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Johnstone, Renfrewshire

Historical Description

JOHNSTONE, a village, or rather a manufacturing town, and for a time a quoad sacra parish, in the parish of Abbey in Paisley, Upper ward of the county of Renfrew, 3½ miles (W. by S.) from Paisley; containing, in 1841, 5824 inhabitants. This place, which, about sixty or seventy years since, consisted merely of a few scattered cottages, is pleasantly situated on the river Black Cart, over which is a bridge, from which it derived its former name. It is indebted for its rise, and subsequent rapid increase, to the introduction of the manufacture of cotton-yarn, and to the encouragement given by its spirited proprietor Mr. Houston, who granted leases of land for the erection of dwelling-houses, and for the works which have been since opened. The increase of the place both in population and manufacturing importance has been unrivalled in the history of any other place in Scotland. In 1781, when the lands were first leased, it contained only ten inhabitants: in 1792, the number had augmented to 1434; in 1811, to 3647; and in 1831, to 5617. The town is regularly built, consisting of Houston-square, nearly in the centre; a spacious market-place; and numerous handsome streets intersecting each other at right angles. The houses are of stone, and to each is attached an adequate portion of garden ground; the inhabitants are amply supplied with water, and the streets are well lighted with gas. Assembly-rooms have been erected; a lodge of freemasons has been instituted: circulating libraries are kept by the various booksellers; a post-office with two daily deliveries has been established; and in almost every respect the town may be said to be improving. It contains an old-established library, and there is a mechanics' institution, with a library attached; but these institutions are not well supported. Johnstone Castle, in the vicinity, the seat of the Houston family, is a large and handsome structure in the modern castellated style, surrounded by luxuriant wood.

The population are chiefly employed in the cotton trade, for which mills have been erected in the town and immediate vicinity. According to a statement made some years ago, the mills contained in the aggregate 90,000 spindles; two of them were propelled by water, and the others by steam-power. The capital employed in their erection, and in keeping them in operation, was estimated at £135,000; and they afforded employment to more than 2500 persons. At the present time, there are fifteen cotton-mills in active operation. A flax-mill, a very substantial fireproof building, has been erected, in which flax is spun into yarn, and dyed; and an old cotton-mill has been converted into a shawl-weaving factory. There are six manufactories of machinery, to one of which a foundry is attached; there are also a very extensive iron-foundry, and a brass-foundry of less dimensions: boiler-making has of late been commenced in one of the machine shops. In this flourishing town are likewise a saw-mill, a cooperage, and a shop for turning operations. Numerous collieries and lime-works are carried on in the neighbourhood. Branches of the Union Bank of Scotland and the City of Glasgow Bank have been established. There are numerous excellent shops in the town, which is well stocked with every kind of provisions; and fairs are annually held on the Thursday after the second Monday in July, and the last Thursday in December, for cattle. Great facility of communication is afforded by the Glasgow and Ayr railway, which passes by Johnstone, and has a handsome station here. The Glasgow, Paisley, and Ardrossan canal, commencing at Port-Eglinton, near Glasgow, is completed only to this place, a distance of eleven miles free of lockage. It is twenty-eight feet broad at the top, fourteen at the bottom, and four feet and a half in depth; and cost nearly £100,000. The navigation was opened in 1811, and light iron passage-boats were established in 1831; but by a recent arrangement with the Ayrshire and the Greenock Railway Companies, the conveyance of passengers is to be discontinued for twenty-one years, and the traffic confined to heavy goods, of which 68,063 tons were carried in the year ending 30th Sept. 1844. The canal terminates in a basin at one extremity of the town, and adjoining the wharf is a yard for landing the stone from the Nitshill quarry. The magistrates hold a petty-session in the assembly-rooms on the first Friday in every month. A church was erected here in 1793, at a cost of £1400; it contains 995 sittings, and is a handsome octagonal edifice, with a very light and elegant spire, built in imitation of the spire of Lincoln designed by Sir Christopher Wren, but on a smaller scale. This church forms a strikingly interesting object as seen from the road to Paisley, and gives to the town a very pleasing appearance. Ecclesiastically the place is in the presbytery of Paisley, synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and the patronage is vested in the Congregation; the stipend of the minister is £150, arising from seat-rents and collections, and part of the amount is secured by bond. Besides the church, or chapel of ease, there are two places of worship for the United Presbyterian Synod, and one, a fine building with a small tower, for the Free Church. A body of Methodists, and another sect called Latter-Day Saints, occupy halls where they have public worship regularly on Sundays; and a charity school has been established, which is upheld by the voluntary subscriptions of the inhabitants.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis