Excavation at Paisley 2011

In both 2009 and 2010 Renfrewshire Local History Forum was instrumental in promoting the excavations of Paisley Abbey Drain. Members of the Forum volunteered to assist GUARD in the ‘digs’. The Abbey Drain lies under the grassed area beside the Town Hall where the festive lights are displayed at Christmas. The excavations in 2009 and 2010 concentrated on examining the outside of the drain and both were popular venues on Doors Open Days.

Interior of Paisley Abbey Drain

Interior of Paisley Abbey Drain

The Abbey Drain was first discovered in 1879 and then forgotten about until it was rediscovered in 1991. The Drain is a large structure, two metres high in places, with an arched roof. Among the finds buried in the silt inside this medieval sewer were unique 15th century examples of polyphonic music incised on slate, tuning pegs for musical instruments, pottery and pottery shards, dice and gaming tokens, and lead seals from cloth imported from the Netherlands and Italy. This all had to be washed and sorted. Forum members assisted in a project to sort and match the pottery shards in 2009. The Abbey Drain was scheduled as a national monument by Historic Scotland in August 2010. Further information on the Abbey Drain can be found at canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/71769/details/paisley+abbey+drain/

In September of this year (2011) our Forum volunteers assisted GUARD Archaeology Ltd. in a further excavation. Life was made easier for us this year by the use the service of a mini excavator rental in Seattle to remove nearly 1m of early 20th century in-fill on the site (these days used mini excavator for sale are more common to see). Two trenches were dug, one extending a previous trench and the other at a spot which was a possible site of old monastic buildings. We expected to find structural remains in the first trench, but the second trench was a bit of a gamble. The line of the drain was known to have a large curve and then return to its original straight alignment. But what was the purpose of the curve in the drain? Were there the remains of abbey buildings within the curve?

The results of this excavation surpassed all expectations. Both trenches were dug to a depth of more than a metre. The first trench revealed a medieval wall beside some beautifully cobbled paving. This is likely to be the remains of a hitherto unknown ancillary abbey building, perhaps the abbey kitchen or a workplace.

Medieval wall and cobbled paving

Medieval wall and cobbled paving

The second trench revealed a circular structure about two metres in diameter with a narrow break or opening at one side.  The top edge of the structure was covered by layers of carefully laid slates to a depth of about two inches. As the excavation was terminated at this level it was not possible to determine the depth of the structure or the materials used below the excavated level. Initially this feature appeared to be a well.  However, on reflection it seems more likely that it is the remains of a kitchen oven or perhaps a kiln used by the monks. Further investigation in the future may ascertain its purpose. Information on the excavation with a picture gallery can be found on the Paisleys’ Medieval Past Project page.

Circular feature

Circular feature

Who was Habbie Simson?

Natives of Kilbarchan village are known as ‘Habbies’ in memory of the Kilbarchan piper, Habbie Simson, whose statue stands in a niche on the Steeple.


But who was Habbie Simson? What do we know of his life? A contemporaneous poem entitled The Life and Death of the Piper of Kilbarchan, written by Robert Sempill of Belltrees (c1599-1661) laments his death and gives some insight into his life. The earliest extant copy of this poem was published in a broadsheet before 1700.

Robert Simson, known as Habbie, was born in the latter part of the sixteenth century. He was a colourful character who wore feathers on his hat. Tradition has it that he was a flesher (butcher) as well as a piper.  The Life and Death of the Kilbarchan Piper tells of occasions and events where Habbie played his pipes, – the kirkyard on Sundays, weddings, Kilkbarchan Horse Races, St Barchan’s Day Feast, and the gatherings of Spearmen.  These gatherings, known as wappinschaws, were military musters or training exercises held twice a year in Kilbarchan.

Habbie was also known further afield when he played his pipes at Clark plays. These were stage plays performed on platforms in the open air. Habbie is said to have played at Clark plays in Edinburgh when the author of the poem, Robert Semple of Beltrees, attended court. Habbie was certainly a well-renowned as a piper, a celebrity in his day. His skill was acclaimed in the song Maggie Lauder written by Robert Sempill’s son Francis.

“There’s nane in Scotland plays sae weel
Sin’ we lost Habbie Simson.”

Further information on Habbie’s life is recorded in ‘The Poems of the Sempills of Beltrees’ published in 1849 with edited with notes by T. G. Stevenson. The notes include a brief account of Habbie’s life drawn up by Francis Sempill’s son, Robert. This account gives some details of Habbie’s boyhood. With other village boys he worked as a herd at Barrhill where according to Sempill there was a coalpit. He saved the money he earned as a herd and bought his first pipes from the village bagpipe maker for four pounds Scots. He married, probably Kathrein Pollik, and had at least one son whom he taught to play the pipes.

Robert Semple recounts a famous incident after a wedding in the village where Habbie provided the music. The wedding party retired to a little green at Pennel (Penwold on the road to Bridge of Weir) where Habbie continued to play for the dancing. The music included an exciting new tune, whip-meg-morum. During the revelry a young drunken fellow stabbed the bag for Habbie’s pipes with a knife. Habbie drew his kittoch (dirk) in retaliation and pushed the youth down. He thought that he had killed the man and went into hiding on Craigends Moss.

“But yet the man was hame before him, And was not deid !”

 Habbie went home next day to be told by his wife that the man was live and well. However, Robert Simson (Habbie) did get into trouble with the law on other occasions.  He is documented in official court records in 1603 when he was banished from the Burgh of Paisley for ‘misbehaviour and certane offences, injuries and wrongs’

After an eventful life, Habbie lived to a ripe old age.

“And when he play’d, the lasses leugh,
To see him teethless, auld and teugh.”

He is buried in Kilbarchan churchyard. His small flat grave stone lies next to the Auchinames enclosure and bears the initials H and S. What appears to be a butcher’s cleaver is inscribed on the stone.

© Helen Calcluth                                      (Click on image to enlarge)

A Kilbarchan Weaver Poet: Robert Allan

Just as Paisley had Tannahill, Kilbarchan had its own weaver poet, Robert Allan. The son of a flax dresser, Robert Allan was born in Kilbarchan in 1774. For most of his life he lived and worked as a silk weaver in the old part of the village known as Tounfoot. In the eighteenth century Tounfoot was a thriving community occupied by weavers and other tradesmen. It had a female school, a poor house and a Baptist meeting house. Tounfoot was demolished in the late eighteenth century. The land at the bottom of what is now Church Street where Tounfoot stood became part of Glentyan Estate.

In his forties Robert Allan was an active Radical and played a significant part in political meetings and demonstrations. He presided over an important Radical meeting in the Relief Church and with other Kilbarchan weavers played a prominent part in the Radical demonstrations in Paisley in 1819 and 1820.

The two poets, Robert Tannahill and Robert Allan, were close friends and literary associates. Both were admirers of Robert Burns. Robert Allan was an active member in Kilbarchan Burns Anniversary Society, founded in 1806, and was much respected as a poet by the members of Paisley Burns Club who greatly admired his work. On 5th February, 1818, they elected him as an honorary member of Paisley Burns Club in appreciation of the quality of poems he had sent to them.

Although Robert Allan had been writing poems since the early eighteen hundreds, none of his poems had been published. In 1819, the year after he received his honorary membership of Paisley Burns Club, several of Robert Allan’s songs were published in the Harp of Renfrewshire and received special mention by the book’s editor, William Motherwell. In 1836 Robert published a book of his own poems entitled Evening Hours: Poems and Songs. As was common at the time, the book was published by subscription. Despite his previous acclaim as a poet and the support of the subscribers, the book was not so well received as he had hoped and was not a financial success. He was disappointed and felt his merit as a poet had not been recognised. He is said to have become ‘irritable in his temper and gloomy in appearance’. According to David Semple (1874) his disappointment influenced his later decision to leave Scotland and emigrate to America.

Two other factors may have influenced this decision. In the 1830s Robert Allan was engaged as an agent for a weaving manufacturer. From around 1840 the weaving manufacturers in Paisley, on whom the skilled Kilbarchan weavers depended for work, were entering a period of financial difficulties. The poor state of trade may have influenced his decision to emigrate.

In the past, some of Robert Allan’s friends had emigrated to America where they prospered. It is likely that James Scouler was one of these old friends. James Scouler, a calico printer at Locher, had fled to America after involvement in a secret Radical meeting which he attended in Kilbarchan in 1816. He subsequently established a large, successful printworks at Arlington in West Cambridge, Massechusetts, and was a wealthy man. In 1838 he left his business in the capable hands of his sons and made a return visit to Scotland where Robert Allan may well have met him in Kilbarchan.

Whatever the reason for his decision, Robert Allan, then in his mid-sixties, emigrated to America with his son Robert in 1841, but six days after his arrival in America he unfortunately died of a chill caught at sea. At the bottom of Church Street near the spot where his house once stood, a commemorative well was erected to his memory by Kilbarchan General Society in 1935. He is the only Kilbarchan weaver to have a commemorative monument in the village.

Robert Allan Well Memorial

     Robert Allan Well Memorial            (Click on image to enlarge)                      

© Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Limeworks and Mining on the Gryfe

The rural banks of the Gryfe between Bridge of Weir and Crosslee may seem unlikely locations for mine workings but, for at least 200 years, they were the location of an intensive quarrying and mining industry. Local coal was mined for use in the process of turning locally quarried limestone into lime. Today there is little to remind us of the coal mining industry, apart from hints contained in place names such as ‘Coalbog’ but there are plenty of reminders of the lime producing industry.

Quarries were opened to provide lime for mortar for the building of the six-storey Crosslee Cotton mill in the 1790s but the main use of lime from the mid eighteenth century was as an agricultural fertiliser. Old lime workings in the Gryfe and Locher area dating from the late 1600s had their heyday during this later period, when farming improvements were being introduced across the country. Adding lime to the local clay soil could multiply crop yield several times over.

Lime was therefore a very valuable asset to any estate owners who were lucky enough to have it under their lands. It was used as currency, and to pay rents, often resulting in legal disputes. In 1760, Houstoun of Johnstone took one of his tenants to court to recover debts for lime given to fertilise one of this tenant’s fields. In 1808 another local landowner, Cunningham of Craigends, stipulated that half of his coal was to be used for lime burning, and half sold to households. His then neighbour, Houston of Johnstone, declared that “none of my coal shall be sold, but used utterly for burning the limestone”. Limestone was more valuable locally than the coal. (Is this the same H of Jo mentioned in 1760?)

When you walk down the Crosslee Mill lade path from Bridge of Weir to Crosslee, the old lime quarries and clamp kilns can be seen at Goldenlee, and also further down towards Crosslee. Clamp kilns were a crude type of kiln – a hollow dug into a slope, and shaped like a horseshoe. The limestone and coal were laid in alternate layers and the kiln was lit and left to burn for several days. When it was ready, local farmers queued to shovel the burnt lime onto carts, to fertilise their fields.

Crosslee Mill Lade

Crosslee Mill Lade

A better known type of lime kiln was the draw kiln. Draw kilns were substantial standing structures. The only remaining upstanding draw kiln in west Renfrewshire is located in the Skiff Woods at Howwood.

On the south side of the Gryfe, lime workings were more intensive. At Kaimhill, a large buttressed draw kiln was used to burn the lime. All that remains of this kiln today is a scatter of bricks and limestone in a field. The old entries to the limestone mines can still be seen nearby, in a rock outcrop facing the Gryfe.

Further lime working occurred along the Locher Water. There was a “great” limestone work near where the Locher meets the Gryfe. A 1720 map shows a waterwheel, supplied by a lade from the Locher, which turned an engine to pump the adjacent coal pit dry. A kiln and coal pit can still be seen nearby.

Further up the Locher Water, lime was worked around Lochermill and further east at Tweeniehills and Merchiston. At the aptly named Windyhill, the lime quarries were drained by a pump driven by a windmill. All that remains today are hollows in the fields, marking the abandoned quarries.

The old lime quarry on the cycle route behind Merchiston hospital at Brookfield is a typical example. The lime was gradually worked across the field. In winter the workers “tirred” the quarry, to remove the soil and expose the lime. In the summer the limestone was quarried and burnt a in a large draw kiln, now demolished. Today, all that remains of the quarry is a wasteland of flooded woodland, full of piles of quarry waste.

By the Victorian period, the shallow lime had all been worked out. Much deeper lime was then mined, along with coal, from shafts at Fulton and Darluth.

© Stuart Nisbet 2010                       (Click on image to enlarge)

A Weird History – The Lost Palace of Inchinnan

Scotland is famous for its haunted castles, but Inchinnan trumps them all, for it had a moving palace.

In the sixteenth century most Scots families lived in one room, so travellers on the river Clyde must have gawped at the luxurious character of the Palace of Inchinnan, newly built for the Earl of Lennox. The two family suites (one for the Earl’s family, one for their guests), their lounges, and the private chapel were each a hundred yards in length. The lush mysteries of the private garden were hidden behind six hundred yards of walling. The palace boasted nine tall chimneys, a tower, and at least two double turrets. Visitors approaching from the south would see a row of twenty-foot tall windows lighting the chapel, which was as big as the king’s chapel at Linlithgow.

Despite this display of luxury, the Palace of Inchinnan had a short history. It was designed for a range of purposes. It was a holiday home for the earl’s family (the Stewarts of Darnley); a conference centre during political negotiations; and a base for the earl’s private army when the negotiations failed. But the world moves on and, by 1600, the palace was no longer ‘fit for purpose’. Later owners decided to re-cycle the roof, then the walls and by the 18th century nothing was left but the foundations.

Being foundations, they stayed where they were – but officially, the palace moved. An 18th century book recorded it in a nearby field, and that became its official, but incorrect, location on Ordnance Survey maps. So, in the 1970s, Strathclyde Regional Council sent a team of archaeologists to investigate an empty field while a couple of JCBs destroyed what remained of the palace 200 yards away. The old palace site is now a roundabout.

Since then, some members of the Renfrewshire Local History Forum have collected enough information to make a reconstruction of the palace. We peasants may have a chance to gawp at it again.

© Alan Steel

The Front Committee 1822-1899

The Front Committee, listed as the ‘Committee of Town Management’ in the local Trades Directories, was established in Kilbarchan in 1822 to look after and maintain the public wells, the steeple clock and the village fire engine. Each feuar (property owner) in the village paid an annual levy, known as ‘front money’, to cover the expense incurred. The levy was set at one halfpenny per foot of the frontage of each property in the village. This rate set in 1822 was never increased. Front Committee officers were responsible for collecting the ‘front money’.

The Front Committee’s records are now in the keeping of Kilbarchan General Society and I was extremely fortunate some years ago to have access to the mahogany box containing the Front Committee’s records from 1822 until it ceased to function in 1899. The minute books give details of repairs to wells, the fires attended by the horse- drawn fire engine and costly repairs to the steeple buildings and steeple clock.

Each street in the village had its own pump or public well. Most villagers used the public wells where they collected water for domestic use. The Front Committee appointed contractors to carry out repairs such as the deepening of wells, the repair of steps and wooden housing, cleaning and puddling (making watertight using clay), and the installation of pipes and pumps. Immediate action was taken when repairs were needed.

A Front Committee officer attended to the winding up of the steeple clock, ensuring it kept good time and was in good repair. Over the years, the Front Committee’s responsibility gradually extended to include organising the finances for the maintenance of the whole of the Steeple Buildings. Repairs were often expensive and on occasion the cost had to be augmented by public subscription.

The Front Committee also took over the responsibility of the maintenance of the village fire engine and its attendance at fires. The horse-drawn fire engine had been brought to Kilbarchan from London in 1765 and was in use from then until the end of the nineteenth century. It has been on show in the Lilias Day Parades in Kilbarchan for a number of years now.

Many of the Front Committee’s officers were weavers. The first officers in 1822 were William Stewart, a shawl manufacturer in the village, Robert Climie a weaving agent, and Henry Manson and John Lang who were both weavers. Matthew Houston, who started his working life as a silk weaver and was later appointed Poor Inspector, served as the Font Committee’s treasurer for over twenty years from 1836 to 1858. The men who ran the Front Committee, although now long-forgotten in the village, were a well-intentioned, conscientious group of men who served their village well for over seventy years and deserve an important place in the history of Kilbarchan.

© 2010 Helen Calcluth

Burntshields Burgher Church

In 1712 an Act was passed restoring patronage to the Church of Scotland. This meant that the patron of a parish church, usually the local Laird, and not the congregation chose the minister. Because of various unpopular settlements of ministers, dissenters (also know as seceeders) from seventeen parishes in Renfrewshire set up their own church at Burntshields on the hills above Kilbarchan. The original congregation included 78 members from Kilbarchan, 47 from Paisley, 20 from Houston, 32 from Killochries in Kilmacolm, 51 from Lochwinnoch, 7 from Kilbirnie, 3 from Beith and 82 from Greenock and Inverkip.

This church called Burntshields Burgher Church was built in 1745 and opened the following year. The walls were built by the members of the congregation and the rafters were dragged up from the Clyde shore by horses. The church had seating for 600 and was referred to as the Big Sclate Hoose – so presumably had a slate roof, a novelty at the time among the thatched roofs of the ordinary houses. This was the first seceeders’ church to be built west of Glasgow.

The church was situated in Minister’s Lane on the north of Burntshields Road, the road leading from Kilbarchan to Lochwinnoch. The manse was across the lane from the church. Burntshields Burgher Church ran its own school in a nearby barn. This school was still in existence as a country school long after the church closed in 1826.

Little evidence of the church remains today. A memorial obelisk to the church is now in the garden of nearby Burntshields Cottage and old gravestones are rather irreverently incorporated in the garden wall.

In 1790s there was some dissension in the church and the congregation split. In 1792 one group removed to Johnstone with the Rev.Lindsay. This was the origin of St Paul’s Church in Johnstone. Another group moved to Lochwinnoch to set up a new church there (later to become Calder Church). The third group remained at Burntshields.

In 1826 the Burntshields Church closed and the congregation moved from the country district and set up a new chapel, in Bridge of Weir, where there was much need of a church due to the rapid increase in the population after the establishment of cotton mills on the Gryffe. This chapel was to become Freeland Church, in Bridge of Weir.

Two square rather ornate communion tokens from Burntshields Church, both dated 1793, are in the collections of Paisley Museum. One token is in almost mint condition. In 1971 the Burntshields communion service, which was discovered in an old basket in a loft where it had lain forgotten for years, was given to Freeland Church in Bridge of Weir . The inscription round each flagons reads ‘GIFTED TO THE ASSOCIATE CONGREGATION OF BRWNTSHIELDS AWGUST 1769’ and the inscription on each cup reads ‘BELONGING TO THE ASSOCIATE SESSION OF BURNTSHIELDS 1774’.

© 2010, Helen Calcluth

Accident at New Moss Pit, 1873

A fatal accident happened at New Moss Pit on the morning of Saturday 20th May 1873. The pit was one of several ironstone mines in the Johnstone/Linwood area owned by the ironmasters, Merry & Cunninghame. That business had been formed in 1843 by James Merry (1805-77) and his partner, Alexander Cunninghame of Craigends. The partnership became a limited company in 1872, with John Cunninghame, nephew of the co-founder as a director.

As mining accidents go, this one at New Moss Pit wasn’t a bad one. “Only” five miners were involved and of these “only” two died as a result of their injuries. The five miners involved in the accident were James Stafford, High Street, William Reid, Dimity Street, Alexander Young, New Street, Henry Howard, Collier Street – all in Johnstone – and James Cain from Overton. They had gone down the pit on the morning of Saturday 20th September, to relieve the previous shift who had taken a 25lb barrel of blasting powder into the pit with them but had not used any of it.

The five men on the morning shift found loose powder near the barrel and, after collecting it up, sat down to have a smoke before starting work. It is thought that one of them, while trimming his lamp, accidentally ignited some of the loose powder remaining and the whole barrel (25lbs) exploded.

James Stafford and William Reid died of their injuries in the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley on Monday 22nd September. James Stafford’s wife, Marion Bell, was left a widow with seven children, the youngest being only 4 months old. William Reid’s widow Sarah, was only 20 and had no family. The couple had been married just under a year.

According to the summary of the report into this fatal accident by Mr W. Alexander, HM Inspector of Mines for the West of Scotland, three miners, the pit manager, the oversman and the fireman were all charged with contravening the terms of the 8th General Rule of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1872, which had come into force on 1st January 1873. This Act applied to coal mines and “certain other mines”.

Its 8th General Rule related to gunpowder and blasting and decreed that gunpowder or other explosive or inflammable substances “shall not be taken into the mine, except in a case or canister containing not more than 4 pounds”. The three miners were each sentenced to be fined £2 or 30 days in prison; the manager was fined £10 pounds or 10 days’ imprisonment and the oversman £2 or 10 days’ imprisonment. The fireman was dismissed because of the short time he had acted as fireman.

This fatal accident is listed as Accident 10 on Schedule 2 of the List of Fatal Accidents in Ironstone Mines and Loss of Life therefrom, in the Western District of Scotland, during the Year 1873. However, there are two apparent discrepancies in Schedule 2. Firstly, the mine is referred to as Clippens No 3 mine and not New Moss Pit as named in then current newspaper articles. Secondly, the fatalities are listed as William Reid and Samuel Stafford but it was James Stafford, not his brother Samuel, who died on 22nd September 1873 of burns inflicted by the explosion. This is confirmed by James’s death certificate, which shows that, on 23rd September 1873, Samuel Stafford notified the Paisley Registrar of his brother James’s death. Samuel, my great-great grandfather, did not die until January 1881.

© Georgina P. Fisher
Johnstone History Society

An Excavation at Knapps

This photograph taken from the edge of Kilmacolm Golf Course during the excavation, is reproduced with the kind permission of Mrs Catherine Newall . Today the site is encircled by a planting of fir trees.

Near Knapps Loch, which lies just north of the road as you enter Kilmacolm from the Bridge of Weir, there is a round mound, marked ‘homestead’ on modern maps. It lies hidden behind a stone dyke at the top of a field on the north of the loch. It is easily spotted in winter and spring, but is more difficult to find in summer when it is covered in bracken. The late Frank Newall led an excavation at the site and his report (1965) gives information on people living on the mound in both pre-historic and medieval times.

The mound was first settled by Neolithic farmers. A large sub-rectangular building and three hut dwellings were built on top of the mound. The large building was supported by six major wooden posts. Its walls were made of brushwood and small branches and there were hearths inside the structure. The settlement was enclosed by a wooden fence or palisade. Two flint knives, triangular quartz blades, flint and quartz scrapers, fragments of pottery and saddle querns were found. The querns were used to grind grain

The mound was again settled in 14th or 15th century as a farm or homestead encircled by a stone wall. Inside the wall there was a stone-built farmhouse with a byre attached. The building had a cobbled floor and the back wall was part of the surrounding circular wall. There was also a granary, a store house and a barn inside the circular enclosure. Finds from the medieval period include glazed pottery sherds, and fragments of two shale bracelets.

Local tradition has it that stones from the medieval farm buildings and enclosing wall were used to rebuild, or extend, Killallan Manse in 1635. The plans in Frank Newall’s excavation report show foundations of a seventeenth century rectangular stone building and, during the excavation, a heavy iron mason’s chisel and a Charles I coin considered to be dated 1632-38 were found. The report considers the building to have been a shelter for workmen when the stones were being removed to Killallan Manse.

However, a later additional scenario is worthy of consideration. The site has been referred to locally as the ‘Auld Kirkstead’ and, on a recently discovered survey from the 1730s by John Watt, a building marked ‘Old Church’ is shown on the site. Strangely no evidence of grave stones or other artefacts indicating use as a place of worship were found during the excavation. This presents a bit of an enigma.

After the restoration of Charles II in 1660 when bishops were re-imposed on the Church of Scotland, many of the congregation in Kilmacolm Parish joined their minister, James Alexander, and became Covenanters. Conventicles were held by the Covenanters in the locality, near Ladymuir. Could another secret meeting place of the Covenanters have been the ‘Auld Kirkstead’ on the mound at Knapps?

© Helen Calcluth, RLHF

Johnstone’s Smallest Square

Gordon Square with the gable end of the old Quarrelton School building

Situated at the corner of Beith Road and the Linn Brae, almost unnoticed, there is a seated area known as Gordon Square. It is small for a square, much smaller than the well-known Houston and Ludovic Squares, and many people may not recognise it as being worth much attention. This little square is dedicated to the memory of General Gordon of Khartoum! If you visit the square you will see a memorial tablet on the gable end of the old building which once was Quarrelton School.

General Gordon was born on 28th January, 1833, in Woolwich, England. He was the son of a Royal Artillery officer, and followed his father into the military life and had a distinguished military career. In 1862 he was sent to protect the European trading station of Shenghai from the Taiping Rebellion. After defeating the Taiping Emperor, Huing Hsui, he brought to an end the civil war which had raged in China for years.

In recognition of his service, Governor Li Hung Chang presented him with the highest honour possible in the Chinese Empire, the Order of the Yellow Jacket. With this accolade he became, with fifty nine others in the empire, second in rank to the Emperor himself. It was after this that he became known as George ‘Chinese’ Gordon.

He returned to England and was stationed at Gravesend. During this time his father became very ill. His father’s illness affected him greatly and he entered a stage in his life where compassion and good works were a driving force. He personally nursed his father during the last days of his life. Later he did some teaching in the local Ragged School, he nursed, clothed and fed the sick and opened up army land for the poor to farm. He set up pensions for several elderly people and it is believed that he gave away ninety per cent of his army stipend. This he continued to do until his death at the Battle of Khartoum. Along with his entire garrison, he was killed on 26th January, 1885, two days before his fifty second birthday.

But what is the connection with Johnstone? The Laird of Johnstone, George Ludovic Houstoun, had met General Gordon and had corresponded with him during his many travels. Saddened by General Gordon’s death, the Laird had the square built in ‘a tranquil tree-canopied setting’ to the memory of his friend.

© M. Parker 2010 Johnstone History Society.