[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]
NEILSTON,1 a parish in Renfrewshire; bounded on the north by the Abbey parish of Paisley; on the north-east by Eastwood; on the south-east by Mearns; on the south by Ayrshire; and on the west by Lochwinnoch. The statements of its extent greatly differ. By measurement its length has been found to be 8½ miles, and its breadth fully 4½ miles, containing 36 square miles. This is exclusive of the baronies of Knockmade and Shutterflat, which have been disjoined from Neilston, and annexed, the former to the parish of Dunlop, and the latter to that of Beith, both in Ayrshire. This disjunction was quoad sacra tantum, and these baronies are still in Renfrewshire, and contribute to it all their public burdens. Including them, the length of the parish is 10½ miles, and its breadth 5 miles. In the eastern division, which is flat land, most kinds of grain are cultivated to advantage; but westward the ground rises considerably, and though much of it be tilled it is best calculated for pasturage. The Fereneze and Loch-Libo-side hills, forming one ridge, from 400 to 900 feet high, for several miles from north-east to south-west, are cultivated, except some tracts covered with heath-bent and moss. Since about the year 1796 much moss-land has been reclaimed on the estates of Loch-Libo-side and Hartfield. The total yearly value of raw produce raised from lands, sheep, and cows is nearly £130,000. The climate is as diversified as the soil. This, as the inhabitants remark, is indicated by the coming out of the leaf of the poplar. In the low or eastern district around Barrhead the leaf appears ten days earlier than in the middle, and three weeks earlier than in the high district. The highest hills are Neilston-pad (so called from its resemblance to a pillion) and Corkindale-law, which rise from 820 to 900 feet above the sea. From these hills the prospects are grand and extensive, especially from Corkindale-law, which commands the half of the counties of Scotland. The principal stream is the Levern, which pursues a north-easterly direction, and divides the parish for nearly 4 miles into two parts: see LEVERN. There are several other rivulets, the principal of which are the Brock and Kirkton-burn. There are three small lakes. The Long-loch, on the south-east of the parish, is about a mile in length and half-a-mile in breadth, with a depth of from 16 to 18 feet, – it abounds with trout. Loch-Libo is a minute lochlet covering 16 acres. Its pretty scenery drew from William Semple the following description, which will remind the reader of ‘The Groves of Blarney:’ – “The small lake or basin at the east end, which is formed by the gentle current, is surrounded by a number of young planting and shrubs of various kinds, which separate it from the other parts of nature, and shade in this retreat a kind of silence by solitary paths, which are now and will be long frequented by sentimental visiters, and a safe asylum for the tuneful bird.” With better taste Dr. Fleming, in the New Statistical Account, says: “Loch-Libo presents a scene of unparalleled beauty. Its lofty hills, on both sides, are wooded with fine old trees to the water’s edge. Its oblong or oval figure pleases the eye, while its smooth and glassy surface, disturbed only by the heron, wild and teal-duck, swimming and fishing upon it, give it animation. Standing at the turn of the road, as you ascend northward, above the Shilford toll-bar, and looking west when the sun, in a fine summer evening, is pouring his rays upon it, its effect is enchanting.” The third lake, Cawpla-loch, is also of small dimensions. There are several large artificial collections of water for the use of the works to be afterwards mentioned. The streams and other collections of water contain not only trout of the common species, but also trout similar to the char of the lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland. Springs of the purest water abound. The largest at ‘Aboon the Brae,’ issues from the solid rock, discharging 42 imperial gallons every minute. Coal, limestone, and sandstone are wrought. Lime and ironstone are found in great abundance both in the east and west extremity of the parish. As respects mineralogy, specimens of the zeolite family are found in great plenty and variety. – This parish is distinguished for its manufactures. The spinning of cotton was begun here in 1780, when a mill was built at Dovecothall, being the second of that description in Scotland. The printing of calicoes and the bleaching of cloth was commenced about 1773. In 1837 the parish contained six large cotton-mills, eight printfields, and eight bleachfields, besides a variety of other works.
The lands of Neilston, Crookston, Darnley, and others in this county, belonged, in the 12th century, to a family named Croc, from whom they passed, in the succeeding century, to a branch of the illustrious House of Stewart by marriage with the heiress, Marion Croc. This branch became Earls and Dukes of Lennox, and to it belonged Henry Lord Darnley, husband of Queen Mary and father of James VI. of Scotland. In progress of time the estate of Neilston passed from them, and was divided amongst a number of proprietors. In the New Statistical Account, p. 323, Crawfurd is represented as saying in his History of Renfrewshire, that “passing from the House of Stewart, the lordship of Neilston came by marriage into that of Cunningham of Craigends;” whereas Crawfurd, p. 39, merely makes that statement with regard to a portion called Arthurlie, which had belonged to a branch of the Darnley family. Arthurlie now belongs to various proprietors. Portions of it, with handsome mansions on each, belong to William Lowndes, Esq., and James Dunlop, Esq. The transmission of the various estates since Crawfurd’s time are given by his continuator, Robertson, pp. 299 and 300. The most ancient family in the parish is that of Mure of Caldwell, on whose estate there is a commodious mansion-house, planned by the architect Adam, and commenced in 1773.
The village of Neilston is situated on a cheerful and healthy spot on the brow of an eminence overlooking a great expanse of country. Lower down are Barrhead, Newton, Ralston, and Dovecothall, which lie contiguous with the Levern, and may be considered as one village. Neilston is 5¼ miles from the cross of Paisley. Grahamston, another village, has been separately described.
The population of the parish, in 1801, was 3,796. According to a census taken by the elders in the end of 1835 and beginning of 1836, the population then amounted to 9,187, of whom 1,879 were in Neilston village, and 2,738 in Barrhead, Newton, Ralston, and Dovecothall. Houses, in 1831, 712. Assessed property, in 1815, £13,072. The parish is in the presbytery of Paisley, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, Alexander Speirs, Esq. of Elderslie. The church is said to have been built about 1763, but the style of a Gothic window shows that a portion must be referred to a much more remote date. It was repaired and enlarged in 1798, and again repaired in 1827. Sittings 830. Stipend £262 18s. 5d.; glebe £24. Unappropriated teinds £904 11s. 6d. It is proposed to erect a quoad sacra parish-church at Barrhead, and to annex a district to it. At that place there is a church of the United Secession congregation, built about 1796, at the supposed cost of £600. It was a few years afterwards furnished with galleries, and was greatly enlarged in 1822, at a cost of about £800. Sittings 838. Stipend £150, besides a small sum annually to assist in paying house-rent. At Barrhead there is a finely situated Roman Catholic chapel, which was opened by the Bishop on 17th October, 1841. By the above census of 1835-36, there were 1,091 Roman Catholics in the parish, being upwards of one-ninth of the whole inhabitants; whereas, in 1791, there was only one person of that persuasion. This is mainly attributable to the numbers who resort hither from Ireland to find employment at the mills and other works. In 1834, there were one parochial school, and 12 other schools, with one instructor to each. The salary of the parochial schoolmaster was £34 4s. 4d., with fees regulated according to the various branches taught.2
1 This name is probably compounded of the words Neil’s–town, ‘the Town of Neil,’ from a person so called having settled here in early times. It first occurs in a grant of the patronage of the church by Robert Croc to the monastery of Paisley soon after the year 1160. Respecting the etymology, the New Statistical reporter makes some judicious observations, bating the anachronism of representing that date as having been “251 years before the days of Malcolm III.”
2 The Statistical Account of this parish, published in 1792, was one of the three which Sir John Sinclair had translated into French, and transmitted to the French Chamber of Commerce, in order to show the progress which manufactures had made in some of the rural parishes of Scotland. The Rev. John Monteath, D.D., now the venerable minister of Houstoun, was minister of Neilston at that time, and, we presume, was the author of the account in question, which well deserved the distinction it obtained. The present incumbent in Neilston, the Rev. Alexander Fleming, D.D., has worthily followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, by contributing in the New Account a mass of valuable information respecting this important district. We observe he testifies to the peaceable and orderly demeanour of the inhabitants during the disturbances of April 1820 (not 1819 as he prints it): see p. 323. There are also given (p. 342) some details of the celebrated litigation respecting church-accommodation, maintained by him and the parishioners with the heritors, for seven years preceding April 1833.