Renfrewshire - Encyclopedia

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RENFREWSHIRE, a south-western county of Scotland, bounded N. by the river and firth of Clyde, E. by Lanarkshire, S. and S.W. by Ayrshire and W. by the firth of Clyde. A small detached portion of the parish of Renfrew, situated on the northern bank of the Clyde, is surrounded on the landward side by Dumbartonshire. The county has an area of 153,332 acres, or 239.6 sq. m. Excepting towards the Ayrshire border on the south-west, where the principal heights are Hill of Stake (r 7 T T ft.), East Girt Hill (1673), Misty Law (1663) and Creuch Hill (1446), and the confines of Lanarkshire on the south-east, where a few points attain an altitude of 1200 ft. - the surface is undulating rather than rugged. Much of the higher land in the centre is well wooded. The Clyde forms part of the northern boundary of the shire. In the N.W. Loch Thom and Gryfe Reservoir provide Greenock with water, and Balgray Reservoir and Glen Reservoir reinforce the water-supply of a portion of the Glasgow area. The other lakes are situated in the S. and S.E. and include Castle Semple Loch, Long Loch, Brother Loch, Black Loch, Binend Loch and Dunwan Dam. The Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone canal has been converted since 1882 into the track of the Glasgow & South-Western railway. Strathgryfe is the only considerable vale in the shire. It extends from the reservoir to below Bridge of Weir, a distance of io m. The scenery at its head is somewhat wild and bleak, but the lower reaches are pasture land. The wooded ravine of Glenkillock, to the south of Paisley, is watered by Killock Burn, on which are three falls.

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Carboniferous rocks form the substratum of this county. The hilly ground from the neighbourhood of Eaglesham northwestward is formed of volcanic rocks, basalts, porphyrites, tuffs and agglomerates of the age of the Cementstone group of the Calciferous Sandstone series. Here and there the sites of the volcanic cones are distinguishable, the best being those between Misty Law and Queenside Muir. Beneath the volcanic rocks are some red sandstones and conglomerates which occupy a small tract between Loch Thom and the neighbourhood of Inverkip. Resting upon the volcanic rocks is the Carboniferous Limestone series which at the base consists of ashy sandstones and grits followed by the three subdivisions prevalent in southern Scotland. With unimportant exceptions, all the area north of the volcanic rocks is occupied by the Carboniferous Limestone series. The beds lie in a faulted basin around Linwood, and the following strata may be distinguished from below upwards: the Hurlet coal and limestone, Lillies oil shale, Hosie limestone, Johnstone clay ironstone and Cowglass limestone along with other beds of ironstone and coal. The sandstone of Giffnock, used for building; the limestone and coal of Orchard with a very fossiliferous shale bed; and the limestone and coal of Arden all belong to the same series. Besides the contemporaneous volcanic rocks numerous intrusive sheets are found in the Carboniferous rocks such as the large mass of basalt south of Johnstone; and doleritic sheet of Quarrelton and the similar sheets N.E. of Paisley. In the eastern part of the county, near the border the coals and ironstones of this series near Shawlands and Crossmyloof are faulted directly against the coal measures of Rutherglen. Tertiary basalt dikes cut the older rocks in a S.E.-N.W. direction, for example those on Misty Law. Glacial striae abound on the hilly ground, those in the north indicating that the ice took a south-easterly direction which farther south became south-westerly. Boulder clays, gravels and sands also cover considerable areas. Copper ore has been worked in the volcanic rocks near Lochwinnoch and in the grey sandstones near Gourock.

Climate and Agriculture

The climate is variable. As the prevailing west and south-west winds come in from the Atlantic warm and full of moisture, contact with the land causes heavy rains, and the western area of the shire is one of the wettest districts in Scotland, the mean annual rainfall exceeding 60 in. The temperature for the year averages about 48° F., for January 38°. 5 F., and for July 58°5 F. The hilly tract contains much peat-moss and moorland, but over those areas which are not thus covered the soil, which is a light earth on a substratum of gravel, is deep enough to produce good pasture. In the undulating central region the soil is better, particularly in the basins of the streams, while on the flat lands adjoining the Clyde there is a rich alluvium which, except when soured by excessive rain, yields heavy crops. Of the total area three-fifths is under cultivation, more than half of this being permanent pasture. Oats are grown extensively, and wheat and barley are also cultivated. Potatoes, turnips and swedes, and beans are the leading green crops. Near the populous centres orchards and market gardens are found, and an increasing acreage is under wood. Horses are kept mostly for farming operations, and the bulk of the cattle are maintained in connexion with dairying. Sheep-farming, though on the increase, is not prosecuted so vigorously as in the other southern counties of Scotland, and pig-rearing is on the decline.

Other Industries

Coal, iron, oil-shale and fireclay are the principal minerals. Limestone is largely quarried for smelting purposes, and for the manufacture of lime. Sandstone is also quarried. The thread industry at Paisley is the most important in the world. Cotton spinning, printing, bleaching and dyeing are carried on at Paisley, Pollokshaws, Renfrew, Barrhead and elsewhere; woollens and worsteds are produced at Paisley, Greenock and Renfrew. Engineering works and iron and brass foundries are found at Greenock, Port-Glasgow, Paisley, Renfrew, Barrhead and Johnstone. ' Sugar is a staple article of trade in Greenock and there are chemical works at Hurlet, Nitshill and Renfrew. Brewing and distilling are carried on at Greenock, Paisley and other places. Shipbuilding is especially important at Greenock and Port-Glasgow. Paper mills are established in Greenock, Cathcart and Johnstone, and tanneries in Paisley and Kilbarchan. Numerous miscellaneous industries - such as the making of starch, cornflour and preserves - have also grown up in Paisley and elsewhere. The sea and river ports are Greenock, Port-Glasgow and Renfrew.

Railway communication is ample in the north, the centre and towards the south-west. The Caledonian railway runs westwards from Glasgow by Paisley to Greenock, Gourock and Wemyss Bay; south-westwards to Barrhead and other stations; and southwards to Busby. The Glasgow & South-Western railway runs to Greenock by Paisley, Johnstone and Kilmalcolm; to Nitshill and other places south-westwards; by Lochwinnoch (for Dalry and Ardrossan in Ayrshire); and to Renfrew jointly with the Caledonian. The Clyde and the railway steamers call at Renfrew, Prince's Pier (Greenock), Gourock and Wemyss Bay.

Population and Administration

In 1891 the population numbered 230,812, and in 1901 it was 268,980, or 1123 to the sq. m. In 1901 there were 40 persons who spoke Gaelic only and 5585 Gaelic and English. Thus though the shire is but twenty-seventh in point of size of the 33 Scottish counties, it is fifth in respect of population, and only Lanarkshire and Mid Lothian are more densely populated. The county is divided into the upper ward, embracing the easterly two-thirds, with Paisley as district centre, and the lower ward, consisting of the parishes of Inverkip, Greenock, Port-Glasgow and Kilmalcolm, with Greenock as district centre. The chief towns are Paisley (pop. 79,363), Greenock (68,142), Port-Glasgow (16,857), Pollokshaws (11,369), Johnstone (11,331), Barrhead (9855), Renfrew (9296), Gourock (5261), Cathcart (5808). The shire returns one member to parliament for the eastern, and another for the western division. Paisley and Greenock return each one member, and Renfrew and Port-Glasgow belong to the Kilmarnock district, group of parliamentary burghs. Renfrewshire forms a sheriffdom with Bute, and there is a resident sheriff-substitute at Paisley and one at Greenock. The county is under school-board jurisdiction. For secondary and specialized education there are an academy at Greenock and a grammar school and technical school at Paisley, while some of the schools in the county earn grants for higher education. The county secondary committee also makes provision for the free education of Renfrewshire children in Glasgow High School and the Spier School at Beith. The Paisley Technical School and the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College are subsidized out of the "residue" grant, part of which also defrays the travelling expenses of students and supports science and art and technological classes in the burghs and towns in the county.


At the time of the Roman advance from the Solway the land was peopled by the British tribe of Damnonii. To hold the natives in check the conquerors built in 84 the fort of Vanduara on high ground now covered by houses and streets in Paisley; but after the Romans retired (410) the territory was overrun by Cumbrian Britons and formed part of the kingdom of Strathclyde, the capital of which was situated at Alclyde, the modern Dumbarton. In the 7th and 8th centuries the region practically passed under the supremacy of Northumbria, but in the reign of Malcolm Canmore became incorporated with the rest of Scotland. During the first half of the 12th century, Walter Fitzalan, high steward of Scotland, ancestor of the royal house of Stuart, settled in Renfrewshire on an estate granted to him by David I. Till their accession to the throne the Stuarts identified themselves with the district, which, however, was only disjoined from Lanarkshire in 1404. In that year Robert III. erected the barony of Renfrew and the Stuart estates into a separate county, which, along with the earldom of Carrick and the barony of King's Kyle (both in Ayrshire), was bestowed upon his son, afterwards James I. From their grant are derived the titles of earl of Carrick and baron of Renfrew, borne by the eldest son of the sovereign. Apart from such isolated incidents as the defeat of Somerled near Renfrew in 1164, the battle of Langside in 1568 and the capture of the 9th earl of Argyll at Inchinnan in 1685, the history of the shire is scarcely separable from that of Paisley or the neighbouring county of Lanark.

Bibliography. - Description of the Sheriffdom of Lanark and Renfrew (Maitland Club, 1831); W. Hector, Lichens from an Old Abbey (Paisley, 1876); Vanduara (Paisley, 1881); Gilmour, Paisley, Weavers of Other Days (Paisley, 1879); D. Campbell, Historical Sketches of the Town and Harbours of Greenock (1879-81); Old Greenock (Greenock, 1888); Craig, Historical Notes on Paisley (Paisley, 1881); A. H. Millar, Castles and Mansions of Renfrew (Glasgow, 1889).

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