James Caldwell (1818-1909), Writer, Paisley

James Caldwell erected a grave stone in Kilbarchan Parish Church, beside the now blocked Beltrees Door, in memory of his parents and siblings. His father was a silk handloom weaver in Kilbarchan. Although James was born into a Kilbarchan weaving family James did not follow the weaving trade. He became a writer (lawyer) in Paisley and lived with his wife, Janet, and their large family in Craigielea Place in Paisley.

James Caldwell was a prominent gentleman in the Paisley and had a plethora of varied interests. He was a member of Paisley Burns Club and of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. In 1874 he was one of eleven members of Paisley Burns Club who attended a meeting held in the Mason’s Arms in Kilbarchan to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Kilbarchan poet, Robert Allan. He acted as lawyer for Kilbarchan General Society and is likely to have been a member. He also had a keen interest in local history and collected and transcribed old manuscripts. Four handwritten letters from the correspondence of the Paisley poet, Robert Tannahill (1774-1810) were in his collection.

He maintained his long-term interest in the history of Kilbarchan. He had in his possession The Rental Mrs Napier’s Estate, 1785. This document detailed the names and feu duty paid by the hundred and nine residents who lived in houses in Kilbarchan built on Milliken lands. James Caldwell gave this document to Rev. Robert MacKenzie who included it in the appendix of his Kilbarchan, A Parish History. James had also in his possession the Kilbarchan register of baptisms and marriages. Three years after his death in 1909, this document was edited by Francis Grant of the Scottish Record Society and published as The Index to the Register of Marriages and Baptisms in the Parish of Kilbarchan, 1649-1772.  These valuable resources are still of considerable relevance in family history research today.

A less academic interest was wood turning.  In 1873 James acquired wood from the last fir tree cut down in Craigielea Woods and turned sixty cups from the solid wood to gift to his friends. He inscribed two verses of Tannahill’s song, ‘The Bonnie Woods of Craigielea’ on one side and the words ‘This caup, made from part of the Bonnie Wood of Craigielea’ on the reverse.

James Caldwell lived to the age of ninety-one and is buried in Woodside Cemetery in Paisley.

©2019 Helen Calcluth