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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter III. — The Parish


In Scotland equally with England, the division of the land into parishes would appear to have been of ecclesiastical origin, forming probably in both countries the sub-divisions of the diocesan territory of a bishop, connected with the particular church of the established religion, for the support of which tithes within the boundary would be allocated; and there is reason to believe this division, so far at least as Scotland is concerned, took place about the beginning of the thirteenth century. But it is obvious that before a township could become the centre of a parochial district requiring such ecclesiastical supervision, the people must have advanced a long way on the road to civilization.

I am not aware of any record as to the precise period at which the division into parishes took place in this county, although it was probably about the time of King David I. There may, however, have been some recognised territorial division at a much earlier date, as Abbot Ailred, in describing the success of Saint Ninian’s preaching among the Piets of Galloway, among other things represents him as ordaining priests, consecrating bishops, conferring the other dignities of ecclesiastical orders, and finally dividing the whole land into parishes—totam terram per certas parochias dividere. (Apud Pinkerton, Vit. Sanct. Scot., p. 11; Origines Parochiales Scotice, p. 20.) But too much importance is not to be attached to this statement, as the word schira is often equivalent to parish in church records. {Idem.)

But it is quite in harmony with their ecclesiastical origin, that the earliest notice we have of Neilston is in connection with the Church. In 1163, Walter, the great High Steward of Scotland, founded the Abbey of Paisley. This Walter was the great-grandson of the first Stewart, i.e., of Alan Dapifer or Steward of Dol, in France, and son of Allan, who, in accordance with the customs of the period, had gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, circa 1097. His family had received marked distinction from the ruling kings of the time, and he had been appointed steward of the royal household, with large grants of land,

Kyle in Ayrshire, and Strathgryfe, the ancient barony of Renfrew, etc. This Walter seemed to have found great favour in the eyes of King David L, who, for “signal though unstated services,” advanced him to be “Senescallus Scotioe” (Lord High Stewart of Scotland). From this office the family assumed the surname of Stewart. The founding of the Abbey in Paisley naturally exercised a great influence over the surrounding country, which ultimately reached the parish of Neilston, for by the early part of the thirteenth century, the church of Neilston belonged to the Abbey of Paisley. Robert De Croc Lord de Neilston of a very ancient family, which possibly came to this country with Walter the Steward, and designated of Crockston and Darnley, would appear to have held some right in the church property. This claim he however renounced, and all right to patronage, in the presence of Walter the High Steward, in favour of the monks of Paisley, pro salute animce suce—for the safety of his soul.

In addition to the Croc family, it would appear that Walter the High Steward gave the lands of Levern to Henry de Nes, but there is little subsequent reference made to this settlement. He was one of the Steward’s retainers.

The Origin of the Name.

The origin of the npne Neilston has given rise to a good deal of controversy, but it does not seem to have resulted in anything more definite than has always been traditionally the opinion of the “oldest inhabitants,” namely, that it owes its origin to an officer or commander of the name of Neil, who, having been killed in the vicinity, had a cairn or stone erected to his memory, as was the custom of the age when commemorating the death of venerated leaders; a custom common enough throughout Scotland, especially in the north and west; and fine specimens of such may be seen in the neighbourhood of Roy Bridge, and other places in the West Highlands, as relics of the days of the clansmen.

It is, of course, open to the explanation that the name may have been derived from some person of the name of Neil, who first began to lay off property, for farm or other building, in the neighbourhood, as it was and is still quite customary to call a property or hamlet by the name of its first or principal proprietor. This would quite, orthographically, account for the name Neilston. In point of fact, this has been the case in other parts of our immediate neighbourhood, where what is now part of Barrhead, but which until within a few years ago stood as a hamlet by itself, and was named Grahamston, from the name of the proprietor on whose land the properties were first built.

This is the view favoured by the late Rev. Dr. Fleming, of Neilston, in his contribution to the New Statistical Account of Scotland, and that also of the Rev. John Menteath, sometime minister of the parish, in his account of it in Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland, in which he says:—“It is originally supposed that the names of such parishes as end in the syllable ‘town’ or ‘ton,’ are derived from proper names. Perhaps some person of the name of Neil had either fixed his residence, or having been killed in battle, had a stone erected on his grave. Either circumstance might occasion the name Neilstown or Neilston, being given to the district. Doubtless, these conditions would meet the necessities of the case, but there is something to be said in favour of the stone theory.

Crawfurd, in his History of Renfrewshire, referring to the tradition of such a stone, says:—“They report that in ancient times a battle was fought (I suppose about the year 1012), where Malcolm II. killed Grimus or Duff, his predecessor, in battle, when an officer called Neil, being one of the leaders of the army, had the hard fate to be there slain. He was buried at a place called Kirkton, where a stone was set to perpetuate his memory; which stone was afterwards called Neil’s stone. And from that the place was called Neilston,” and adds that “the stone is still standing.” Before proceeding further with this argument, I would draw attention to the fact that the “Good King Duncan,” whose murder by Macbeth forms the groundwork of Shakespeare’s great tragedy of that name, was the grandson and successor to the throne of Scotland, to this King Malcolm II. incidentally introduced into the narrative by Crawfurd.

At the top of the first rise on Kingston Road, known as “ Cross-stane-Brae,” about three hundred yards outside the town to the southwest, tradition has it—and in such matters this is often the only kind of evidence forthcoming, not, however, to be despised on that account—that within the memory of men of the last century, there was a “ standing stone ” at the roadside with a history, an important stone, no less than the name “ stone” of our town and parish. For it had in some way got to be connected with the origin of the name of the town, and was believed to indicate the vicinity of a burial tumulus raised over one Neil, a chief who had been killed at a very early period in a skirmish or battle in the neighbourhood. Of the existence of the stone on the roadside, there is no reasonable doubt ; the writer had the pleasure of talking with a venerable acquaintance who quite well remembered seeing it in his youth. But it is not to be overlooked that as the rising ground on which it stood is designated the Cross-stane-brae, and it is well known that during early Catholic times devotional crosses were erected by the wayside in country districts to arrest the traveller’s attention, it is within the scope of the possible that the stone referred to may have been the base and shaft or some such relic of a pre-Reformation roadside cross. In harmony with and so far confirmatory of the tradition that some special stone stood here in early times, is the fact that the field (which is on Ivirkton farm), alongside of the road to the south at this point, is designated in feu-contracts “Stonefield Park.” But in any case the stone is now gone, having been broken up by blasting about the beginning of last century, and built into the house known as “Murdoch-moor,” on the road-side a little to the south-west of the rising ground on which it is said to have stood. This act of vandalism is reported to have been the occasion of high feeling in the district at the time, and the contractor or his representative on the work is said to have narrowly escaped punishment at the hands of the natives.

The Boundaries of the Parish.

The parish of Neilston is bounded on the north by that of Paisley, the two parishes having a common boundary for about eight miles; on the east by Eastwood parish; on the south by Mearns and Stewarton ; on the south-west by Dunlop; on the west by Beith; and on the west by north by Lochwinnoch. By a re-adjustment of boundaries, which took place in 1895, between the parishes of Neilston, Dunlop, and Beith, after the coming into force of the County Councils Act of 1889, the county and parish boundaries were made conterminous as affecting these three parishes.

Situation and Extent of the Parish.

The parish of Neilston lies in latitude 55° 47' 15" north, and in longitude 4° 21' 35" west, and by Ordnance Survey of Scotland, 1858, contains 12,862,202 acres, —12,268,775 acres being the area of land, 192-493 acres being taken up as roads, 381,197 acres being under water, and 19,737 acres being then taken up by railways. Since this survey, the re-adjustment of boundaries and the extension of the railways may have produced some little alteration of the acreage under lands and railways, but for all practical purposes, these figures represent the extent of land surface in the parish. The parish at one time included the baronies of Knockmaid and Shutterflat within its boundaries, but these have long ago been annexed, the former to Dunlop, and the latter to Beith parishes.

This question of the extent of the parish has been much wrangled over, and is very differently stated in the New, and in Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland. In the former it is said to be by measurement, 8½ miles in length, and 4½ fully in breadth, and to contain 36 square miles or 24,320 imperial acres ; whilst in the latter, it is said to be 9 miles from east to west, and on an average 3 miles in breadth, and allowing 503 Scots to an English square mile, it contains 13,570 acres. There must have been mistakes somewhere when the two able writers just named could arrive at such diverse conclusions. It is difficult to think they were working from the same data.

The General Configuration of the Parish.

The land, from the eastern boundary of the parish, where it joins that of Eastwood and Paisley, until it reaches Barrhead, is comparatively level, being only gently undulating. From Barrhead it gradually rises by a series of hills, which are continued on past Neilston to the south and west until, by various gradients, it reaches its highest elevation on the four roads leading into Ayrshire, respectively by Kingston, Moyne, Uplawmoor, and Shilford. These elevations constitute also the common water-shed, from which the great majority of the streams flow eastward through the parish, to join ultimately the waters of the White Cart, the only exception being the Lugton, which flows westward to the Irvine, from Loch Libo.

The land to the north of the Levern valley passes through the parish from east to west as a hill range, under the various designations of Fereneze and Capellie Hills, Lochlibo-side, and Corkindale and Caldwell Laws, and varies in altitude from about 500 to 800 feet at the last-named hills. From this it extends backwards as a tableland of moss, heather, and moorland pasture, to the common boundary with the parish of Lochwinnoch. Through this moorland tract the road passes from Paisley by Meikleriggs and Gleniffer to Caldwell, and thence to Beith, skirting the south side of Caplaw or Hartfield Dam. with cross road connections from Johnstone and Lochwinnoch by way of Peesweep and Greenfield moor to Neilston. The highest points of this hill range are, as already stated, Corkindale Law, 848 feet, and Caldwell Law, 800 feet above the mean level of the sea ; from these altitudes respectively the land gradually trends towards Shutterfiat moor, where it marches with the parish of Beith.

To the south of the Levern valley, the land rises by a series of elevations over the interstratified trappean formations, till it joins the boundaries of the parishes of Mearns, Stewarton, and Dunlop, in the south and south-west at Moyne and Mearns-moor in the neighbourhood of the Long Loch, from which as a broad tableland it spreads out over a very irregular surface, amidst extensive surroundings of peat-moor, heather, and meadow pasture, possessing a somewhat wild and shaggy aspect, amidst which, on the border of the parish of Stewarton, is the extinct volcano of Blacklaw, 787 feet, which has a remarkably well defined crater.

The Long Loch, through which the parish boundary in this direction passes, is situated amid these moorland surroundings. In this loch the river Levern takes its origin, whence its channel divides the elevated plateau obliquely in a north-east direction, until it reaches the valley of the Levern. This, the principal stream in the parish, will be more fully described when dealing with the rivers.

The great trappean formation included in these northern and southern divisions of the parish, constitute the rocky framework within which are all the lochs, rivers, valleys, streams, and glens, that we shall meet with in the course of our narrative, and which give character and climate to our district of the county. In mineral composition and other respects, they are very similar to trap hills found in other parts of Renfrewshire, and evidently belong to the same period of volcanic activity. At various points, it is seen along the hill ranges that the lower part of the formation consists of greenish grey and reddish brown beds of volcanic ash, whilst greenstone and felstone porphyrite compose their higher parts.

Mineralogy.

Coal and iron and lime are to be found in different parts of the parish. The former mineral was wrought profitably for many years at Uplawmoor and neighbourhood, and within the policies west of Caldwell. “At Boylestone Quarry, Barrhead, it is said, fine specimens of prenhite, of a rich greenish colour, are to be found, the green colour of the mineral being due to its surface being coated with a green carbonate of copper, which is found upon the prenhite in the form of small round mammilated crystals. Native copper is also found in thin sheets in the same place, lining fissures and cavities in the trap. It is not very abundant, but there have been specimens found weighing several ounces.” The writer has a specimen weighing 2½ ounces, and has seen much larger pieces which have been procured from the same source. “Native copper is of rather rare occurrence in Britain, having been found in only a few localities.” Very small quantities of native gold have been obtained from a quartz vein in the rock formation which crosses between the upper and lower division of Killoch Glen. Various zeolites are also to be got in Boylestone Quarry.

Precious Stones and Metals.

The following precious stones have at different times been obtained from the tuff, or trap ash, on the south side of Cowden Glen :—striped onyx; spar, covered with arsenite of copper; amethyst, jasper, cornelian, bismuth, native galena, garnet, blood-stone.


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