Paisley (/ˈpeɪzli/ PAYZ-lee; Scots: Paisley, Scottish Gaelic: Pàislig [ˈpʰaːʃlɪkʲ]) is a town situated in the west central Lowlands of Scotland. Located north of the Gleniffer Braes, the town borders the city of Glasgow to the east, and straddles the banks of the White Cart Water, a tributary of the River Clyde.
It serves as the administrative centre for the Renfrewshire council area, and is the largest town in the historic county of the same name. Paisley is often cited as “Scotland’s largest town” and is the fifth largest settlement in the country, although it does not have city status.
The town became prominent in the 12th century, with the establishment of Paisley Abbey, an important religious hub which formerly had control over other local churches.
By the 19th century, Paisley was a centre of the weaving industry, giving its name to the Paisley shawl and the Paisley Pattern. The town’s associations with political Radicalism were highlighted by its involvement in the Radical War of 1820, with striking weavers being instrumental in the protests. By 1993, all of Paisley’s mills had closed, although they are memorialised in the town’s museums and civic history.
Formerly and variously known as Paislay, Passelet, Passeleth, and Passelay the burgh’s name is of uncertain origin; some sources suggest a derivation either from the Brittonic word pasgill, “pasture”, or from passeleg, “basilica”, (i.e. major church), itself derived from the Greek βασιλική basilika. However, some Scottish place-name books suggest “Pæssa’s wood/clearing”, from the Old English personal name Pæssa, “clearing”, and leāh, “wood”. Pasilege (1182) and Paslie (1214) are recorded previous spellings of the name. The Gaelic translation is Pàislig.
The Anchor Mills (1886) – a remnant of Paisley’s Victorian industrial heritage.
Paisley has monastic origins. A chapel is said to have been established by the 6th-/7th-century Irish monk, Saint Mirin at a site near a waterfall on the White Cart Water known as the Hammils. Though Paisley lacks contemporary documentation it may have been, along with Glasgow and Govan, a major religious centre of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. A priory was established in 1163 from the Cluniac priory at Wenlock in Shropshire, England at the behest of Walter fitz Alan, Steward of Scotland (d. 1177). In 1245 this was raised to the status of an Abbey. The restored Abbey and adjacent ‘Place’ (palace), constructed out of part of the medieval claustral buildings, survive as a Church of Scotland parish church. One of Scotland’s major religious houses, Paisley Abbey was much favoured by the Bruce and Stewart royal families. King Robert III (1390–1406) was buried in the Abbey. His tomb has not survived, but that of Princess Marjorie Bruce (1296–1316), ancestor of the Stewarts, is one of Scotland’s few royal monuments to survive the Reformation.
Paisley coalesced under James II’s wish that the lands should become a single regality and, as a result, markets, trading and commerce began to flourish. In 1488 the town’s status was raised by James IV to Burgh of barony. Many trades sprang up and the first school was established in 1577 by the Town Council.
The Paisley witches, also known as the Bargarran witches or the Renfrewshire witches, were tried in Paisley in 1697. Seven were convicted and five were hanged and then burnt on the Gallow Green. Their remains were buried at Maxwelton Cross in the west end of the town. This was the last mass execution for witchcraft in western Europe. A horse shoe was placed on top of the site to lock in the evil. A horse shoe is still visible in the middle of this busy road junction today—though not the original. The modern shoe is made of bronze and bears the inscription, “Pain Inflicted, Suffering Endured, Injustice Done”.
The Industrial Revolution, based on the textile industry, turned Paisley from a small market town to an important industrial town in the late 18th century. Its location attracted English mill owners; immigrants from Ayrshire and the Highlands poured into a town that offered jobs to women and children. However, silk fell out of fashion in 1790. The mills switched to the imitation Kashmir (cashmere) shawls called “Paisley”. Under the leadership of Thomas Coats (1809-1893), Paisley became the world centre for thread making. The high-status skilled weavers mobilised themselves in radical protests after 1790, culminating in the failed “Radical War” of 1820. Overproduction, the collapse of the shawl market and a general depression in the textile industry led to technical changes that reduced the importance of weavers. Politically the mill owners remained in control of the town.
Origins of Paisley Shawls.
By the mid-19th century weaving had become the town’s principal industry. The Paisley weavers’ most famous products were the shawls, which bore the Paisley Pattern made fashionable after being worn by a young Queen Victoria. Despite being of a Kashmiri design and manufactured in other parts of Europe, the teardrop-like pattern soon became known by Paisley’s name across the western world. Although the shawls dropped out of fashion in the 1870s, the Paisley pattern remains an important symbol of the town: the Paisley Museum maintains a significant collection of the original shawls in this design, and it has been used, for example, in the modern logo of Renfrewshire Council, the local authority.
According to Monique Lévi-Strauss, informations on the history of Kashmir Shawls’s weaving techniques had been described in books, but in a very unintelligible language. John Irwin published in 1955 a book named Shawls, a Study in Indo-European Influences, in which he relates the Kashmir Shawls history and how these Shawls spread on the European Market during the XIX° century. The book showed images of Shawls woven in India and also 15 images of Shawls woven in United-Kingdom, amongst which one assigned to a Paisley Manufacture, circa 1850. But according to Monique Lévi-Strauss, it resembles by many details a Shawl designed by a French designer named Antony Berrus, born in 1815 at Nîmes-France and died in 1883. The designer studied at the drawing School of Nîmes, before settling in Paris and opening in the French Capital his own successful design studio, which employed 200 designers. His textile drawings were sold to Lyon in France, in Scotland, in England, in Austria and also in Kashmir. The fact that Shawls patterns drawings were made in Europe, sold there and also to India, made as a result the research work extremely difficult, as to give a precise location of manufacture. Therefore, in 1973, John Irwin published an update of his book, named as The Kashmir Shawl, in which he removed all the images of the Shawls related to a European manufacturing. Monique Lévi-Strauss clearly states that her research led her to focus on the Shawls Creative Industries in France in the XIX° century, for the reason that the Shawl industries in the United-Kingdoms (Paisley), Austria (Vienna), Germany (Elberfeld) widely got their inspiration from France (Paris) and never the opposite. The Author was then inviting textile specialists from these countries to conduct research on their own field. However, Monique Lévi-Strauss clearly specifies the large influence that Kashmir had on the French Shawl creative industries. So the French history of Kashmir Shawls is narrowly linked to the Indian one.
Through its weaving fraternity, Paisley gained notoriety as being a literate and somewhat radical town and between 1816 and 1820 became the scene of a Radical War. Political intrigue, early trades unionism and reforming zeal came together to produce mass demonstrations, cavalry charges down the high street, public riots and trials for treason. Documentation from the period indicates that overthrow of the government was even contemplated by some. The weavers of Paisley were certainly active in the ‘Radical War’. The perceived radical nature of the inhabitants prompted the Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli to comment “Keep your eye on Paisley”. The poet Robert Tannahill lived in this setting, working as a weaver. Paisley’s annual Sma’ Shot Day celebrations held on the first Saturday of July were initiated in 1856 to commemorate a 19th-century dispute between weavers and employers over payment for “sma’ shot” – a small cotton thread which, although unseen, was necessary in holding together garments.
A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of Paisley Barracks in 1822.
The economic crisis of 1841–43 hit Paisley hard as most of the mills shut down. Among the mill owners, 67 of 112 went bankrupt. A quarter of the population was on poor relief. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel decided to act. He secured additional funds for relief and sent his own representative to the city to supervise its distribution. He convinced Queen Victoria to wear Paisley products in order to popularise the products and stimulate demand.
The American Civil War of 1861–1865 cut off cotton supplies to the textile mills of Paisley. The mills in 1861 had a stock of cotton in reserve, but by 1862 there was large-scale shortages and shutdowns. There were no alternative jobs for the workers, and local authorities refused to provide relief. Voluntary relief efforts were inadequate, and the unemployed workers refused to go to workhouses. Workers blamed not the United States, but rather the officials in London for their hardship and did not support the idea of war with the United States.
First World War.
Paisley War Memorial
Paisley suffered heavy losses in the First World War. The town’s war memorial was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer (other sources say Harold Tarbolton) in 1922 and depicts Robert the Bruce going into battle on horseback escorted by footsoldiers dressed as First World War infantry soldiers. It was sculpted by Alice Meredith Williams.
Paisley was also the site of an incident that gave rise to a major legal precedent. In a Paisley cafe in 1928, a woman allegedly found a dead snail in a bottle of ginger beer, and became ill. She sued the manufacturer for negligence. At the time a manufacturer was considered liable only if there was a contract in place with the harmed party. However, after Donoghue v Stevenson wound through the courts, a precedent was established that manufacturers (and other “neighbours” or fellow citizens) owe a duty not to do foreseeable harm to others by negligence, regardless of contractual obligations, which paved the way for modern tort law. The case is often called the “Paisley snail”.
Second World War.
Owing to its industrial roots, Paisley, like many industrial towns in Renfrewshire, became a target for German Luftwaffe bombers during World War II. Although it was not bombed as heavily as nearby Glasgow (see Clydebank Blitz), air raids still occurred periodically during the early years of the war, killing nearly a hundred people in several separate incidents; on 6 May 1941, a parachute mine was dropped in the early hours of the morning claiming 92 victims; this is billed the worst disaster in Paisley’s history. The Gleniffer Braes, on the southern outskirts of Paisley, are home to a number of “decoy ponds” (mock airfields) used by the RAF after the Battle of Britain as part of a project code-named “Starfish Decoy” designed to confuse German spies.
Paisley, as with other areas in Renfrewshire, was at one time famous for its weaving and textile industries. As a consequence, the Paisley pattern has long symbolic associations with the town. Until the Jacquard loom was introduced in the 1820s, weaving was a cottage industry. This innovation led to the industrialisation of the process and many larger mills were created in the town. Also as a consequence of greater mechanisation, many weavers lost their livelihoods and left for Canada and Australia. Paisley was for many years a centre for the manufacture of cotton sewing thread. At the heyday of Paisley thread manufacture in the 1930s, there were 28,000 people employed in the huge Anchor and Ferguslie mills of J & P Coats Ltd, said to be the largest of their kind in the world at that time. In the 1950s, the mills diversified into the production of synthetic threads but production diminished rapidly as a result of less expensive imports from overseas and the establishment of mills in India and Brazil by J & P Coats. By the end of the 1993, there was no thread being produced in Paisley. Both industries have left a permanent mark on the town in the form of the many places with textile related names, for example, Dyer’s Wynd, Cotton Street, Thread Street, Shuttle Street, Lawn Street, Silk Street, Mill Street, Gauze Street and Incle Street.
The town also supported a number of engineering works some of which relied on the textile industry, others on shipbuilding. Paisley once had five shipyards including John Fullerton and Company (1866–1928), Bow, McLachlan and Company (1872–1932) and Fleming and Ferguson (1877–1969).
Advertisement for the Ferguslie Thread Works in the 1867 Paris World Fair catalogue
A number of food manufacture companies existed in Paisley. The preserve manufacturer Robertsons began in Paisley as a grocer whose wife started making marmalade from oranges in 1860. This product was successful and a factory was opened in Storie Street, Paisley, to produce it in 1866 and additional factories were later opened in Manchester, London and Bristol. The company was taken over by Rank Hovis McDougall who closed its Stevenson Street factory and transferred production to England in the 1970s. Brown and Polson was formed in Paisley in 1840 and two years later started producing starch for the weaving trades, by 1860 it was making food products including its patent cornflour. It later became CPC Foods Ltd, a subsidiary of Unilever, which produced Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Gerber baby foods and Knorr soups. The company ceased production in Paisley in 2002.
In 1981 Peugeot Talbot, formerly Chrysler and before that Rootes, announced that its Linwood factory just outside Paisley would cease production. This led to the loss of almost 5,000 jobs.
At one time M&Co. (Mackay) had its head office in Caledonia House in Paisley.
In 2015, the town launched its bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021. On 15 July 2017 Paisley was announced as one of five shortlisted candidates, however on December 7, 2017 Paisley lost its bid to Coventry. Following the announcement, Renfrewshire Council and the Paisley 2021 Board stated that Paisley’s “journey will continue” and that the bid process was “just the beginning” for regeneration processes to begin in the town.
Public sector organisations in Paisley include the headquarters of Renfrewshire Council, the largest campus of the University of the West of Scotland, the Paisley campus of West College Scotland and the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Glasgow Airport, located on the northern edge of Paisley, is also a significant employer and part of the area’s transport infrastructure. The airline Loganair’s registered office is located within the airport complex.
Glasgow Airport in Paisley’s Abbotsinch area.
Scotch whisky blenders and bottlers Chivas Brothers, now a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard, are also located in the town.
The site of the former Rootes/Chrysler/Talbot on western the outskirts of the town is now home to Phoenix Retail Park. Numerous private developers have invested, creating various retail outlets, vehicle showrooms, restaurants, a cinema complex, hotel and a business centre.
As the administrative centre of the county of Renfrewshire, Renfrew District and, currently, Renfrewshire council area, Paisley is home to many significant civic buildings. Paisley Town Hall, adjacent to the Abbey, was funded by the will of George Aitken Clark, one of the Clark family, owners of the Anchor Mills. In competition, Sir Peter Coats funded the construction of the modern Paisley Museum and Central Library (1871), also in a neo-Classical style. The Clarks and Coats families dominated Paisley industry until their companies merged in 1896. Renfrewshire’s former County Buildings, Police Station and Jail on County Square have been since demolished, and the County Council then met in a newer neo-classical building which now houses Paisley Sheriff Court.
Renfrewshire House, the modern headquarters of Renfrewshire Council, was constructed as Paisley Civic Centre. Designed by Hutchison, Locke and Monk following a competition, the building was designed to house offices of both the county and town councils. It was intended to become a civic hub for Paisley but the absence of any shops and non-council premises prevented this from happening. It became the home of the Renfrew sub-region of Strathclyde Regional Council in 1975 and of Renfrewshire Council in 1996. It is listed by the conservation organisation DoCoMoMo as one of the sixty key Scottish monuments of the post-war period.
Other civic buildings of interest include the Russell Institute, an art deco building constructed in 1926.
Paisley Abbey was the burial place of many Scottish kings of the House of Stewart during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries
Most noticeable among the buildings of Paisley is its medieval Abbey in the centre of the town dating from the 12th century. The earliest surviving architecture is the south-east doorway in the nave from the cloister, which has a round arched doorway typical of Romanesque or Norman architecture which was the prevalent architectural style before the adoption of Gothic. The choir (east end) and tower date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and are examples of Gothic Revival architecture. They were reconstructed in three main phases of restorations with the tower and choir conforming to the designs of Dr Peter MacGregor Chalmers. The roof in the nave is the most recent of restorations with the plaster ceiling by Rev Dr Boog which was added in the 1790s being replaced by a timber roof in 1981.
Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church, named for the industrialist Thomas Coats (1809–1883), is an example of Gothic Revival architecture. It dominates the town’s skyline with its crown spire more than 60 metres (197 ft) high. Opened in 1894 and designed by Hippolyte Jean Blanc it is the largest Baptist church in Europe. The exterior is made of old red sandstone. Inside, the church is decorated with wood carvings, mosaic floors and marble fonts. The church also contains a 3040 pipe Hill Organ.
The St Mirin’s Cathedral in Incle Street is the seat of the Catholic Bishop of Paisley. The church was completed in 1931 to replace an earlier building, in nearby East Buchanan Street, which dated from 1808. The original St Mirin’s church was the first Catholic church to be built in Scotland since the Reformation. With the erection of the Diocese of Paisley in 1947 the church was raised to cathedral status.
St Matthew’s Church (Church of the Nazarene) at the junction of Gordon Street and Johnston Street is Art Nouveau in style. Designed by local architect William Daniel McLennan, a contemporary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, it was built in 1905–07.
Dating from circa 1160 Blackhall Manor is the oldest building in Paisley. It was given to the Burgh of Paisley by the Shaw-Stewart family in 1940, but was threatened with demolition in 1978. It was privately purchased in 1982 and fully restored as a private dwelling.
The Dooslan stane and the tolbooth bases in Brodie Park
As a result of its historic textile industry, Paisley has many examples of Victorian industrial architecture. Most notable is the Category A listed Anchor Mills, built in 1886. The building was converted in 2005 into residential flats. Textiles have a longer history in Paisley, represented by the Sma’ Shot cottages complex on Shuttle Street: a small public museum of weaving from its 18th-century origins as a cottage industry.
Another landmark connected with the textile industry is the Dooslan Stane or Stone. The stone was a meeting place of the Weavers Union in the south of Paisley; it was also used as a “soapbox” and was originally inscribed with its history (now largely faded). It was moved from its original site at the corner of Neilston Road and Rowan Street to its present location in Brodie Park. Also present, arranged around the Dooslan Stane, are the four original Paisley Tolbooth stones. The Dooslan Stane is still used today as the congregating point for the annual Sma’ Shot parade which takes place on the first Saturday in July.
The High Street drill hall was completed in about 1896.
The composer Thomas Wilson’s 1988 work Passeleth Tapestry (later his Fourth Symphony) commemorates the history of Paisley in a single 30-minute movement. Commissioned by Renfrew District Council to mark Paisley’s 500th anniversary as a burgh of barony, it was premiered on 6 August 1988 in Paisley Abbey with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Bryden Thomson.
The town also has a memorial to the legal case of Donoghue v Stevenson, also known as the Paisley Snail Case, which established the modern rules of negligence in Scots law and the legal systems of the Commonwealth.
Paisley is the main site for the modern University of the West of Scotland, which was created from a merger between the University of Paisley and Bell College in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire. The University of Paisley was granted university status in 1992, having existed previously as a central institution known as Paisley College of Technology. The further education college West College Scotland has a campus in the town; this institution was previously known as Reid Kerr College.
There are currently four comprehensive state secondary schools in Paisley: Paisley Grammar School, Castlehead High School, St. Andrew’s Academy and Gleniffer High School. The oldest of these is Paisley Grammar which was founded in 1576 and was one of two former grammar schools in the town – alongside the former John Neilson Institution (latterly John Neilson High School) founded in 1852. Other former secondary schools in the area include Merksworth High School (to the north west of the town), St Mirin’s Academy or High School (on the west side of the town), St Aelred’s High School and Stanely Green High School (both on the south side of the town). Of the current secondary schools in the town, all are non-denominational save for St Andrew’s Academy which is a Roman Catholic school.
Paisley is home to a number of religious denominations and is an important historical centre for the Christian faith in Scotland. The town’s historic patron saint is Saint Mirin (or Mirren); according to legendary accounts, Mirin settled in Paisley as a missionary sent from Ireland in the 6th century and was instrumental in bringing the relics of St Andrew to Scotland. Paisley Abbey, one of the towns most significant landmarks, was constructed as a priory in the 12th century and raised to abbey status in the 13th. It served as an ecclesiastical centre for a wide area surrounding the county of Renfrewshire for centuries until the Reformation when such religious centres were reduced to the status of parish churches. For the Church of Scotland, Paisley forms part of the Presbytery of Greenock and Paisley in the Synod of Clydesdale (see: Church of Scotland synods and presbyteries).
Other Christian communities have a number of churches in Paisley, many of which were the result of the Industrial Revolution where people from around the British Isles came to Paisley for work. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Paisley, created in 1947, is centred upon the town’s St Mirin’s Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Paisley. Paisley also forms part of the Episcopalian (Anglican) Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway with its main facilities being contained at the Holy Trinity and St Barnabas Church in the town centre, a congregation which united in 2004. There are currently two Baptist congregations in Paisley: in addition to Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church (see under “Landmarks – religious sites”) is Central Baptist Church, which meets in nearby Lady Lane. Paisley is home to a meetinghouse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints located on Glenburn Road.
Other smaller religious groups exist in the town. The Methodist Church of Great Britain has a church and central hall opposite Paisley Abbey which forms part of the Ayrshire and Renfrewshire Circuit. The Christadelphians meet in a hall on Alice Street.