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

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,( see image above) to Kilmacolm village. He also had interests in Calcutta in India and in Switzerland where he died in 1906.

© 2017, Helen Calcluth

Robert Lang Campbell, part 2

In 1846, after the loss of his young wife in childbirth and himself suffering from ill-health on the arduous Mormon trek from persecution in Nauvoo, Robert Lang Campbell (1825-74), a young Mormon priest from Kilbarchan, arrived at winter quarters. Within weeks he recovered his health.

In Scotland, Robert had trained a clerk and, because of this experience, he was appointed as clerk to Brigham Young, John Smith and Willard Richard. This was a prestigious post for a young man. Later he was appointed in charge of the Post Office and was a volunteer in the Pioneers led by Brigham Young. The Pioneers surveyed the area searching for a suitable site for a permanent settlement. In 1848 they found the ideal site and Salt Lake City was founded on the 24th of July.

In 1848 Robert received the sad news from Kilbarchan that his father and maternal grandmother had died. In 1850 he was pleased to be given a mission to return to Scotland. During his time in Scotland he married Mary Stewart. In 1854, as leader of a group of Mormon converts from Scotland, Robert with his new wife again set off for Salt Lake City. The group included an older lady, widow Elizabeth Jordan (née Beveridge). In his diary Robert had recorded visiting Sister Jordan in Stevenson in 1844.

The group sailed from Liverpool and arrived at New Orleans in May. From there they sailed up the Mississippi to St. Louis, and then to Kansas. The last part of their journey was by wagon train alongside the River Platte to Salt Lake City, where Robert and his group of converts settled. As was the Mormon custom, he took a second wife Jeanie Miller. Robert with his two wives, Mary and Jean, had 21 children. In 1857 he married a third polygamous wife. This wife was his older friend, Sister Jordan from Stevenson. Robert was well respected in the community as good husband and father.

                                         Public domain: Courtesy J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Furthermore, Robert Campbell, the young clerk from Kilbarchan, also became a prestigious figure in the Mormon Community. He was appointed as Superintendent of Schools for the Territory of Utah and as Mormon Chancellor from 1857 until his death from cholera in 1874. His obituary in the Deseret News stated that he was “an industrious, useful, upright, trustworthy man”.

© 2017, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Robert Lang Campbell’s Diary and further information at :

Robert Lang Campbell, part 1: A Kilbarchan Man’s Spiritual Journey

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.

Robert Lang Campbell’s Diary and further information at :

© 2017, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Black Cart Mills 7: Johnstone to Linwood

A short distance downstream from Johnstone, the Old Patrick Water enters the Cart. This burn powered Elderslie Cotton Mill, two grain mills (Elderslie and Mackies Mill), a paper mill, printworks (Patrickbank), and a distillery at Glenpatrick.

On the Black Cart itself, one of the oldest mills on the river was the Mill of Cart, a medieval grain mill. Its rubble dam still survives just downstream of where the cycle path crosses the Cart.  (See image above.) The dam was later, via an extended lade, used to power Linwood Cotton Mill.

Linwood Cotton Mill was built in 1792 by James Dunlop, who already owned Gateside Cotton Mill in Neilston Parish. Linwood Mill was, for a time, the largest mill in Britain. From the 1790s, the parish records document children born to the mill workers. Apart from the cotton spinners documented in the records, occupations at the mill included clockmakers, turners, brassfounders and wrights, all of whom built and maintained the mill machinery

Like many cotton mills, Linwood mill was burned down, and was later rebuilt. In an 1804 advert, only one of its six stories remained standing, plus a large water wheel, 14 feet diameter and 12 feet wide. The mill was then rebuilt. At this point on the Black Cart, so far down the river, the bottom of the waterwheel could be swamped at high tide, and a smaller, higher water wheel had to be used.
Beside the big cotton mill there was also a small thread bleachfield. Further down the river at Middleton there was a much bigger thread bleachfield, started by James Smith by 1782.

Less well known is Linwood’s second cotton mill. Henderson’s Mill was built shortly after the big mill, but with only a tenth of the big mill’s 400 workers. Both mills latterly changed to paper making.

© 2017 Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Black Cart Mills 6: Kilbarchan Mills

Continuing our journey down the Black Cart.

Opposite the site of Johnstone Old Cotton Mill, is an arch in the high stone retaining wall supporting the former railway (now the cycle path). This marks the entry of the Kilbarchan Burn into the Cart. (See image above.)

The burn rises in bogland on Marshall Moor. Above the village, it passes through Glentyan Estate, where it has been dammed to create a large pond and high level lade, passing over ornamental cascades. This pond was party to store water to drive Glentyan Mill. However it also seems to have been diverted south of Bank Brae to the bleachfields in the centre of the village (see below).Glentyan Mill was a traditional grain mill of which ruins survive.

Although famed for its weaving industry, Kilbarchan is one of the only Renfrewshire villages not to have a big cotton mill. The nearest cotton mill to the village was at Cartside. A relatively late proposal to erect a large steam powered cotton mill nearer the village in 1825 never emerged.

However Kilbarchan did make innovative use of its water resources. Just downstream from Glentyan mill was a water powered thread mill in a converted house built over the burn by James Alexander in 1756. The previous year Alexander had invented a machine ‘to go by water for twining thread’ and received a grant of twenty pounds from The Board of Trustees for Manufacture. Alexander’s house is shown on Roy’s map of 1755, situated west of the kirkyard directly on the Kilbarchan Burn. This linen thread mill can lay claim to being the first water-powered thread mill in Scotland.In the heart of the village in the 1780s were at least six bleachfields which bleached the fine textiles which had been hand woven in the village. These bleachfields were located in the Bog Park, although only scant evidence remains today.

Downstream of the village there is a tradition of another mill in the Victorian period. Beyond this, the lower parts of the burn pass through Milliken Estate, where the burn was straightened and passed over cascades supplying ponds, before entering the Black Cart at Johnstone.

© 2017, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Black Cart Mills 5: Johnstone’s Water-powered Cotton Mills

On the Black Cart, just below Milliken and Cochrane Mills is a low dam. From this dam a wide lade continues, under a purpose built arch in the bridge over the Cart, to Cartside Cotton Mill (now a paper mill). The mill was built in 1792 by the owners of Calderpark Cotton Mill at Lochwinnoch. Cartside was one of six Johnstone mills built between 1782 and 1796. Their owners are well known, and our interest here is in how the mills were powered.

From Cartside Mill, the lade continues downstream for more than 2.5km, partly in a brick-arched tunnel, to drive three other big cotton mills: Hag (1794), Johnstone Old (1782) and Johnstone Laigh (1783). Two small mills, Milliken waulk mill and a lint mill were both still operating in the 1790s. They stood on the opposite side of the river from Hag Mill, which was demolished in the 1920s.

Further downstream, Johnstone Old Cotton Mill was built beside the old Johnstone grain mill, at Johnstone Bridge. The Old Cotton Mill was the oldest surviving cotton mill in Scotland, until it was destroyed by fire in 2010.

Old Cotton Mill Johnstone

From the Johnstone Old Cotton Mill the lade continued through a special arch under Johnstone Bridge, then through the town’s old bleaching green to Johnstone’s fourth big cotton mill, the Laigh Cotton Mill. Below Laigh Mill the tailrace continued downstream for 500 metres to a point not far above the dam for Linwood Cotton Mills.

Slightly further downstream, the Peockland Burn enters the Black Cart below Linwood Dam. This burn is the confluence of the Craigbog and Floors burns. Despite its modest size, at one time the burn powered a number of mills, and also drained the Quarrelton Coal Mines via a water powered engine. Two smaller water powered cotton mills, Bank Top (1792) and Montgomeries Mill (1796), were built on the burn. However, when a planned expansion of their reservoirs threatened to flood the town, these mills were soon converted to steam power.

Johnstone had numerous other textile factories, though none were water powered. However, according to the late Sylvia Clark, Johnstone had a seventh water powered cotton mill, the Adelphi Mill in Graham Street, fed from the Peockland Burn. When the Catholic Church was being built, an underground lade and a wheel pit were discovered on the site.

© 2016, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Black Cart Mills 4: Castle Semple Loch to Corseford

Apart from the Calder Water, several smaller burns feed Castle Semple Loch. On the north side, the Blackditch Burn was diverted by a small dam, to supply the ornamental fish ponds and cascades behind Castle Semple House. (See image above.)

At the north end of the loch, the Brides Burn enters the loch under Fancy Bridge at the beginning of the Black Cart. A short distance upstream was Brides Mill, a traditional grain mill.

Over the centuries, many schemes were devised to dam Castle Semple Loch at the beginning of the Black Cart. The earliest was in the medieval period, to power Auchendinan Mill. Later attempts to drain the loch deepened its outlet, leaving the mill high and dry. Today the flow in the Black Cart is controlled by a weir near the Elliston Burn, operated by Scottish Water.

The minor Elliston (or Linnister or Bowfield) Burn is spanned by Elliston Bridge, but the bridge’s name dates from a much larger bridge, which spanned the Black Cart. This old bridge was demolished in the 1780s and replaced by Garthland Bridge. Up in the headwaters of the Elliston Burn a large printfield was built at Bowfield in the 1780s. Further down, near Elliston Castle, was a Victorian sawmill.

Continuing down the Black Cart, old mill sites continue to be rediscovered. A 1730s survey shows a Waulk Mill for dressing woollen goods at Thirdpart.  Apart from burns, the river is still fed by ‘levels’ (underground tunnels) which drain old coal and lime workings in the Corseford area. At Corseford the Swinetrees Burn was diverted in the 1770s to turn a waterwheel to drain lime workings. By the Victorian period, this water wheel drove Corseford grain mill. A large reservoir was built in the burn’s headwaters at Whittlemuir (now drained), below the Iron Age fort at Walls Hill. Along with the lesser Skiff Burn to the west, this stored water for Midtown Bleachfield, which had a large water wheel 11 metres in diameter, supplied by a long lade cutting across the hillside.

Further down the Cart a pair of traditional mills stood on either side of the river at Milliken Bridge. Milliken grain mill stood on the north side and, Cochrane Mill, which became a bleachfield in 1796 and later a threshing mill, stood on the south.

© 2016, Stuart  Nisbet


Black Cart Mills 3: Lochwinnoch

The site of the old village of Lochwinnoch was round the old graveyard where Auld Simon, the gable of an old church, now stands. In the eighteenth century, Lochwinnoch already had a number of old textile ventures. Not all of these were water-powered, and included several hand-powered weaving “factories” where a number of weavers worked together.

In 1788 William McDowall of Castle Semple laid out a new planned village as a westward expansion. He also built a large cotton mill, Calderpark Mill, on the western edge of the new village to attract new tenants.

The ‘Old’ or Calderpark Mill (1788) was the first cotton mill in the village, and McDowall’s partners would soon be owners of another cotton mill at Johnstone (Cartside). Calderpark was supplied with water power from the spectacular semi-circular dam on the Calder above Bridgend, which provided a fall of 24 feet. The flow of the Calder was supplemented by two dams constructed high up on the moors, at Queenside Loch and Calder Dam (now drained), with the option to build a third.

A second big cotton mill, the ‘New’ or Calderhaugh Mill, ( see image above) followed the year after Calderpark, further down its lade. A deep tailrace was also cut to Castle Semple Loch, to heighten the fall of the mill’s waterwheel. Calderhaugh was established by a trio of Paisley textile merchants, including Robert Fulton, son of a pioneer of Paisley’s silk manufacture. By 1813 it had 10,000 spindles and it was later converted to spinning flax, then silk.

A third cotton mill was built two years later on the Cloak Burn at Boghead, on the site of an old grain and woollen mill. The owners already had a weaving mill in Factory Street in the village. Boghead Mill was four stories high and powered by dams at Boghead and Kaim. Like most early rural cotton mills, with their timber floors and roofs, all were lost or damaged by fires. Boghead Mill was destroyed by fire in 1812. Calderpark Mill burned down in 1874, after lightning struck the roof. Four years later, part of the Calderhaugh Mill was damaged by fire, but the remainder survives, converted to flats in the 1980s.

© 2016, Stuart Nisbet