes mention of a protracted and painful illness which he bore with fortitude.

Despite suffering from frequent debilitating bouts of gout and arthritis John led an active life. His diary, written from 1814 to December 1815, provides a detailed account of his life.

John was responsible for the running of Craigends estate. This involved the organisation of haymaking, harvest-time, sheep shearing, tree cutting and pruning vines, engaging the mole-catcher, attending cattle fairs in Johnstone. In the winter of 1814, when the dam at Locher Mill burst its banks, he contracted William White to inspect the dam and make repairs. He held a regular Rent Court where he collected rent from his estate tenants. He also had a substantial income from Granville Estate in Jamaica and lodged his West-India income in a bank in Paisley.

John was a Justice of the Peace and a Commissioner of Supply for the County. In this latter capacity he was responsible for ensuring local roads and tolls were in good order. He had also a keen interest in a surveying and new building.  He visited the site for Napier’s new house on Milliken Estate and took his eldest son, Willie, to see George MacFarlane’s plans for his proposed new house at Clippens.

Religion was important to John, and the family regularly attended services in both Kilbarchan Church and Houston and Killellan Church. Margaret was especially friendly with Ann Monteith, the wife of the Houston minister.

John’s and Margaret’s social circle included the Napiers of Milliken, the Porterfields of Duchal, the Alexanders of Southbar, the Flemings of Barochan, the Napiers of Blackstoun and the Maxwells of Pollock. These family friends dined together, travelling from house to house by horse and chaise. On the 28th of November, 1815, soon after the marriage of William Milliken Napier to Elizabeth Stirling of Kippendavie, John was invited to meet the new bride. He found her “very agreeable tho’ not such a beauty as I had been led to believe she was”. The men enjoyed salmon fishing, shooting partridges and hunting with hounds. John hunted with his friends at Skiff in Johnstone, Kilmacolm, Barochan Mill, and Formakin Mill.

John had a close involvement in the home life of his children. He showed great concern when the children had chickenpox and promptly sent for doctor Pinkerton. He noted in his diary that Johnnie, aged ten, fell through the ceiling of the coal house, but thankfully was not badly hurt, and that Lillie fell off a chair and bruised her eye and cheek. On a visit to Paisley he took his daughter, Fanny, for a haircut.  He also recorded each of the children’s birthdays and arranged a holiday for them in Largs. His elder boys were tutored by Mr. Robert Smith, until the 2nd of March, 1815 when he was ordained as minister of Lochwinnoch Parish Church.

Entries in this unique personal diary ended on 26th December 1815. John died in 1822 and his eldest son, William, at the age of twenty-one, became the next laird.

© 2020, Helen Calcluth 

(See also previous article on John Cunninghame of Craigends (1759 – 1822) 

Renfrewshire’s Slave Legacy: 6

In past issues, we have seen how some of Renfrewshire’s leading landowners were awarded large sums in 1834 for the loss of Africans on their sugar plantations. This was the result of a series of connections dating back to the 1640s, when ships from the lower Clyde sailed to Nevis and St Kitts. From the 1660s, pioneers such as William Colhoun had become sugar planters. Their influence brought out young men such as William McDowall and James Milliken as overseers. These men became successful planters and came home from the Caribbean in the 1720s and purchased Renfrewshire estates. They became ‘fixers’, among fellow landowners, demonstrating the vast wealth possible from owning sugar plantations. They arranged lucrative marriages and positions for sons and daughters on sugar plantations.

Other leading Renfrewshire families who received slave compensation in 1834 included the Stewarts of Blackhall and Ardgowan. The Stewarts owned large tracts of the county from Inverkip to Mearns. Through the influence of established planters such as the McDowalls, by the 1740s the Stewarts had acquired the ‘Roxburgh’ sugar plantation on Tobago. Most of the slave-owning families were linked through marriage. In 1786 the Stewart heir, married Fanny Colhoun, the widow of Sir James Maxwell of Nether Pollok, daughter of the McDowall’s slave overseer. Later, Sir Michael (Shaw-)Stewart married the daughter of Robert Farquhar, heir of the Harvey of Castle Semple sugar fortune.

Sugar success spread quickly across Renfrewshire. In Cathcart Parish, the ‘Sugar Campbells’, the seventh largest plantation owners in Britain, purchased what became Linn Park from the McDowalls. In 1843 they were awarded compensation for the loss of 1,062 Africans. In Neilston Parish, John Wallace of Kelly & Neilstonside was a planter in Jamaica. In Kilmacolm, the Porterfields of Duchal shared in the sugar plantations of the Cunninghams of Craigends. In Inchinnan Parish, William Alexander of Southbar had plantations on Antigua, Grenada and St. Vincent. In 1834 he was awarded £21,181 for the loss of 850 Africans. In Mearns, apart from the Stewarts of Blackhall, the Allasons of Greenbank engaged in slave trading and the Hutchesons of Southfield were awarded compensation for the loss of Africans on their Jamaican plantation.

Overall, despite the popular association of Liverpool and Bristol, with slavery, the Glasgow area received more compensation for losing slaves than Liverpool. Because many planters purchased estates around Glasgow, this had a very large effect on Renfrewshire. The leading Renfrewshire landowners covered in this series owned thousands of Africans. Most owned plantations for generations. Due to over-work, violence, disease and replacement, the number of Africans passing through their hands amounted to several times this number.

In conclusion, there are few parts of Renfrewshire where the farmland wasn’t improved through the labour of enslaved Africans, who were personally owned by the landed elite. (Readers can search the slave compensation records for themselves at

© 2019 Stuart Nisbet

                                                                                      Linn Bridge