Historical description of Renfrewshire, Scotland

RENFREWSHIRE, a county, in the west of Scotland, bounded on the north and north-east by the Firth of Clyde and the river Clyde, which separate it from Dumbartonshire; on the east by the county of Lanark; on the south by Ayrshire; and on the west also by the firth, which divides it from the county of Argyll. A part, however, of Renfrew parish, and therefore of the county, lies on the north side of the river Clyde. The county is situate between 55° 40' 40" and 55° 58' 10' (N. Lat.) and 4° 15' and 4° 52' 30" (W. Lon.), and is about 31 miles in length, and 13 miles in extreme breadth; comprising an area of 241 square miles, or 154,240 acres; 25,786 houses, of which 24,664 are inhabited; and containing a population of 155,072, of whom 72,859 are males, and 82,213 females. This portion of the country was originally inhabited by the Damnii, a British tribe that occupied the extensive territories which formed the kingdom of Strad-y-Cluyd; and on the Roman invasion, it became a part of the province of Valentia. After the departure of the Romans, the Damnii retained possession of their ancient territories against frequent incursions of the Picts, till the union of the Scottish and Pictish kingdoms under Kenneth II.; after which, their descendants in process of time became identified with the Scots. In the reign of David I., Walter, son of Alan, retiring from North Wales, settled in this district; and, having rendered great assistance to that monarch in quelling an insurrection of the islanders, was appointed steward of Scotland, and received a grant of the lands of Paisley and other estates. This grant was confirmed to him by Malcolm IV., who made the stewardship of Scotland hereditary in his family; he adopted the name of Stewart, or Stuart, and was ancestor of the Stuarts, kings of Scotland. At that time this part of the country was in a very uncivilised state; but Walter settled many of his military attendants on his lands, and, by founding the abbey of Paisley, contributed much to the refinement and prosperity of the district. A considerable number of the inhabitants fought under David I. at the battle of the Standard in 1138. In 1164 Somerled, with a detachment of forces belonging to the Sea Kings, sailed from the north, and, entering the Clyde, landed at Renfrew; but the invaders were bravely repulsed, and Somerled and his son were slain in the conflict.

The district of Renfrew anciently formed part of the county of Lanark; but in 1404, Robert III. erected the lands of Renfrew, with the other estates of the Stuart family, into a principality, which became hereditary in the eldest sons of the Scottish kings; and the barony of Renfrew was separated from the shire of Lanark, and constituted an independent county. Prior to the abolition of episcopacy, the county was included in the archdiocese of Glasgow; it is at present in the synod of Glasgow and Ayr, is subdivided into presbyteries, and contains twenty parishes, with parts of others. For civil purposes it is divided into the upper and lower ward; the sheriff court for the former is held at Paisley, and for the latter at Greenock. The quarter-sessions are held at Renfrew, which is the shire town, and the only royal burgh; the county contains the market-towns also of Paisley, Greenock, and Port-Glasgow, the populous villages of Johnstone, Barrhead, Gourock, Eaglesham, Kilbarchan, Lochwinnoch, and Pollockshaws, and numerous smaller villages and hamlets. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV. the county returns one member to the imperial parliament; Paisley and Greenock return one member each, and Renfrew and Port-Glasgow form part of a district of parliamentary burghs.

The SURFACE is varied. In the west and south-west are hills of considerable elevation, of which Misty Law, the highest, is about 1240 feet above the level of the sea. The north-eastern and central portions of the county, though generally even, are diversified with numerous detached hills of moderate elevation, rising from the plains; and in the south-east are others, some of which are from 500 to 600 feet in height. There are several beautiful valleys watered by the principal rivers; Strathgryfe is the most extensive. Passing through the parishes of Kilbarchan and Lochwinnoch (and by Kilbirnie and Dalry in Ayrshire) is a continuous tract of level and fertile country; and among the hills are frequent vales of small extent, watered by the tributary streams. Exclusively of the Clyde, the chief rivers are the Gryfe, the Cart or White Cart, and the Black Cart. The Gryfe, which anciently gave its name to the county, rises in the hills near Largs, in the north of Ayrshire, and, flowing in an eastern direction, joins the Black Cart at Walkingshaw. The Cart has its source partly in East Kilbride, in Lanarkshire, and partly in the confluence of several streams in the parish of Eaglesham: taking a north-western course, it passes the town of Paisley, and runs into the Black Cart at Inchinnan bridge. The Black Cart has its source in Castle-Semple loch, in the parish of Lochwinnoeh; it flows in a north-eastern direction into the river Clyde. The lakes are, Castle-Semple, near the southern boundary of the county, a picturesque sheet of water 200 acres in extent, and containing several islands; Queenside loch, in the parish of Lochwinnoch; and several smaller lakes, of no particular interest. The shores of the Firth of Clyde are indented with numerous fine bays, the principal of which are the harbour of Greenock, Gourock bay, and Innerkip and Wemyss bays.

The SOIL is of different descriptions; in the hilly districts, chiefly a fine light free soil, resting on a gravelly bottom; in the level districts, a deep rich brown loam. In the south-west are some considerable tracts of moss. The system of agriculture is improved. From the numerous manufacturing towns and villages in the county, a large portion of the best land is in grass, and dairies occupy the farmers' principal attention, for the supply of the inhabitants. The meadows and pastures are rich, and the lands which are in tillage produce abundant crops of excellent grain of all kinds, with potatoes, turnips, and green vegetables; considerable tracts of land are also cultivated as gardens. In this county the chief substrata are coal, limestone, freestone, and whinstone; and ironstone is found in abundance in the middle districts, and on the shore of the Clyde. The coal is extensively wrought at Quarrelton, Polmadie, Hurlet, and Househill, where are numerous mines in active operation: the seam at Quarrelton is fifty feet in thickness, and consists of five different strata; the Hurlet coal is from five to six feet in thickness, and has been wrought about 200 years. There are also quarries of limestone, freestone, and whinstone. Among the gentlemen's seats are Elderslie, Blythswood, Scotstown, Walkingshaw, Jordanhill, Johnstone Castle, Househill, Ralston, Erskine, Crofthead, Blackstoun, Glentyan, Clippens, Millekin, Craigends, Ardgowan, Pollock, Kelly, Langhouse, Gourock Castle, Gourock House, Ashburn, and Levern House.

Various important manufactures are largely carried on at Paisley, Greenock, and numerous other places in the county. There is considerable traffic at the several ports of the Clyde; the commerce of Greenock and Port-Glasgow is very extensive. The annual value of real property in Renfrewshire is £474,568, of which £152,924 are returned for lands, £265,775 for houses, £18,792 for railways, £7024 for mines, £2153 for quarries, £1543 for canal navigation, and the remainder for other kinds of real property. Facility of communication is afforded by excellent roads, which intersect the county in all directions; and by several canals and railways of comparatively recent formation. The Glasgow, Paisley, and Johnstone canal is about eleven miles in length, and is navigated by boats drawn by horses: the Forth and Cart Junction canal, a branch from the Forth and Clyde canal, is about a mile and a half in length; and a small canal has been formed to avoid the shallows at Inchinnan bridge. The Glasgow, Paisley, and Greenock railway is twenty-two miles and a half in length, from the bridge at Glasgow to the harbour of Greenock; the line proceeds close to Port-Glasgow, and was opened throughout in 1841. The Glasgow, Paisley, and Ayr railway is forty miles in length, from the bridge at Glasgow to the town of Ayr, and was opened in 1840. These two railways have the portion between Glasgow and Paisley in common. The Paisley and Renfrew railway is about three miles in length, extending to Renfrew Ferry, on the river Clyde, and was opened in 1837. There are also the Pollock and Govan railway, and the Glasgow and Barrhead railway. The principal remains of antiquity are, the ruins of the abbey of Paisley, founded by Walter Stuart, and of some other religious houses; and numerous ruins of castles, among which are those of Cruickstone Castle, for some time the residence of Mary, Queen of Scots. In opening a quarry about fifty years since, on the north bank of the river Cart, were discovered, at a considerable depth from the surface, the remains of an ancient village, consisting of forty houses of one room each, from eight to twelve feet square, roofless, and having in the centre of the floor a hollow apparently scooped out for a fireplace, in which were coal ashes. The walls were of rough stone, from four to five feet high, and the floors paved with thin flags.

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