PAISLEY SIGHTS

 

PAISLEY ABBEY
It is believed that Saint Mirin founded a community on this site in 7th century. Some time after his death a shrine to the Saint was established becoming a popular site of pilgrimage and veneration. The name Paisley may derive from the Brythonic Passeleg, 'basilica' (derived from the Greek), ie. 'major church', recalling an early, though undocumented, ecclesiastical importance.

In 1163, Walter FitzAlan, the first High Steward of Scotland issued a charter for a priory to be set up on land owned by him in Paisley. Thirteen(?) monks came from the Cluniac priory at Much Wenlock in Shropshire to found the community at Paisley which grew so rapidly that it was raised to the status of abbey in 1219?. In 1307, Edward I of England had the abbey burned down. However, it was rebuilt later in the 14th century. William Wallace, born in nearby Elderslie is believed to have been educated for some time when he was a boy in the abbey.

In 1316 Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert I of Scotland and wife of Walter Stewart, the sixth High Steward of Scotland, was out riding near the abbey. Heavily pregnant at the time, she fell from her horse and was taken to Paisley Abbey where she gave birth to King Robert II. However, Marjorie Bruce died and is buried at the Abbey. In the abbey itself there are signs which indicate that Marjorie's baby was cut out of her womb, a caesarean delivery long before anaesthesia was available. A cairn, at the junction of Dundonald Road and Renfrew Road, approximately one mile to the north of the Abbey, marks the spot where she reputedly fell from her horse.

A succession of fires and the collapse of the tower in the 15th and 16th centuries left the building in a partially ruined state. Although the western section was still used for worship, the eastern section was widely plundered for its stone. From 1858 to 1928, the north porch and the eastern choir were reconstructed on the remains of the ruined walls by the architect Macgregor Chalmers. After his death, work on the choir was completed by Sir Robert Lorimer. In 1244, monks from Paisley founded Crossraguel Abbey in Carrick, Ayrshire.

Paisley Abbey is the burial place of all six High Stewards of Scotland, Marjorie Bruce who was the mother of Robert II and the wives of Robert II and King Robert III. The Celtic Barochan Cross, once sited near the village of Houston, Renfrewshire, is now to be found inside the abbey. The Cross is thought to date from the 10th century. In the early 1990s, an ancient vaulted drain of extremely fine construction, probably 13th century in date, was rediscovered running from the abbey to the White Cart. This was excavated and many items discovered. Some of these are now on display in the abbey. These include a slate with music marked on it - which is believed to the oldest example of polyphonic music found in Scotland. A tomb in the choir incorporating a much restored female effigy is widely believed to be that of Marjorie Bruce. Although there is no evidence that she is buried at exactly that location, her remains are thought to be within the abbey. The tomb is reconstructed from fragments of different origin - the base, is likely to have originally formed part of the pulpitum of the Abbey (a stone screen separating nave and choir), such as survives at Glasgow Cathedral. The Abbey organ is reputedly one of the finest in Scotland and was originally built by the French organ builder Cavaillé-Coll of Paris in 1872. Since then it has been rebuilt and extended four times. The organ as rebuilt by Walkers in 1968 has 4 manuals, 65 stops and 5448 pipes.(National Pipe Organ Register; "The Organ at Paisley Abbey", booklet pub. Paisley Abbey) In 2009 the instrument underwent a major restoration by Harrison and Harrison of Durham. The work included major cleaning and servicing, the provision of a new wind system and the addition of a 32ft contre bombarde. The latter was part of the 1968 scheme by Ralph Downes but not included in the work actually undertaken. (www.wikipedia.org). See also www.paisleyabbey.org.uk.

 

 

COATS MEMORIAL CHURCH
The Thomas Coats Memorial Church is an example of Gothic Revival architecture. It dominates the town's skyline with its crown spire more than 60 metres 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. The floor of the vestibule is a magnificent mosaic. There are marble drinking fountains at each end and a ceiling of stone ribbed cross vaults with gilded scrolls bearing quotations from the scriptures. The wealth and beauty of the foyer is only rivalled by the chancel. The open baptistry is formed from black-veined white marble and is large enough for total immersion. Alabaster panels, ornately sculptured, depict events in Jesus' life. The alabaster and marble pulpit, bronze lectern and carved oak communion table exhibit craftsmanship of the highest quality. Crowning the chancel is a vaulted ceiling decorated with angels. On either side of the chancel can be seen some of the 3,040 pipes of the Hill Organ which is considered to be one of the finest in Europe. For more information see www.fenet.net/coats/.

 

FORMER ANCHOR MILL BUILDING
The domestic finishing mill was part of a larger complex known collectively as the 'Anchor Mills'. The mill was built in 1886, and is of red brick with a sandstone balustrade. It occupies an area of 36,000 square feet. Internally, the mill has a central well topped with an unusual glass lantern light. This allowed light in, and also provided space for the drive belts from the engine on the ground floor to reach the machines on the upper floors. The mill was one of the earliest buildings in Paisley to have electric light. The mill was built for John Clark, of the Clark family of Paisley. The Clark family were successful thread manufacturers who, together with the Coats family, played a key role in achieving Paisley's status as a world leader in the manufacture of thread. The Clark company logo was an anchor. The Anchor Mills complex employed many hundreds of local people. When the finishing mill was built the complex filled 9 acres. By 1914 it covered 28 acres and by 1952 it had spread to 51 acres. Work in the domestic finishing mill finished in the 1980s, and the mill lay empty and neglected for twenty years until a regeneration project saved this landmark building. It now contains businesses and private apartments.

 

COATS OBSERVATORY
Coats Observatory is one of four public observatories operating in the UK, all of which are sited in Scotland. The building was designed by Glasgow architect John Honeyman, with funding coming from local thread manufacturer Thomas Coats. The observatory was operated by the Paisley Philosophical Institution, which had been founded on October 8th 1808. The design incorporated many impressive features of Victorian architecture including wrought iron work from the Saracen Foundry in Possilpark, Glasgow, carvings by John Young and stained glass windows featuring Galileo, Kepler and William Herschel. The building opened to the public on October 1st 1883. The first telescope was a five inch refractor built by Thomas Cooke of York. Other equipment included an orrery, spectroscope and a transit telescope. Meteorological recording was undertaken on a daily basis, and has continued uninterrupted to the present day. The Coats Observatory is also a seismic monitoring station for British Geological Survey. Coats Observatory is open on a daily basis (except Monday) and runs evening viewing nights throughout the winter months. Renfrewshire Astronomical Society meet there on a Friday evening throughout the year.

 

PAISLEY CENOTAPH
Paisley town centre offers good access to shops and businesses for disabled visitors. The cenotaph was unveiled in July 1924 and stands 25 feet high. On the top is the figure of a mounted crusader flanked by four infantrymen. 228 tons of granite was used in it's construction. The memorial was built to the memory of the 1,923 local men who died in WWI. On the memorial plinth can be found the arms of the burgh, and shields of St Andrew and St George. The memorial was restored and cleaned 1991

 

TANNAHILL COTTAGE
Located at 11 Queen Street, the cottage was local poet Robert Tannahill's family home. He lived there until his death in 1810. The cottage has a passage through the centre, the north side being occupied as a dwelling-house and the south side as a four-loom weaving shop. After a fire in June 2003, the building was restored, and the thatched roof replaced by slates. Admission and access is by arrangement only with details at www.paisleyburnsclub.org.uk

 

PAISLEY ARTS CENTRE
The Old Laigh Church was the second church to be built in paisley, after the Abbey. Construction started in 1736 and opened in 1738. One famous minister of the church was Dr. John Witherspoon, who later moved to North America and was one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence. In 1987 the building was converted into an arts centre, and today is one of Scotland's premier touring theatre venues. It is also home to the Paisley Film Society, who show films in the only cinema in the town centre. A list of forthcoming events can be found at www.list.co.uk.

 

PAISLEY SHERIFF COURT
The first building to be constructed was the symmetrical two-story palazzo with the balconied Roman Doric columns. This is the section furthest from the road intersection. It was opened in July 1885 and served as the Paisley Sheriff Court. In 1890 the structure to the east was opened, and became the Renfrew County Building. Both a-grade listed buildings now serve as the Paisley Sheriff Court. Inside are four small general purpose courts and one large court on the ground floor. On the first floor are two large Jury courts and the Appeal Court. Rear extensions were completed in 1997.

 

GLEN CINEMA
The Glen Cinema formed one section of the Good Templars' Building and was entered from Dyers Wynd. On hogmanay 1929, it was packed with children when smoke was seen in the projection room. In the ensuing panic 69 children lost their lives. They are commemorated by a monument in Hawkhead Cemetery. The former cinema can be found in the lane adjacent to the Paisley Piazza entrance off High Street.