Locherfield Bleachworks

In a spell of dry weather in the summer of 2014 the flow of the Locher Water (between Kilbarchan and Bridge of Weir) was reduced to a trickle. This revealed the footings of what appeared to have been an old weir or dam with the timbers preserved by decades of immersion in water. The weir or dam, constructed in the early 1860s, was associated with Locherfield Bleach Works which was owned by Hardie, Starke & Co. Forum members have been investigating the site and its history.
This field survey into the remains of the bleach works is continuing and a second weir has been revealed on the bank of the river further downstream where a large spill tunnel exits into the river.

The Old Peesweep Inn

The Old Peesweep Inn and the Peesweep Club

By Bill Speirs of Johnstone History Society

The Old Peesweep Inn

The Peeesweep Inn sat on the Gleniffer Road at the northeast corner of the crossroads east of Lapwing Lodge. All that remains to indicate the site is the raised patch of ground where the inn and its garden once stood. The inn was built between 1810 and 1840 when one traveller described it as “an old fashioned and bien howff where a farle of oatcake and a gill of mountain dew could be had”. It was still occupied as a private residence in 1931.

In 1856 the inn was documented as a lowly one storeyed building with a kailyard behind and a rowan tree at the front, perhaps to keep witches and evil spirits away in this isolated spot. The proprietor of the Peesweep Inn in the 1850s was David Stevenson, with his wife Barbara, their daughter Janet, and sons David and Thomas.

Before the death of their father in 1866, the two brothers had moved to Johnstone where both became successful business men. Thomas had various commercial interests in the town with his main commercial and residential premises at 74 High Street. He served on the Johnstone Town Council for 10 years, and was Provost, a position he held with considerable distinction, for several years from 1882.

Soon after David Stevenson, sen., died his son-in-law, William Muir, who had married David’s daughter Janet in 1864, took over the proprietorship of the Peesweep Inn. William Muir as landlord at the Inn, however, fell foul of Her Majesty`s Constabulary who had been making frequent complaints on account of “Sunday trafficking” (a lock-in in modern parlance) despite repeated warnings to desist. Eventually, in April 1889 the Peesweep Inn was unanimously refused a licence. The Justices had had enough. There would be no more beers, wines or spirits sold there ever again. William Muir left the inn before 1891 and moved to the Bent, a neighbouring farm, with his wife and family. The inn was subsequently occupied by John Pollock, a roadman, and in 1901 by Robert Woodrow, a railway surface man and their families.

Perhaps the most important guests who frequented the Peesweep Inn were a number of notable gentlemen from Johnstone, Paisley and Glasgow who called themselves the Peesweep Club. The Peesweep Club was formed in 1849 and the members met during April or May each year at the inn. They took part in various sports, some aquatic when there was sufficient water in the nearby Hartfield Loch (also known as the Peesweep Dam). After the initial round of sports the members would adjourn to the hostelry for dinner which would include the sma’ still whisky “that streams in the starlight when kings dinna’ ken”. The meeting would finish with a group photograph of the members, occasionally gathered posing round a wagon in the yard. Baillie Thomas Stevenson of Johnstone, who had been brought up at the inn, was one of the members and would surely have got a warm welcome from his sister, Mrs Muir, the landlady.

Despite its loss of licence the Peesweep Inn probably continued to be a meeting place for the next thirty years. The Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Hunt met at there on a dismal day in 1893 when the “rain fell copiously” and the surroundings were “bleak and barren-like”. In 1912 bannocks and Dunlop cheese, home baked scones, fresh butter, eggs, and milk were all available at the inn which was then a favourite destination on evening rambles for various walking clubs, such as the Pickled Ingan Club, the Peep o’ Day Club and the Kail Stock Club, but alas no Peesweep Club.

©2013 Bill Speirs

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

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.

The Deserted Settlement of Laigh Lawfield

A little east of High Lawfield Farm on the road from Kilmacolm to Houston, an old track winds down from the road to the ruins of Laigh Lawfield Farm and continues as a marked pathway to Knapps. Information from old maps and parish records establishes early settlement and land use at Lawfield.

The first direct evidence of a fermtoun or farm settlement at Lawfield is marked on Pont’s map in the late 16th century. By the 1730s, Lawfield had developed into three small settlements – Laigh Lawfield (the original settlement), High Lawfield and Gateside. Only High Lawfield exists today, but the ruins of the deserted settlement of Laigh Lawfield can still be seen.

At Laigh Lawfield (see sketch below) the foundations of at least half a dozen stone structures stand to height of little more than half a metre with about twenty well-established sycamore trees growing out of the ruined walls. The raised round platform on the south-east of the site was a mill powered by horses and it is possible that the u-shaped arrangement of stones to the south may be the remains of a corn kiln. The farm was deserted by the 1890s when the OS map shows no fully roofed buildings on the site.

From the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century High Lawfield was farmed by a family named Laird. Gateside, the smallest of the three farms, no longer existed during this period.

Laigh Lawfield was occupied by Allan Speir in 1731. The Horse Tax Records document David Scott as the farmer at Laigh Lawfield in 1797. He owned two working horses and paid a tax of four shillings. In 1841 another D. Scott, aged 55, with two agricultural labourers and two female servants, farmed Laigh Lawfield. 

© H. Calcluth 2010