You’ve likely not heard of Paisley, Scotland. It’s not a major town, but is situated about 10 minutes by train from Glasgow. It has a deep history in Scotland from religious and economic perspectives and, for me, a personal connection being the town from which my second great grandfather (2GG) immigrated. We took the 10 minute train ride over the River Clyde to the small station at Paisley. Stepping out into the square outside the train station, you immediately appreciate that it’s a much quieter atmosphere than Glasgow, just 10 minutes’ train ride away.
Over the years that my wife has been conducting family history research, we learned that John Quincy Adams left Paisley, Renfrewshire and came to the US, where he ultimately settled in Nebraska and owned a farm, which the family still owns to this day.
The Scottish census in 1841 shows him living with his parents and siblings shortly before he left, at age sixteen. The census shows him as a Tinsmith apprentice and even notes the street (but not the number) on which they lived. We can’t know for certain the factors that motivated him, and later one of his brothers, to leave their home and family, but reading some history of the times, it appears it was one of economic difficulties, something common to immigrants to this day – seeking a better life.
Paisley is home to the Paisley Abbey, a 12th century Abbey that was preceded by a Celtic church of St. Mirin in the 6th – 7th century.
We spent a little time visiting the Abbey, but couldn’t really visit as we’d like as it was technically closed for an event. I sneaked into the church for a look, past the scowl of one of the employees.
After the Abbey, we walked down the High Street, the “main” street where you would normally find most shopping. Paisley had its heyday in the 19th century when it was a world center for producing textiles and thread, employing thousands of people. It also had five shipyards, being very close to the North Sea.
Industrialization and automation took their toll on the industry and its workers and there was an economic crisis that happened about the same time as my 2GG left (1841), when fully 25% of the town’s population was on “poor relief” and one half of the textile mills went bankrupt. This situation was made even worse around the time of the American Civil War when, due to blockades, cotton from the South could not reach the textile mills where so many depended on it for their livelihood. In the 1930’s , 28,000 people worked in the manufacturing of cotton sewing thread in one of the world’s largest mills of its kind. But synthetics and imports diminished that to the point of extinction.
Many of the buildings on the High Street and throughout the town look as though they might have been constructed during the economic boom time of textile mills (mid 1800’s), but have been in decline. Their grandeur has faded; a number of the store fronts on the High Street are empty and the upper floors boarded up.
The First World War took a heavy toll on this small town, which lost 1953 men.
We explored the High Street further down from the main section and found the town’s museum (under renovation), a striking (but now de sanctified) church that is visible throughout the town.
We noted several statues throughout the town dedicated to the industrialists who were both political as well as economic powers in the town and seemed to compete to bestow their generosity on the town (funding church ad museum construction, etc.) from whom they derived their wealth.
We made our way back to the the section of town where my 2GG lived, finding the church where his family likely worshiped (based on the parish noted in the census).
and even the street where they lived, a fairly nondescript neighborhood.
Other industries have taken up some of the gaping holes left by the collapse of the textile industry, but I suspect that the town still struggles with that legacy.
Returning to Glasgow Central train station , we found this sign, which certainly surprised us!
We went for tea at an iconic tea room, the Macintosh at the Willow, creation of Charles Mackintosh and his wife. Nothing like tea with scones with clotted cream!
Leaving Willow, we walked down to the central shopping area , Buchanan Street and were reminded just how many buildings there are built of red sandstone. The architecture of the age when these buildings were constructed is pervasive and many of them were designed in a style popularized by Charles Mackintosh.
We’d heard about the Duke of Wellington statue from our hotel front desk staff, so we were curious about this odd tourist attraction.
The Duke has a permanent traffic cone as a hat. Why? It became a local legend and citizens petitioned the city council (who had voted to spend money to make it harder to decorate the Duke). I wonder if the Duke would be amused? Having defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, he now wears a traffic cone.
After a long day of walking, our hotel rewarded us with a fire alarm about 7 pm. We got to walk down from the 6th floor! Three fire engines pulled up a few minutes after we were downstairs across the street (really, that long?), but the firemen weren’t rushing in with hoses or hoisting the ladders. After about 15 minutes, we were able to go back to our rooms. What happened? Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow.