Paisley Snapshots , Urban Paisley

Urban Paisley

At the beginning of the 18th century, George Crawford wrote Description of Renfrewshire (1710), in which he noted that Paisley consisted of ‘only one principal street, about half a mile in length, with several lanes belonging to it’.  However, there must have been some manufacturing activity as he also noted that:

This burgh has a weekly mercat on Thursday, where there is store of provisions.  But that which renders this place considerable is its trade of linen and muslin, where there is a great weekly sale in its mercats of those sorts of cloath; many of their inhabitants being chiefly employed in that sort of manufactory.

At about the same time, Hamilton of Wishaw described Paisley as: 

A very pleasant and wellbuilt little town; plentifully provided with all sorts of grain, fruits, coals, peats, fishes, and what else is proper for the comfortable use of man, or can be expected in any other place of the kingdome.

Urban Paisley may have been fairly compact at that time but post-Union free-trade with England and the Colonies encouraged growth in the town’s manufacturing industries, particularly the linen industry, and Paisley grew steadily as availability of work, inward migration and increasing economic prosperity led to fairly rapid urban expansion. By the end of that same century, Reverend Dr John Snodgrass stated that Paisley had several suburbs covering a wide area and was considered by strangers to be the largest town in Scotland outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh. He added that it was ‘one of the most considerable manufacturing towns in Scotland’, yet ‘Its situation upon the banks of the river Cart is equally pleasant and commodious’.

Paisley was indeed becoming a substantial town and by the 1880s:

The town proper consists of the old town, the new town, and a number of suburbs.  The old town occupies the chief ridge westward of the Cart, and covers an area of about a mile square.  The new town, which stands on the E side of the river, includes the Abbey buildings, and occupies the ground formerly used as the Abbey gardens.  It was founded in 1779 by the eighth Earl of Abercorn, and the streets are pretty regularly laid out.  The suburbs of Charleston, Lylesland, and Dovesland form an addition to the S of the old town; Maxwelton, Ferguslie, and Millerston form a long straggling extension to the W. Williamsburgh forms a small extension to the E of the new town, and there are other suburbs at Carriagehill, Castle Head, Meikleriggs, and Mossvale.  The streets at Wallneuk and Smithhills to the W of the new town were in existence before it, and Seedhills is so old as to have belonged to the original burgh.  The straggling nature of the town causes it to occupy more ground than corresponds with the population.

Many of the streets of the new town were named after the fabrics used in the manufactures of the town.


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Strathclyde Oral History Centre

Working with heritage professionals from the Scottish Oral History Centre, University of Strathclyde, the Paisley People’s Archive is creating an accessible and user-friendly oral history archive of Paisley's rich industrial past.
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