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A History of the County of Renfrew from the Earliest Times
Chapter XXII.—Industries

The farming industry has been carried on in the county, as need hardly be said, almost from time immemorial. Reference has already been made to those by whom it was carried on, and some account given of their social condition. Some notes may now be added as to their work.

In England and on the Continent the monks of Clugny were reckoned the best farmers in Europe, and there can be little doubt that the thirteen monks from Wenlock who settled in Paisley, and became among the largest proprietors and most extensive farmers in the shire, brought with them the most improved methods of farming then known, and had a great and enduring influence upon the development of agriculture throughout the whole of the district. Little is known of their methods, but their Rental Book, which was begun by Abbot Crichton, April 30, 1460, and comes down to the time of the Reformation, contains evidence to justify the opinion that, like other monastic estates, theirs were among the best managed and the best cultivated in Scotland.

The crops raised were wheat, oats, and barley. Most of the rents were payable in kind, and other of the farmers’ occupations may be gathered from the fact that among the items thus payable were stirks, calves, wedders, poults, capons, geese, and cheese. Wool and flax were grown. The Abbey had an orchard, a kail yard, and a columbarium. The other proprietors had the same. The farmer would have his kail yard, and perhaps his orchard, but certainly not his dovecot, the inhabitants of which he would regard as his natural enemies.

Every proprietor had his mill, or mills, to which his tenants were “ thirled.” His mill dues might form a considerable part of his revenue. Any of the Abbey’s tenants grinding his corn elsewhere than at the Abbot’s mill to which he was thirled was fined 100 shillings, and might lose his holding. A similar rule held elsewhere. The rate of multure at the mill of Paisley was every twenty-first peck, besides the dues of the miller and his servants, namely, “ three fills of meal of a dish called the augerem, containing six pounds of Dutch weight, for fifteen bolls, two fills for ten bolls, and one fill for five bolls, with one streaked dishfull of meal of the said dish for every boll of sheling.”

According to the rules drawn up by the Abbot and Convent for their tenantry, no man could set croft land to another without leave from the Abbot; “ he that dirties his land with guld and does not clean it by Lammas shall pay a merk without mercy, and if the land be afterwards found dirty all his goods shall be escheat.” Altering landmarks was a serious offence ; animals for sale, whether marts, wedders, or fed swine, had to be offered first at usual and compatible prices to the Abbot’s officers, under penalty; rents had to be paid punctually, and assistance to be promptly given for the repair of mill dams and for the pounding of strange cattle; brawlers and strikers were fined ; those proved guilty of adultery, or of destroying the Abbot’s wood, were forfeited.

Whether these or similar rules prevailed on the other estates in the shire is not known, but there can be no doubt that, from the end of the twelfth century to the middle of the sixteenth, the agricultural industry was carried on in the county with, at least, fair success. There was no cry of poverty. While other parts of the country were suffering from famine, pestilence, and leprosy, the shire of Renfrew was comparatively free from these plagues. The pest usually followed close upon the heels of famine, and both of them may have been here more frequently than the records mention; but, so far as the records go, famine was here only once during the period referred to, that is, during the year 1588. The pest was here also in that year; but, though it was expected in the years 1602-3-4, there is no sign of its actual presence till 1645-46, when it seems to have been brought by infection, for there is no word of scarcity of food. As for leprosy, then and for some time afterwards so common in the country, it is referred to at most but thrice in the Records of the Town Council of Paisley. All this goes to show, not only that the shire was on the whole healthy, but also that during the period referred to, with the exception of 1588, there was always a sufficient supply of food, which, for the period, is an excellent proof that the agricultural industry was then successfully carried on.

Similar proofs during the next century will with difficulty be found. Civil and religions wars are not favourable to agriculture ; neither are foreign wars, which drain the land of its labouring population. In 1645-6, as we have seen, the plague was here, when apparently there was no lack of food. In 1696 came the “dark years,” the “ hungry years,” or, as they were called by the Jacobites, “ King William’s years,” the memory of which survived for generations. During this disastrous period, agriculture had no chance, either in Renfrewshire or anywhere else in the country. “ The crops were blighted by easterly ‘ haars ’ or mists, by sunless, drenching summers, by storms, and by early bitter frosts and deep snow in autumn. For seven years this calamitous weather continued — the corn rarely ripening, and the green, withered grain being shorn in December amidst pouring rain or pelting snowstorms. Even in the months of January and February, in some districts, many of the starving people were still trying to reap the remains of their ruined crops of oats, blighted by the frosts, perished from weakness, cold, and hunger. The sheep and oxen died in thousands, the prices of everything, among a peasantry that had nothing, went up to famine pitch, and a large proportion of the population in rural districts was destroyed by disease and want.” The famine was here again in 1709, and in 1740 and in 1760, bringing ruin to the farmer and starvation to the people. Under these conditions, improvement or success was impossible. Drained of his capital, the farmer had no money with which to buy seed, or implements, or to fence in his land.

After the famine of 1760, things began to brighten. Proprietors and tenants became alive to the advantage of having their lands enclosed. Before the middle of the century there were few fences ; but, by the year 1782, most of the good land in the shire had been enclosed with dykes or hedges. Much more energy was thrown into the work. The farmer began to bestir himself, and the proprietor to take more interest in the land. The tentative efforts which had been made in the earlier part of the century, and had sometimes landed the innovator in bankruptcy, together with the hard-won experience they had brought, were beginning to bear fruit. The practice of letting land for short terms—of two or five years—was discontinued. “ As they came into the laird’s hands, several mailings or small tenancies were combined into one farm and let to ‘ substantial ’ tenants, who came under agreement, with a lease of nineteen years, to carry out intelligent modes of agriculture with regard to liming, ploughing, sowing, the use of artificial grasses, and the due rotation of crops. Under new conditions, the fields were enclosed, ground was drained, limed, and manured ; ridges were straightened and levelled ; waste places were reclaimed; hedges and dykes were raised, the miserable gray oats—or ‘ female corn ’—and bere gave place to prolific grains ; and potatoes and turnips in the field provided provender for cattle and food for the people, who were now spared the dread of periodical dearth.” The causes which led to these great and important changes were various, and need not here be dwelt upon. They were operative throughout the whole of the country, and, though the statements above cited have a general application, there was no part of the country of which they were more strictly true than they were of the shire of Renfrew.

Writing in the year 1811, Mr. Wilson, in the preface to his General View of the Agriculture of Renfrewshire, remarks of the shire : “ its progress in agriculture has, of late, been so considerable, as to render it, even on that account, an object of importance,” and in the pages of his volume he shows wherein the progress consisted. Some of the facts he enumerates may here be set down as bearing upon the history of farming in the district.

“As the farms in the county are small,” he observes, “ the tenants have not such extensive accommodation of farm houses and farm offices as in many other counties of the kingdom. There are, however,” he goes on to say, “ many good farm houses ; and the latest built farm offices are, in general, well constructed. The stable and byre, or cowhouse, were commonly in the same range of building with the dwelling house, and the barn detached; many of the farmers still preferring this arrangement of the buildings to any other. The neatest and best farm steadings are now generally in form of a square or court; on one side the dwelling house is situated; the opposite side being commonly left open. The houses are usually one storey high, built with stone and lime and covered with thatch. In many instances the farm steadings are no better than the houses of the cottagers, only with some additional room. But, while the farms are so small, and the present habits and modes of life of many of the farmers are retained, it would be injudicious to erect houses in a superior style.”

Farms exceeding 100 acres in extent of good arable land, he remarks, were rare. The rents in 1795 ran from 20 to 150; grazing farms seldom exceeded a rental of 150, though here and there in the lower part of the shire pastures were let at 3 per acre and upwards. The entire yearly rental in 1795 of the 122,646 Scots acres contained in the county was about 62,200 stg., or an average of about 10s. 2d. per acre. In 1810, there were twenty-eight farms in the shire with rentals ranging from 140 to 450 a year. The average rent per acre in that year had risen to 18s. 3d. By this time, the old method of paying the rent, or part of it, in kind and service had been discontinued in favour of payment in money.

Leases were generally granted for nineteen years, but many proprietors were beginning to reduce them to ten or twelve. The tenants were commonly bound to keep two-thirds of their farms in grass, so that the land might be pastured double the time it was ploughed. Strict rules for the rotation of crops were, as a rule, prescribed. The tenants were usually bound to dung, labour, and manure their farms in a complete and efficient manner, and to crop them according to the rules of good husbandry. Lime was extensively used, as much as 12,000 worth being annually applied.

The county had by this time been well enclosed, in the highest grounds chiefly with stone dykes, in the lower grounds with hedges and ditches. To this, in part, is attributed a considerable increase in the rents on some estates. An estate of seven small farms in the parish of Neilston, which in 1765 yielded 120, let in 1811 for 800; another in the same parish, which in 1768 let at 216, was let in 1811 for 800 ; and one in the parish of Paisley, which yielded, in 1765, 233, brought, in 1811, 1,300. In the arable parts of the shire, the enclosures were generally from five to twelve acres in extent.

The number of farms was on the decrease, showing that small farms were being united. Between the years 1695 and 1795, the number of farms in the following parishes, Eaglesham, Mearns, Neilston (including Knockmadie and Shutterflat), Cathcart, Kilbarchan, Lochwinnoch, Inchinnan, and Erskine, had fallen from 1,007 to 721, showing a decrease during the century of 286.

The crops raised were oats, bere, barley, wheat, beans, and pease. The culture of wheat had, in 1811, recently increased, but that of beans and pease had decreased. Very few turnips were sown. Potatoes had been introduced in 1750, and were gaining ground. Carrots were occasionally raised ; so were cabbages and Swedish turnips. Flax was sown in small quantities in Lochwinnoch and Kilbarchan. In good ground, oats produced from 8 to 10 bolls per acre ; barley, from 6 to 8 ; wheat, from 8 to 12 ; beans and pease, from 5 to 8 ; and potatoes, from 45 to 50.

In a great part of the shire, dairy farming was carried on. Cows from the counties of Perth, Stirling, and Dumbarton were fattened, but few bullocks. Alderney cows were introduced in 1780, and crossed with a Dutch breed. The produce of the cows was sent to Glasgow, Paisley, and Greenock. Butter was made from milk, seldom or never from cream. “ The dairy seems at all times to have been an important object in Renfrewshire.” Few farms were stocked with sheep, and little attention was paid to the breed. On the higher grounds of Inverkip, Kilmacolm, Eaglesham, and Neilston, were a few small flocks of the blackfaced or Highland species. In 1810, a number of merino sheep were introduced. Great attention was paid to draught horses. Few were bred in the county; most of them were obtained from the shires of Lanark and Ayr; chiefly from the former, and mostly of the Carnwath breed. Oxen were used both for the plough and the cart.

Since Mr. Wilson wrote, great changes have taken place in the industry. Most of the improvements he suggested, and many others, have been made. During the ninety years which have elapsed, the industry, it may almost be said, has been placed on an entirely new footing. As far as possible, it has kept pace with the extraordinary development which has been brought about in the trade and commerce of the shire. More energy, more capital, more skill, and more experience have been brought to bear upon it. An adequate description of what has been done in connection with it would be out of place in a general history of the county. Here it must suffice to say that the best methods are now employed by men who, though cautious, are prudent, and always ready to avail themselves of the assured results of science. The greater part of the farming in the shire is still dairy, and, notwithstanding the heavy competition of the shires of Ayr and Dumfries, is successfully carried on. In some parts, the arable farming will compare favourably with the best in the Lothians. As a class, the farmers are aware that their methods are not altogether what they might be, and are making strenuous efforts to improve them.

A few years after Mr. Wilson’s volume was published (1812), a Ploughing Club was formed in the shire. It has since developed into the Renfrewshire Agricultural Society, which has largely contributed to the progress of the industry. The Society holds an Annual Show, at which valuable prizes are given to successful competitors. Each year a ploughing match is held, and once a year the Society meets in Paisley to listen to a lecture delivered by some well-known authority in agricultural matters, and afterwards discusses the views set forth in the lecture.

The entries at the Annual Show average, in all classes, about 800. The value of the prizes distributed each year at the Show and at the ploughing match amounts to about 600.

The weaving industry can claim an equal antiquity with the farming. Perhaps it is older. At any rate, it has been carried on, like that of farming, from time immemorial. From a very remote antiquity, spinning was an almost daily occupation of the women ; every village had its weaver ; and many of the farmers eked out their living by working at the loom. Flax and wool were woven, but only the coarser fabrics were made, the finer sorts being obtained from abroad. According to the Poll Tax Roll, made up in 1695, there were 66 weavers in the burgh of Paisley, 32 in the Abbey Parish, from 30 to 40 in Kilbarchan, 9 in Kilmacolm, and a few in Renfrew. After the Union, in 1707, the industry rapidly increased in the shire, and the finer sort of goods was made. In 1789, some 10,000 hands were employed in Paisley alone in the manufacture of silk gauze, and 12,000 in the manufacture of lawn, cambric, thread gauze, and muslins. During the depression which occurred in the industry in 1826, Paisley had 3,000 looms standing idle ; out of 700, Kilbarchan had 300 in the same condition ; and Houston, 50 out of 84. Weaving was also carried on in Pollokshaws ; but the centre of the industry was Paisley, the warehouses of which, when trade was good, kept all the looms in Renfrew and the surrounding villages employed. After the introduction of the shawl trade into Paisley, the Paisley weavers became as famous as their goods, which were woven with great skill and were often remarkable for the beauty of their designs. The hand-loom has now been almost everywhere superseded by the power-loom, though here and there a weaver may still be found driving his shuttle and making a scanty living by it. Muslin is still woven in the county, especially at Paisley and at Pollokshaws. At the latter place, the finer sorts of muslin are produced.

The manufacture of thread was first successfully carried on in the shire by Mrs. Miller, the widow of the Rev. Mr. Miller, minister of Kilmaurs, whom we have already met with as Christian Shaw, the daughter of Shaw of Bargarran. Her thread, which was dexterously spun and well bleached, soon acquired a local fame as the best produced. Lady Blantyre carried examples of it to Bath, where it was greatly admired ; orders were given for it, and Mrs. Miller soon found her business increasing. In 1722, the industry was introduced into Paisley, where, after a short struggle, it was greatly extended, the thread produced competing successfully with that made in Dundee and Aberdeen. For the first few years the value of the thread made in Paisley did not exceed 1,000 per annum; but, as the industry was carried on with spirit and enterprise, in 1744 there were 93 mills in the town employed in twisting the thread. In 1781, the number of mills had increased to 132, and, in 1791, to 137, producing thread to the annual value of 60,000. Later on, the annual value rose to about 100,000; but in 1812, owing to the disturbed state of the Continent, the industry greatly declined. The kind of thread made was white linen, and was known as ounce or nun’s thread.

Cotton spinning was introduced into the county in 1780, when the first mill was erected upon the water of Levern, at Barrhead, in the parish of Neilston. Soon after, another was erected at Busby, and, in 1782, a large mill of six stories, 112 feet long by 31 feet wide, was built at Johnstone. The Red Mill on the Gryfe was built before 1792 ; and the Gryfe Mill, both in the parish of Kilbarchan, in 1793. In the latter, there were 2,120 spindles, capable of giving employment to seventy individuals, but, for the most part, to women and children. The mill at Linwood, also in the parish of Kilbarchan, described as “ the most splendid establishment in the cotton spinning business perhaps in Britain,” was nearing completion in 1794, and was intended to give employment to 1,800 hands ; but for some time, owing to the state of trade, only some 75 were employed in it. Before the end of the century, however, mills had been erected on the banks of most of the streams and rivers in the shire. In 1812, nineteen were scattered over the county, besides others in Pollokshaws and Paisley, all giving employment to 932 men, 2,449 women, and 1,792 children, and producing cotton yarn of the annual value of 630,000.

Bleachfields were at one time fairly numerous in the shire. The most extensive were probably those along the Espedair and Candren burns, the waters of the latter being supposed to possess a special virtue for bleaching purposes. The industry was also carried on, among other places, at Pollokshaws, Neilston, Linwood, Middleton, and in the village of Kilbarchan. The bleachfields at Middleton and Linwood were connected with the spinning mills there. At present, there are large bleach-works at Howwood, Paisley, Neilston, Barrhead, Mearns, and Houston.

Print-works are to be found at Netherlee, in the parish of Cathcart, at Thornliebank, Barrhead, Neilston, Arkleston, near Paisley, Newton Mearns, and in the parish of Kilbarchan.

Dyeing is extensively carried on at Glenfield, Paisley, and in the parish of Cathcart.

Soon after the foundation of their monastery, the monks had a fulling mill on the Espedair. In 1695, there were two fulling mills in the parish of Kilbarchan. The scouring and cloth-finishing industries are extensively carried on at Glenfield and in the town of Paisley.

Tanning is an ancient industry in the shire. As far back as October 10, 1594, the Town Council of Paisley issued an ordinance forbidding any one to “lay ony lymit hydis in the water of Cairt abuif William Langis duir,” and for a long time bark for the Paisley tanners was one of the very few imports at the port of Renfrew.

Mining and quarrying are extensively carried on in the county. Excellent building stone is found in various places, especially at Giffnock and Wemyss Bay. Coal is obtained in the parish of Cathcart, at Hurlet, and as far west as Bishopton. The mines at Hurlet have been worked for upwards of three hundred years. At Quarrelton, the seam is 50 feet thick. Lime of excellent

quality has long been obtained at Darnley, Arden, and Hurlet. The limestone bed at Barrhead has long been worked as a “ cement stone.” Brick and tile works are scattered over the county. A thick seam of clay is worked near Paisley, and used for making ornamental pottery and white enamelled ware.

Shipbuilding gives employment to many hundreds of hands at Greenock, Port-Glasgow, Renfrew, Scotstoun, and Paisley.

There are large establishments for the manufacture of engines, boilers, tools, and all kinds of machinery at Greenock, Port-Glasgow, Johnstone, Barrhead, Paisley, Kinning Park, and Cathcart. At Barrhead and Hawkhead are large sanitary engineering works.

Other industries carried on in the county are the manufacture of starch, corn-flour, tobacco, furniture, confectioneries and preserves, soap-making, carpet weaving, etc. There are several distilleries and chemical works in the county. Paper is largely made at Paisley, Linwood, and in the parish of Kilbarchan. At Paisley, Lochwinnoch, and Houston many people were at one time engaged in the embroidery industry. At Houston, this industry has recently been revived.

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