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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter XXIII


Population—At Revolution—In 1794—In 1891—The Heritors— The Police Burgh—Magistracy—Parochial Beard—Educational—Patrick Bequest—John Kennedy—Review of Prices and Wages—Benefit Societies—The Savings Bank— Recreation Clubs—Mineralogy—Natural History—From the Church Tower—An ancient River-bed—The Roman Wall—Revived Interest—An Old British Fort—Derivation of Kilsyth, Kelvin, Banton—A Fingalian Tradition—Making of Kelvin—“Line upon Line.”

The population of Kilsyth during the Reformation period and the time of the Livingstons cannot be accurately stated. At the Revolution, however, the population numbered 1200. From that time onwards, there has been a steady increase. In 1790, when an exact census was taken, the parish contained 2450 souls. In the previous forty years the increase had been n 00. In 1790, there were 408 houses and 509 families. Oh an average there were barely three children to each family. Between 1608 and 1794, twins had been born in the parish twice every three years. At the latter date there were 2000 in connection with the Church of Scotland, 477 connected with the Relief and Secession Churches, 9 Cameronians, and 1 Glassite.

In 1891 the parish contains 1490 separate families. Of these 1235 are in the burgh and 255 in the landward portion of the parish. The number of inhabited houses is 1472, 1217 being in the burgh, and 255 in the landward. The uninhabited houses are 24, n in the burgh, 13 in the landward. The number of new houses in process of erection is 9, all in the burgh. Since the taking of the census, William Baird & Co. have built a little village at Chapel Green. The number of windowed rooms is 31151—2376 in the burgh, and 775 in the landward. The number of males is 385 9—3155 being in the burgh, and 704 in the landward. The number of females is 3556—2909 in the burgh, and 647 in the landward. The total population is 7415. Of these the burgh contains 6064, and the landward 1351.

Along with the kirk session, the heritors are the oldest corporate body in the parish. In a number of matters the heritors and session have acted conjointly, and it is expedient they should do so. The teinds are exhausted, and a considerable portion of them have not yet been made redeemable. The last decreet of modification and locality is dated 8th March, 1878. The present heritors are Sir Archibald Edmonstone, James John Cadell, the Duke of Montrose, the Carron Company, Messrs. Brown and Frew, William Bow, trustees of Joseph Wilson, trustees of John Wilson, Mrs. Mary Bow, James Graham, Daniel Ferguson, James Lennie, Andrew Waters, Walter Duncan, W. Motherwell, Peter Lennox, trustees of John Christie. Meetings are held once a year, but Sir Archibald Edmonstone being the chief heritor, the whole business has usually been left in the hands of his representative. Ruthven Angus, the last parish teacher, is heritors’ clerk. The real rent valuation of the landward district is ,£24,463 17s. 10d.; of the burgh, £12,259. It is of much disadvantage to the parish that the chief heritor and the majority of the others are all nonresident.

About fifteen years ago the people of the town took advantage of the Lindsay Act, and received constitution as a police burgh. Probably no village in Scotland has been so greatly benefited by the operation of this act. The streets and general appearance of the town have been vastly improved. The outlay has been considerable, but the advantage, has been more than commensurate. The town council consists of the provost or chief magistrate, two bailies, and six commissioners. Since the adoption of the Act, the following gentlemen have been the provosts in succession:—William Whyte, John Glen (twice), David Frew, William Dobbie, Smith Anderson, and Robert Hamilton. William Stevenson was the first town-clerk. He resigned in November, 1881, when he was succeeded by R. M. Lennox. In addition to their ordinary duties they have charge of the water and gas works* At a very early period, and for many years, the water supply was drawn from wells, but it was of so precarious a character that the people elected two water-bailies to see that the springs were kept in proper order. The parish returns three representatives having seats in the county council, and the Parochial Board one to the district committee. Sir Archibald Edmonstone represents the landward. Robert Hamilton and David Frew the burgh, and William M‘Kinlay the Parochial Board. The management of the poor is in the hands of the Parochial Board. Till the formation of this board, this duty was discharged by the Parish Kirk Session. In 1721, the session collected for the poor ^28 8s. 4&, and expended ^25 6s. 8d* In 1784, they received £56, and expended £55. In 1:795, ^70 was received and ^65 paid. Dr. Rennie lamented that after the Relief secession the Seceders wholly stopped contributing for the upkeep of the poor. He also spoke bitterly of the indifference of the heritors* Since the institution of the board, the voluntary contributions have not wholly ceased. The Parish Church and the Free Church give every winter small sums tp the poor, and a committee of the Parochial Board distribute coals amongst the necessitous. The reception of , parochial relief was, at one time, keenly felt in the parish as carrying with it something of a stigma. This estimable Scottish feeling seems now nearly to have passed away. David Brown is chairman of the Parochial Board, and A. Chalmers clerk and treasurer.

The parish has four public schools. In the landward district there are two, Chapel Green and Banton. In the burgh, the Academy and the Roman Catholic School. Chapel Green was erected in 1723. Mr. Patrick! a merchant in London, left to the kirk session a bequest of ;£6o, the interest to go towards the payment of the fees of any poor children connected with the district. Through careful management the kirk session increased the fund to £500. This sum and the Wallace bursary bequest are now under the management of the Parish Educational Endowment’s Board* which is formed of one representative from the Parish Kirk Session, one from the Free Church, one from the United Presbyterian Church, two from the Burgh School Board* and two from the Landward School Board. John Kennedy was teacher of Chapel Green School for the last thirteen years of his life. He was a native of Kilmarnock, and died in 1833. He possessed considerable literary culture and was the author of two books, "Fancy’s Tour with the Genius of Cruelty, and Other Poems,” and “Geordie Chalmers, or the Law in Glen Buckie.” The latter is a tale giving account of the lights and shadows of * village schoolmaster’s life, and is of some value as a picture of a phase of Scottish life which has now passed away. The present teacher is Mr. Haig, and the average attendance is 62. Mr. Armstrong is the teacher of Banton School, the average attendance of which is 107. The Academy in the burgh is a large school with over 1000 children on the roll. The head teachers are, Messrs. Allison, M.A., and Campbell. The Burngreen section of the Academy was the old parochial school, and was acquired from the Landward Board at a cost of £475. The Roman Catholic School in the burgh is attended by about 300 children, and Mr. Stone is the teacher. There are two school boards in the parish, the landward with five, and the burgh with seven members.

The labour in the parish is abundant and well paid. | Two hundred years ago a thatcher was paid 8d. a day; a dyke-builder, 6d.; a collier, 10d.  a labourer, 6d.; a tradesman, 8d.; a leg of beef cost 5s.; a cow’s tongue, 4d.; stabling and corn for a horse a night in Glasgow, 9d. In 1795 the wages and prices had greatly risen. A thatcher’s pay was now 1s. 8d. per day; a dyke-builder’s,1is. 8d.; a collier’s, 3s. 6d.; a labourer’s, 1s. 6d.; a tradesman’s, 8s.; a leg of beef cost £1; a cow’s tongue,1is.; stabling and corn for a horse in Glasgow, 1s. 8d, With the exception of the last all the other prices speaking roughly, may be held as doubled.

The parish affords, through the agencies of various societies, every encouragement for the cultivation of thrift The Weavers’ Benefit Society was instituted in 1760, and is one of the oldest of these associations. The Kilsyth Benefit Union, which has a membership of 350, a capital fund of £3077, and an annual income of £250, and is in vigorous life, was not established till 1828. The Neilston Annual Society, the Free Gardeners, the Order of Shepherds, the Barrwood Permanent Benefit Society, the Dovgcot and Balmiilloch Cojluuies Friendly Society, are agencies with similar objects, but of much more recent institution. There are also several associations for the fostering of temperance and total abstinence principles. Probably the most important of all is the Savings Bank. It took its rise in a meeting held in the parish church vestry on the nth August, 1829, and attended by James M'Laren, factor on the estate; Rev. W. Burns; Rev. J. Anderson; Ebenezer Storrie, father of the late minister of Carmunnock, Alexander Salmon, parish schoolmaster, but who afterwards entered the Church, and three others. The result of the conference was the formation of the bank at a public meeting held fifteen days after. The first annual meeting was held on the 10th August, 1830, when the amount of deposits was found to be £128 14s. 10d. In 1837 the amount was £645 1s. 5d. The number of depositors at the 20th February, 1891, was 563; the deposits at the same date, as. 8d. The capital of the bank amounted  to ;£9472 11s 6d. Messrs. Yuill, Henderson, Walker, and M'Gilchrist have been the successive cashiers. The Post Office Savings Bank now attracts a large number of depositors. In addition, the Royal and National Banks have agencies in the town* The Free Masons are represented by two lodges. The Charter was granted to the Lodge “St. John,” No. 39,17th November, 1739; the present number of members is 350. The “Stewart” Lodge Charter is dated 24th February, 1874, and its membership is 140.

It is a good feature in the character of the people that they are devoted to all kinds of active recreations. The Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch Curling Clubs are, with the exception of Kinross, the oldest in the world. They were both established in the year 1716. In the 17 5 years of its existence, the Kilsyth Club, has gained 21 medals, and come off victorious in many important contests. In Banton there are two curling clubs, both of which furnish excellent rinks. The senior club was instituted in 1855, and they have won nine Caledonian medals and two Provincial medals. The junior club was formed in 1875, and they have won in the short period of their existence no less than six Caledonian and three Provincial medals. Banton Loch, being exceedingly dangerous for the practice of this recreation, excepting in the severest frosts, a considerable number of Kilsyth curlers have become members of the recently formed Croy Club. There is also a Bowling Club containing some players of more than merely local reputation. The green is commodious, suitably situated, and well kept, the turf of which it was formed having been found on the Barr Farm in the parish. It was constructed at the comparatively moderate cost of two hundred pounds. The Quoiting Club has a large membership, and is now in possession of a first-class ground. An Angling Club also flourishes, and it is probably characteristic of those who follow this quiet recreation that the enthusiasm of its votaries has gone on increasing as the opportunities of fishing have diminished. What with the pollution of the streams, and the unsportsmanlike methods so frequently adopted, the numbers of trout have been largely reduced, and in some cases wholly extirpated. Football is the most popular recreation, and all the important matches are witnessed by large crowds. The “Association” rules alone are played, and the “Rugby” game is wholly unknown. The most important clubs are the Wanderers, the Standard, the Smithston Hibs., and the Emmet.

The old weaving industry of the parish is gradually dying out. Powerloom factories have not been erected, and the handloom weavers are fighting an unequal battle and are most poorly paid. The wealth of the parish consists in its valuable coal and iron deposits. There are, however, several freestone and whinstone quarries which are worked with great assiduity. Copper is known to exist in the parish, and it was at one time worked on the hillside near Corrie Farm. As long ago as 1791, Mr. Raspe, a famous mineralogist of his day, made an examination of the deposits and issued a report. His explorations and experiments were entirely satisfactory. For some reason or other, however, which is not at all clear, the excavations were carefully filled up with a view to the prevention of further mining, and so thoroughly was this done that the spot where the trials were made cannot now be identified. Near Corrie, and higher up the burn to the west, he found yellow and red jasper, with nodules of agate and porphyry. “If the jasper,” wrote Mr. Raspe, “could be traced here to a regular body, which is not unlikely, lapidaries might be supplied from hence very cheap; or rather, lapidary mills might be set up in the burn, or at Kilsyth, to great advantage, for this jasper is of a very fine grain, and, somehow or other, finds its way already to the lapidary and the seal engravers at Edinburgh and London."

I am not aware that the natural history of the parish calls in any way for particular notice* The badger, the otter, and the pole-cat, which were abundant in the days of the Livingstons, have now wholly disappeared. The most familiar of migratory birds are the cuckoo, the swallow, the lapwing, and the landrail. I have seen on the Kelvin both the wild duck and the kingfisher. Neither the field-fare nor the thrush seems to be so abundant in their season in the parish as in other parts of Scotland; woodcock visit the Gartshore woods, and the ousel haunts the streams,

And now, before we conclude, let us ascend the church tower and take a bird’s-eye view of the prospect. 895 steps—how often have we counted them—take us from the manse to the vestry door. The climbing of a stone stair and three steep ladders brings us to the top of the tower. After we have climbed the first ladder we find ourselves in the bell-room, and we notice that the bell, which, since the building of the church, has rung the matins and curfews, is the work of Keiller & Co., Glasgow. Another steep ascent brings us to the clock tower. The clock is made of brass; it was constructed by John Russell, Falkirk, watchmaker to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, and is a most creditable and substantial piece of mechanism.

The prospect from the church tower is exceedingly interesting and beautiful. Round about our feet the town clusters, and the mingling of the thatch roofs of the old village with the slate roofs of the new town, which is now springing up, presents a very curious appearance. Hard by the Garrel flows; the scores of coke ovens, like long rows of blackened eggs in dumpy cups, furnish a scene of busy industry. To the north the prospect is bounded by the Kilsyth hills; in every other direction it is only terminated by the haze which rests upon the horizon. To the east the greenness of the pasture lands in this late season is striking, and no less striking is the flatness of the expanse before us. The valley of the Kelvin, on which the sun is shining so beautifully today, was, in glacial times, a great river channel. This channel is now buried 300 feet beneath the surface. The ancient river bed stretches from the Clyde to the Forth, touching the latter at a point near Grangemouth. The river that once rolled here was the Clyde, which was deflected out of its course by the glacier that filled Loch Lomond and the Gareloch; it was 1500 feet thick, and protruded across the valley of the Clyde against the Renfrew hills. A great lake being thus formed, the dammed-back waters found an outlet into the Forth by the way of the Kelvin valley.

Looking to the south, we can trace for several miles the line of the great Roman Wall, built by Lollius Urbi-cus, sometimes denominated the Wall of Antoninus and sometimes Graham’s Dyke. In the past year there has been a revival of interest in this venerable relic of antiquity, which is like a shore line marking where the tide of Roman power had once rolled and where it had been stayed. At the request of the Archaeological Society of Glasgow, headed by William Jolly, H.M.I.S., Alexander Park sent some men to dig on the south side of the ditch at likely places. He received an unique and startling reward. At a little distance from the surface he came upon two lines of freestone kerb, running exactly parallel with the ditch, and in a most singularly fresh state of preservation. The two lines of kerb are fourteen feet apart, and their outer edges are in as straight a line as those of our own streets. This kerbing runs throughout the entire length of the wall. The space between the lines of kerb is laid with stones, and, there can be no doubt, on this as on a foundation the wall was raised. The reasons why the Romans built this wall are apparent. It stretches across the narrowest part of the island. It also marks the boundary of the Lowlands. Furthermore, in the days of the Romans the valley of the Kelvin can hardly have been anything else than a great swamp, and there is every reason to believe that the space from Dullatur Bog to the Forth was under water. The wall and the ditch were only an aid to the excellent natural defences against the incursions of the Caledonians. Without these natural defences that already existed, they would have presented a miserable bulwark against the intrepid foemen of the North.

One of the chief Roman camps was on the summit of the Barr Hill; now, it is worthy of observation that right opposite to this camp, on the north side of the valley at Balcastle, there are remains of an ancient Pictish fort. At Conney Park there are also traces of a fort opposite to that at Westerwood which occupied that portion of the Roman fortification. The Balcastle fort is as good a specimen of that class of structure as is to be found in the country. It is ingeniously placed be-tween two rills, and it is highly probable it was, by means of a dam thrown across their junction, surrounded by water. Was this fort a standing menace to the further advance of the Romans? Was it one of a line of fortifications against the further advance of the southern power? Whilst the Romans had their line of camps on the south of the valley, had the Caledonians their line of defences on the north ? The views opened up by these questions deserve a closer investigation than they have yet received. That the natives should also have had their line of defence does not seem to have occurred either to Stewart or Roy, the accomplished archaeologists, who have recorded with so much minuteness their investigations concerning the wall of Antoninus.

Looking still to the south the eye traces for a considerable distance the course of the Kelvin, the southern boundary of the parish. The first syllables of Kilsyth and Kelvin have no etymological connection. Kilsyth is derived from kel or cuil or cella, a cell, a church, and probably sythin, signifying peace. There is a long tradition of a battle having been fought at Chapel Green between the Caledonians and the Romans, in which a large number were slain, and which was succeeded by a long period ot peace. It is probable, however, that syth may have been the name of an individual, some ancient Christian saint, who took up his abode and devoted himself to the conversion of the natives. Kelvin1 is thought by Fingalians to mean the Church of Vean or Bean, who was either a Culdee saint, or Fingal, the hero of Ossian. Banton is held to be the town of Vean or Bean, and the word Beany-myre, or Binnimyre, the name of a farm in that neighbourhood, is taken to be from the same root. How far the Kelvin district fulfils Fingalian conditions I leave to the decision of competent Ossianic scholars. What I point out at the present time is that the Kelvin is not a natural but an artificial stream. The original stream, if stream it could be called, simply oozed out of the primitive bog. Sir Archibald Edmonstone, believing that the draining of the water into a definite channel would be of great benefit, made overtures to the Cumbernauld and Kirkintilloch proprietors to join with him in the carrying out of the operations. They having declined, he made an experiment at his own expense on the lower part of his estate. This proved so entirely successful that the heritors on the south and north at once agreed to enter on the undertaking. They appointed Robert Whitworth, engineer, and nominated two arbiters to mark the line of the proposed river, and estimate the comparative value of the patches of ground that fell to be exchanged. The top cut for a mile was 18 to 20 feet wide at the surface and 10 to 12 at the bottom. The second mile was 22 to 24 feet wide at the top, and from 14 to 16 at the bottom. The lowest section was 28 feet at the surface, and 16 to 18 at the bottom. Trade was dull at the time; the number of labourers that flocked in was extraordinary, and the work was executed in a few months at the small cost of £600.

Many thoughts come to one looking out from the breezy vantage ground of the church tower. Here about us long geological processes, the activities of conquest and defence, the energies of industry and civilisation, have left indelible marks. They have drawn long lines and heaped up curious mounds like those made by the action of the sea on the shore. The coal and ironstone measures, their witnesses these numerous hills of waste, speaking of teleological vegetation and upheaval; the flat valley witnessing to glacial times and the river that once rushed down this green plain; the Roman Wall, suggestive of that ancient Power which overran the world and to humanity was a blessing in disguise; the ancient forts, speaking of the intrepidity of the primeval inhabitants; the battlefield, testifying of the bitterness of Covenanting strife, and the rise of our religious liberties; the canal, like the Roman Wall, stretching from sea to sea, and suggestive of the rise and progress of steam navigation; the Kelvin, taking the mind back to those bogs and marshes which marked the extreme boundaries of the lowlands; the homely potato-fields, reminiscent of the revolution of Scottish agriculture ; the dismantled mansion house at our feet bringing again to view days of political revolution and overthrow ; the churchyard and the church, commemorative of seasons of spiritual quickening and days as of heaven upon the earth; the white turnpike roads, recalling the old stage-coaching days; the railway and telegraph systems instinct with the throbbing life of the close of the 19th century; all these things, with their memories and associations, strongly stimulate the imagination. In the scene around us, we have veritably u line upon line,” carrying ]is from the clear and busy present away far back into a dim and inscrutable past. And should a present project be realised, and a waterway for ocean-going ships be cut from sea to sea, those who see its accomplishment will but point it out as another added to the number of those equally wonderful “lines” already drawn by the hands of nations, empires, and industries, across the face of the district. The parish of Kilsyth has an honourable past, but it never was at any period so prosperous as it is now, and evidences are not wanting that it may have before it a future no less distinguished.


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