Finlayson Bousfield & Co., 1: Johnstone (1844-1898)

For over a century, five generations of the Finlayson family owned the flax mills in Johnstone. William Finlayson, born in Dunfermline in 1786, had a successful manufacturing business in Glasgow and was one of the first in Scotland to spin flax on machinery. In 1844, seeing Johnstone as an expanding new town, William, in partnership with his sons, James (1823-1903) and Charles (1825-1874), set up a flax spinning factory in the town.

In 1848 William’s sons, James and Charles, in partnership with a young Englishman, Charles Bousfield, founded Finlayson Bousfield & Co. and took over Barbush Cotton Mill, situated on the south bank of the Black Cart at Johnstone Bridge on the High Street as their new flax spinning mill. In the mid-1850s the company also owned Lilybank Mill, a smaller mill, situated on land behind Lilybank House in Brewery Street.

The company processed raw flax before it was spun in the spinning mill and the final process was the finishing and dyeing. In the early days, Finlayson Bousfield & Co. produced quality white and coloured threads. They sent their quality goods for display at national and international exhibitions. Probably their earliest exhibition was the London Exhibition in 1851 where the company was awarded a prize medal for the “strength, taste and neatness in threads”. To celebrate the award and to promote sales, Finlayson Bousfield used wrapping paper for their packages showing images of their 1851 prize medal. Two fine examples of this packaging are on display in Johnstone Museum 

The company quickly prospered and expanded and by 1856 Finlayson Bousfield’s Barbush Flax Mill was described as “an extensive establishment, adjoining Johnstone Bridge, for the manufacture of spinning thread”. By the 1860s Finlayson Bousfield & Co. had become the largest industrial plant in Johnstone and had its head office at 11 St. Enoch Square in Glasgow.

By the 1870s James’s sons, William, Archibald and James, Jun., were employed in the mills and business continued to develop and expand. The firm now owned Lancefield Mill, a small mill in Clark Street, and, in 1873, built a second large flax mill on the North bank of the River Cart at Johnstone Bridge. In 1881 Finlayson Bousfield’s Johnstone flax mills were documented as having a capital of £187,003 and 1700 employees, and were regarded as the largest flax mill in Scotland.

James and Charles had become not only successful wealthy businessmen, but also men of importance and influence in Johnstone who played a significant part in the development of the town. James had played a key role in the creation of Johnstone as a burgh in 1857. He founded the Flax Mill Workers Co-operative Society in 1866 which served the town for almost a century and built workers’ houses in Clark Street in 1872. In his sixties James stood for parliament and served as MP for Eastwood in 1885-1866. Charles, before his death in 1874, organized the building of Lilybank Bowling Green, for the use of the company’s employees. It has stood the test of time and is still a popular bowling green in Johnstone today.

For some years the company had been exporting abroad, notably to USA and Australia, where, Richard Allen & Co. of Melbourne were sole agents for Finlayson Bousfield of Johnstone. In 1878 James’s son, Archibald, was sent to USA to explore the possibility of setting up a new mill. Finlayson’s Flax Spinning Mill in North Grafton, Massachusetts, was up and running before 1885.

After consultation in 1897 with other well-established flax mills in Renfrewshire, Ireland and USA, Finlayson Bousfield & Co. in Johnstone and Finlayson’s Flax Spinning Mill in North Grafton, USA were founder members of The Linen Thread Company (1898-1968).

 Packaging: Courtesy of Johnstone Museum

© 2022 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

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

John Love, a Kilbarchan Weaver

John Love (born in 1806) was a typical Kilbarchan weaver. He was also a well renowned bee-keeper.

In 1841 he and his wife Mary lived in the upper storey of Mount Pleasant, the last house on the right in Shuttle Street. Mary’s brother Robert Climie, her two sisters and her widowed mother were also part of the household.

John Love and his brother-in-law, Robert Climie, had their loomshop on the ground floor of the property. Both were silk handloom weavers. John’s wife, Mary, worked as a pirn winder and their twelve year old son was learning the weaving trade.

John and Robert cultivated flowers in their large garden and kept bees. John, however, was the gardening expert and was well-renowned as a Kilbarchan florist-weaver. The garden was a floral display of roses, herbaceous plants, and grafted fruit trees. However, the greatest attraction in the garden was John’s display of ‘pinks’ (carnations). He was acknowledged as the Scottish champion ‘pink’ grower.

John had numerous bee-hives, but one bee-house was unique. It was a model of a two-storey dwelling house, complete with chimney and chimney sweep. John’s other skill was as a taxidermist. His collection of numerous, carefully stuffed specimens of natural history was on display in his house.

In the mid-1870s John, who had been a tenant in Mount Pleasant for almost forty years, was forced by a new owner to vacate the property. John and his unmarried daughter, Elizabeth, moved to Paisley where they continued to work now as worsted weavers, in less pleasant surroundings.

John stayed in Paisley for some years, and then at the age of seventy-six, moved to the island of Bute to look after a fruit garden where he grew, among other produce, strawberries and Caledonian plum trees and kept bees. However, John missed his old home in Kilbarchan.

Like many ordinary Kilbarchan weavers, he often took the time to communicate his feelings in verse. In one letter sent from Bute to a friend, John wrote the touching lines,

Yes! that is the tale I whisper,

As I muse in the firelight glow,

As I sit in the hush of the evening,

And think of long ago.

After five years in Bute, John was pleased to come back to Kilbarchan and lived with a family named George at Bleachfield House in Merchant Close. In 1891 his friend described John, who looked only in his late sixties, as ‘a yellow haired laddie of eighty five summers’. He was of middle height, nimble, fleet of foot and of an amiable disposition.  He was a healthy individual who had sought medical attendance only once in his long life. John Love died in Kilbarchan in 1896 at the age eighty-nine

© 2020 Helen Calcluth

The Glasgow, Paisley, Ardrossan Canal

The Glasgow, Paisley, Ardrossan Canal was first proposed by James Watt in 1773. In 1804 a survey by Thomas Telford led to parliamentary permission to build the first phase of the canal from Glasgow to Johnstone. Hugh, 12th Earl of Eglinton, was the chief investor in the project. He had recently built his new deep sea harbour at Ardrossan and was keen to have direct access by canal to Glasgow.  Other investors included William Houston of Johnstone and William Dixon of Govan. A canal in the vicinity of their coal and iron mines would afford them easy access to Glasgow markets. Canal access to Glasgow was expected to be considerably more efficient than transporting goods by wagons on the turnpike roads. Work began in 1805. In addition to transportation of goods, a passenger service was planned.

The first section of the canal, from Paisley to Johnstone, opened on the 6th November, 1810. Amid great celebration the Countess of Eglinton was launched. Four days later, on the Martinmas Day holiday, tragedy struck. When passengers from Johnstone were disembarking at the canal basin in Paisley, an excited crowd of holiday makers on a family day out surged on to the boat causing it to capsize. Of the eighty-five people who lost their lives on this disastrous day at least one quarter were children.

The full stretch of the canal from Glasgow to Johnstone was completed in 1811, but because of the death of the Earl of Eglinton in 1819 and the lack of further funding, construction of the remaining section to Ardrossan was abandoned.

Two more passenger boats, the Paisley and the Countess of Glasgow were added to the fleet. The cabin class fare was 1s.3d. and the second class fare was 10d. In 1814 the canal sold over 35,000 fares and the service was popular with all classes of society.  In 1815 John Cuninghame of Craigends recorded in his diary that he had sent his chaise to Johnstone to meet friends arriving by boat from Glasgow. By 1836 there were twelve passenger sailings per day on the canal.

The Glasgow, Paisley, Ardrossan Canal appears to have been a profitable project for the investors until 1840 when, with the advent of the railways, the canal passenger service had competition. The Glasgow & Paisley Joint Railway opened the first rail line from Glasgow to Paisley in 1840. Rail travel between Paisley and Glasgow was quicker by train than the two hour journey by canal boat and when the rail company reduced its fares in1843 the canal passenger service was no longer viable. Although the passenger service ended in 1843 the canal company continued to transport goods until1869.

The canal became quieter and seems to have become a repository for stolen goods. It is reported that in 1852 brass fittings, and copper piping, stolen from the Kilbarchan horse-drawn fire engine, were found in Johnstone Canal by three local men. Kilbarchan Front Committee gave the men 7s.6d. for the recovery of these valuable fittings.

In 1869 the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company purchased the canal.  This rail company continued to operate the transport of goods on the canal until 1881. In that year they began work to build a second rail line from Glasgow to Paisley, largely following the route of the canal. The canal was drained in 1882 and their Canal Line to Paisley opened in 1885.

©2019 Helen Calcluth

The Semples of Beltrees, 6 Robert Semple, 6th Laird of Beltrees

Robert Semple, 6th Laird of Beltrees, born in 1687, was the eldest son of Robert Semple and Mary Pollock. We are indebted to him for preserving a number of the poems and impromptu verses written by his grandfather, Francis Semple. Robert, too, is thought to have dabbled in verse. Among his manuscripts is a poem, Ramillies. This amusing poem, written in the Scots vernacular, is the story of a young girl who ran off with a sailor, after being forced by her father to marry a much older man. Its authorship is attributed to Robert.

Robert had a long healthy life, living to the age of one hundred and two! In 1722 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Cochrane of Mainshill. Elizabeth, who predeceased him, was said to have been a very elegant lady. The couple lived in Thirdpart in Kilbarchan Parish and had eight children between 1726 and 1737.
In his home village of Kilbarchan Robert Semple was well-remembered and renowned, not only for his longevity, but also for an incident in his childhood. At the age of ten, he was staying with his parents in Pollock Castle, the home of his uncle Sir William Pollock. The hanging and the burning of the Bargarran Witches was scheduled to take place on Gallow Green in Paisley on the 10th of June, 1697, and young Robert was keen to witness the spectacle. To prevent him from going, his parents hid his shoes. However, this didn’t stop him. He managed to leave the house, and walk barefoot to Paisley where he joined the immense crowd who had gathered to watch the spectacle. The memory of this eventful day stayed with him all his life and was a tale often recounted in his old age. In the last decade of 19th century an old weaver in Kilbarchan was proudly heard to say ‘I knew a man who knew a man who saw the last witch burnt in Paisley’. The man was Robert Semple!

As a young man Robert, 6th Laird, went to sea. In his old age he recounted an unusual event in his adventures. On one of his sea voyages he went ashore at Archangel in Russia. Robert was watching sea animals in a pond where, apparently by chance, he witnessed a sea animal snapping at the Czar, Peter the Great, and biting the cock of his hat. Destinations of his other sea voyages are unknown.
Before the age of thirty, Robert was back in Renfrewshire where he was appointed as a burgher of Renfrew in 1716. He was regarded as a man of integrity and good judgement and was well respected in the community He later became Collector of Cess for Renfrewshire and a long-serving Justice of Peace. In 1724, when Kilbarchan Parish Church was rebuilt, Robert was a subscriber and one of the five heritors who organised the rebuilding of the church. In recognition of his work, a door (now long blocked up) on the south side of church was named the Beltrees Door.
In 1758, Robert sold Thirdpart and its farms to William McDowall of Castle Semple. He still retained the title, Semple of Beltrees. Where he lived after the sale of Thirdpart is uncertain. In 1777, at the age of ninety, Robert feued land on what was then part of Milliken Estate in Kilbarchan and built Belltrees Cottage, naming it after his family’s former estate. According to his daughter, Arabella, not long before his death he was still able walk twenty miles a day. Robert Semple died in Beltrees Cottage in 1789 at the ripe old age of one hundred and two!

© 2019, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

Coal: A Hidden Secret

Collier’s House and coal pits at Goldenlee in 1750

The Gryfe area is not often associated with the working of coal. In 1912 It was claimed that Renfrewshire “is not a great mining county  it lags behind its neighbours,” yet, 130 years earlier, Semple described the county as “abounding with coal”. Thus early coal mining is one of the hidden secrets of the area.

Small amounts of coal had always been worked from outcrops, but more organised workings were in the form of numerous holes, or ‘bell pits’ (shallow shafts worked close together) at Goldenlee (Houston), Brookfield and Quarrelton.

The earliest workings followed the valleys of the Gryfe, Black Cart and Locher, where the coals were shallower, and to where the workings could be drained. From Bridge of Weir, coal was worked down the Gryfe at Kaimhill, Locherside, Sandholes, Craigends and the appropriately named Coalbog. Along Barr and Castle Semple lochs, coal works appeared at Nervelston, Blackdyke, and Lochside, then down the Black Cart from Coalhouse (Howwood), and Corseford to Elderslie. The earliest and most intensive workings were in the Quarrelton area, which had one of the thickest coal seams in the country.

From the 1770s, ambitious estate owners were seeking sources of income beyond farming. Landowners, such as Speirs of Elderslie who drilled bores on his lands of Newton, was soon working coal from several pits. By the 1790s the availability of coal was described as one of the main advantages of local parishes. At Quarrelton, Corseford and Kerse, the pits were initially kept dry using pumps driven by water wheels or horses. Gradually, larger pits including Nervelston, Thorn and Elderslie added steam engines to lift out the coal and pump out water.

To anyone passing through the area around 1800, coal workings would have been a common sight. By the Victorian period, much deeper coal was worked under the flatlands of Linwood Moss and Fulton. The only visible signs were pitheads, which came and went in a few decades, leaving little trace. This led to the perception that coal working barely existed in the area. A local supply of coal had been crucial for the growing settlements such as Johnstone, Kilbarchan, Houston and Bridge of Weir. However, the biggest use of coal was not to ‘boil the pot’, but to process another little-known mineral: limestone. This will be investigated next month.



© 2017 Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum


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

Black Cart Mills 2: Millbank Burn and the Calder

Mill gearing – between water wheel and grindstones

Minor Mills on Millbank Burn and the Calder

Several burns flow into Barr Loch on the way to the Black Cart. The largest of these burns is Millbank Burn which powered Millbank Mill, a traditional grain mill. Until about a decade ago the mill’s grinding stones and large water wheel were still intact.

Between the burn and Barr Castle, water was collected from a copious spring to turn another waterwheel to pump water out of the then drained Barr Loch (discussed in a previous Advertizer article).

The main watercourse in the headwaters of the Black Cart is the Calder which falls into Castle Semple Loch at Lochwinnoch. The Calder falls 400 metres from Queenside Loch down to Castle Semple Loch. The stream and its smaller feeder burns, particularly the Cloak Burn, powered numerous mills which ranged in size from the humblest grain mills to the biggest cotton mills.

This month we look at the Calder’s smaller mills. Up on the moors at Muirshiel, the Calder powered a mill for grinding Barytes (discussed in a previous Advertizer article). Further down the Calder were two lint mills, at Loups and at Bridgend, the latter of which at one time was also a grain mill. Another lint mill sat on the Cloak Burn. There were also several bleachfields on the edge of Lochwinnoch village, for whitening and finishing cloth. One lay beside the Calder at Burnfoot, at the bottom of the minor Garple Burn. Another two, the Old and New Bleachfields, at Calderhaugh, were advertised from 1793.

It took considerable ingenuity to power a variety of mills from such a powerful and unpredictable burn as the Calder. Water rights were a thorny issue and even the mighty Castle Semple owners did not escape disputes. From the 1790s the flow in the Calder in dry spells was controlled by the owners of dams recently built on the Calder at Queenside Loch and on the Cloak Burn at Knockbartnock.

James Adam of Barr owned the Glen Mill on the Cloak Burn, which had been a corn mill for at least 150 years. It had full rights to the mill dams and lades on the Cloak burn, including the Black Linn, Boghead and Kaim dams. However the owners of the new cotton mills had closed the dam sluices for weeks to store up water for dry weather. This stopped the working of Glen Mill. However the traditional water rights were upheld and the cotton mill owners were instructed to provide enough water for Adam to drive his modest grain mill. Cotton mills will be the subject of a future article.

© 2016, Stuart Nisbet

2016-08-15 08.27.04 MAP ROWBANK BURN

Black Cart Mills 1: Rowbank Burn

This is the first of several articles on the mills on the Black Cart and its tributaries, from its source to the Clyde. The Black Cart flows all the way from Barr Loch, via Johnstone and Linwood, to join the Gryfe and the White Cart, before meeting the Clyde near Renfrew. The Black Cart itself powered at least a dozen mills. It is fed by various lesser burns which rise in the hills between Barr Loch and Kilbirnie Loch and define the Renfrewshire-Ayrshire border. These smaller burns powered another dozen mills

The Rowbank (or Moor) Burn forms the border between Renfrewshire and Ayrshire, between Lochwinnoch Parish and Beith. The burn is not very big, but it makes up for this by falling more than 100 metres, giving the potential to power numerous mills. Most were clustered around the three main bridging points of the burn.

At Clarksbridge, a toll point on the original turnpike road into Ayrshire (now the A737), there were several mills, including a lint mill (for dressing flax before it was spun) and a thread mill (for twisting yarn into sewing thread). Just above the bridge was Loanhead (or Rowbank) bleachfield and printfield, which became quite large. Further downstream in the 1850s, on a minor tributary, was a smaller bleachfield at Grangehill.

The next bridge up the burn from Clerksbridge was at Mill of Beith, an old grain mill on the Ayrshire bank. Just upstream, near Knowes, was a traditional waulk mill for fulling (or softening) cloth, to which was added the larger Knowes cotton mill in the early 1800s. Further up, also on the Ayrshire side of the burn, was another lint mill near Brownmuir.

At the third and final bridge, at the appropriately named Newmill, was another traditional grain mill, with a very long lade. The burn finally petered out on Shutterflat Muir and, via the Muirhead Burn, below Walls Hill.

Today the Rowbank Burn has been changed greatly by the whinstone quarries along its banks, and by Barcraigs reservoir at its headwaters. At its foot, the burn flows via the Dubbs Water, into Barr Loch. On the opposite side of the Dubbs, the Maich Water forms the boundary between Lochwinnoch and Kilbirnie Parishes. Near the foot of the burn was a water powered engine for draining a coal pit at Nervelstone.

The Dubbs Water is the high point of the rivers in the area, often  flowing in both directions, draining the bogland between Kilbirnie Loch, the headwaters of the River Irvine (flowing east), and Barr Loch, which flows into the Black Cart, and begins our journey west towards the sea.

© 2016 Stuart Nisbet