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

The Big Dig, Paisley Abbey Drain

The medieval drain Abbey Drain at Paisley was rediscovered in 1990. This stone-built drain is a tunnel-like structure with a high arched roof.  After the discovery, a deep layer of compacted mud and silt was removed and numerous artefacts, including an almost intact large pottery chamber pot, buckles, coins, a knife handle, a tuning peg, pieces of slate inscribed with polyphonic music and thousands of pottery sherds were discovered.

Since 2010, members of Renfrewshire Local History Forum have participated as volunteers in the numerous GUARD Archaeology excavations at Paisley Abbey Drain. ‘The Big Dig’ in 2019 surpassed all expectations. Two trenches were dug on the site. In Trench 1, the intact arch covering the outlet from the drain into the river was revealed. In Trench 2, the outer top stones covering the internal arched roof of the drain were uncovered.

Trench 1: Top of the arched outlet from the Drain into the White Cart

Trench 2    Outer Top Stones on the roof of the Drain

The most interesting find was a number of fragments of a glass wine bottle with the seal intact. The seal, considered to be the seal of the Cochranes of Paisley, shows a coronet and a horse and dates from the late 17th century to early 18th century.

The Forum’s involvement with the Abbey Drain began in 1999 when it organised the Abbey and Drain Conference held in Paisley Town Hall. The resounding success of the conference led to the Forum’s publication of The Monastery and Abbey of Paisley, edited by John Maldon, in 2000. The book includes the lectures from the conference with additional papers. Our interest in the Drain continued and, in August 2009, volunteers from the Forum assisted at Glasgow University in washing and sorting the pottery recovered from the Drain in 1990. Since then, Forum members have volunteered over the years at all of the six excavations led by GUARD Archaeology at Paisley Abbey Drain. In the earlier digs the Victorian remains of Abbey Close, which had been built directly on top of the drain site and, at a deeper level, a medieval wall beside some cobbled paving and an enigmatic circular feature. The Forum also assisted at Doors Open Day in 2018 and 2019 and some lucky members were privileged to have a tour down the Abbey Drain.

© 2019 Helen Calcluth

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

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.

Brirkmyre Park, Kilmacolm

© 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, 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.

© 2017, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum


Black Cart 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

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. The dam was later, via an extended lade, used to power Linwood Cotton Mill.


                                                                    Mill of Cart Dam

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.

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