Development of Neilston Village
The development of the village of Neilston coincided largely with the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the coming of industry around the middle of the eighteenth century the village was made up mainly of a series of single-storey houses, many of them thatched, which lay between Kirkhill and Station Road on Main Street and the Cross and Kirkton Road on the High Street, with the church at the centre of the community.
There were two farms in this area, Kirkstyle Farm on the High Street and Broadlie Farm on the Right of Way or Broadlie Road, and, of course, there was the Kirk Glebe. Outside of this relatively built-up area we had the farming community. We were, to say the least, truly rural!
Apart from those directly employed in agriculture, other forms of employment were gardener, joiner, cooper, wheelwright, ploughwright, farrier, and, as you would expect, tinker, tailor, butcher, baker, etc. Many families supplemented their income by part-time handloom weaving. The Poll Tax record of 1695 shows the names in the area to be purely Lowland, names such as Carswell, Gilmour, Cochrane, Wallace, Renfrew, Spreule, Lochhead, Airston, Pollock, Locke, Mure, Armour and Gemmel.
By 1780 cotton manufacturing had become the main industry in the Neilston Parish, the attraction being the clear busy waters of the Levern, good for power and processing. By 1812 there were six cotton mills on the Levern: Crofthead, Gateside, Broadlie, Fereneze, Arthurlie and Levernmill, employing about 1500 people; add to this the bleachfields in the parish: Waterside, Lintmill, Springbank (which was on the Cowden Burn just opposite Crofthead Mill gate), Gateside, Kirkton, Nether Kirkton and Glanderston, which together employed about another 1000 people, mostly women.
Consequently there was a demand for housing, which led to small communities cropping up within easy reach of the bigger factories, and the owners had their mansion houses built. Some employers provided housing for single women by way of Women Houses; these were usually old factory building within the premises, and the employer normally supervised them. The village consisted of communities such as Crofthead, which had two blocks of two storeys; they were directly opposite the present Crofthouse Terrace. Another was the Brig at the junction of Holehouse Brae and Loch Libo Road; here there were a few single-storey and double-storey buildings, and one fairly large two-storey building over the Levern called the Levern Inn, a stage house.
Other communities in this area were Wylies Land, a double-storey building on the Low Road, or Loch Libo Road, opposite the Crofthead railway goods yards, and further down was the Low Banks, made up of single- and two-storey buildings situated just before Clyde Leather Works. Then up the steep hill past the Clyde Leather Works, the Heilanman's Hill, to the High Banks, which was a colony of two-storey buildings. There was a row of cottages at the foot of Kirkhill known as The Gardens, and a single-storey building before the Traveller's Rest known as Egg-Cup Cottages, and there were two double-storey buildings at each side of Kirtonfield Road. The Mason's Arms stood facing down High Street just beyond Robb's Garage; this was a public house or inn with a hall above, and it was a popular place in its day. The great Sir Harry Lauder is said to have entertained villagers in it at one time. Another property in High Street was the Botany Bay, a low building which stretched from the old school to the present two-storey block, Ivy Lawn.
There was a double-storey building and old tollhouse at the end of Kirkton Road. On the Main Street there was Swan's Land opposite St Thomas's Church and Waddel's Land opposite Holehouse Inn. I mention these buildings to give some idea of the scattered nature of the village at the beginning of the century and there were of course other buildings. All these properties have long since gone with the wind. There are odd old houses on the Holehouse Estate that are still occupied - Brig o' Lea House and Hawthorn Cottage, which belonged to Lint Bleaching and Finishing Company; Sydney Cottage and Crofthead House, originally owned by High Crofthead Works; also the South Lodge, which belonged to Orr's Cowden Hall estate.
The first biggish housing development took place between 1900 and 1904, when the management of Crofthead Mill decided to build some 400 house to provide homes for their workers. Many workers had come from Glasgow because of the closing of the Duke Street Mills, and others came from the north of England to work in the newly built spool turning department of the mill.
The houses were built in English style, which contrasted with the rest of the village. They were very much up to date at that time. Still, they had dry closets.
It was not until 1909 that a special sewage scheme was carried out at Killoch Glen on the septic tank principle; this paved the way for future development of the village. Flush lavatories were installed in the mill houses and elsewhere in the village around this period. I think it appropriate at this point to mention the genius of John Shanks, the man who was the founder of the Victorian Pottery and Tubal Works in Barrhead. He started business as a plumber, but by 1860 he had established the Tubal Works to manufacture his patent water closets; these proved to be a best seller and took his name the world over.
A further big sewage project has been carried out at Killoch Glen, which should cope with any new housing development in the foreseeable future.
Prior to 1892, domestic water came from a number of wells in the village: actually there were thirty-seven wells, each having a name and a clientele; many were private, others served various communities. There were such names as the Big Well, the Cross Well, the Chapel, the Toll, and Butterwell. As the village developed it soon became apparent that dry closets and sunken wells were not compatible. There had been several outbreaks of cholera, in particular in the 1850s, with the result that tests were carried out by an analyst from Glasgow University; all the wells were found to be contaminated to some degree, and many were condemned, especially those around the centre of the village.
Following the findings of the analyst, it was decided to pipe water from the Lady Well at Abune the Brae Farm -- the water from this well was used by the monks from the nearby hospice around the twelfth century. The water was clear and pure; it was piped to filters on the Kingston Road and then to stand pipes in the village, which replaced the wells. Only a few private houses had water laid on. Incidentally, this supply of water has long since been cut off. This source soon proved insufficient for the needs of the growing village. The well produced something like 50,000 gallons a day in winter, but fell badly to about 12,000 gallons in summertime. To augment this deficiency a bore was tried in a field on Kingston Road about opposite the Midge Glen Road, but without success. Water was eventually piped from the Long Loch on the Moyne Moor in 1903.
It is interesting to read of the way of life in the parish during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the textile industry was growing fast,
bleachfields, print and cotton mills all clamouring for labour, and there was a great influx of newcomers, many of Irish and Highland origin. It appears there was no shortage of labour: children started work at age six; the women who worked were mainly single, as married women were fully employed at home - they didn't have convenience foods, freezers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners, as are available today, and families were much bigger.
Wages were low, conditions of work were pretty grim, and the working week was in the region of seventy hours. In the early days factories had no siren such as we know today; to awake workers the church bell would ring at 5.30 a.m., or if houses were out of earshot of the kirk a night watchman coming off duty would give a few blasts on a hunting horn. The church bell was rung again at 10 p.m., I suppose to signify bedtime. There was no street lighting until near the end of the nineteenth century, when gas lamps with fishtail burners were erected at strategic places; they were lit only if according to the calendar there was no moon; very often the wind blew the light out, or the moon that was supposed to give light was hidden by cloud, making the lamp standards a danger to life and limb.
It is said that at one time there were over forty alehouses in the parish. By 1863 this was reduced to sixteen because of the licensing law. Bearing in mind the lack of transport and communication, it is understandable that the alehouse provided a social amenity of a kind!
Time has taken its toll of all the activity that existed during the past century; of all the businesses that prospered in the past, only Crofthead Mill (now J&M Murdoch & Sons Ltd.), Broadlie Works /now Clyde Leather), and Fereneze Works (now Thomas Thomson and Son (Barrhead) Ltd) are in operation to some degree.
Although industry has sadly been in decline during this century, the population has been growing quite fast, from roughly 1,000 in the year 1800 to nearly 6,000 at present. We have moved from a series of small communities owned by landlords or controlled by mill owners, and subject to much overcrowding, to rented council houses and more and more privately owned homes; the village is gradually being united, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. It is becoming a suburban dormitory, with people commuting by car, bus or train to employment in Paisley and Glasgow. Unfortunately there are still many who have to walk to the Employment Exchange.
Although we had a good supply of water available and a respectable sewage system, it was not until after the First World War, 1914 - 1918, that any further major development took place. At this point in time the village was divided in two, with the mill houses at the Holehouse end and the old village from Station Road to Kirkhill at the other. Between the wars that are from 1920 to 1940, Renfrew County Council had Kirkstyle Scheme, Broadliepark Scheme and Kingston Road Scheme built, and so effectively joined the two. This was big step forward, replacing many old condemned properties. The Bleachers' Association had a few houses built near their works at Kirktonfield; these were specifically for their workers. As Kirktonfield works have long since closed many of the houses are now privately owned, and while many of the houses at Holehouse are still held by mill workers they too are in the main privately owned.
After the Second World War, 1939 -1945, the Council built schemes at Kirktonfield and on the Kirk Glebe, and a few houses at the Holehouse end of the village on the site of the hostel which was built during the war for refugees from Norway and Malta. A considerable number of private houses were built in this area and on the nearby Kilburn Estate; Bovis, the builders, have completed the building of some 400 private houses; add to this a number of individual private houses, all of which are built on undeveloped land.
At one time we had a thriving boot and shoe business in the village, carried on by Teller and Co. who, apart from local trade, exported to Ireland. We seem to have had a working connection with Ireland in those days.
Shirts, probably the good old-fashioned stiff-fronted type, were sent to a laundry at Holehouse for bleaching and laundering. This laundry became part of Holehouse Farm; it was a fairly large two-storey building and was in use until quite recently as a stable and hay shed. Mr. Hamilton, the tenant, was contracted to Crofthead Mills, and he combined this activity with dairy farming. Before and after the First World War his farm was very popular with the young folks at that end of the village; there was always something 'doing' - if it was not crunching corn or bagging chains, which is cleaning horses' harness chains in bags of sawdust, or feeding pigs, we simply climbed trees, usually for chestnuts. It was a sort of playground for the local youth, and Mr. Hamilton, Geordy, as he was called, seemed happy to encourage young people about the place. Many locals will have happy memories of Holehouse Farm. The laundry building and farm are now non-existent.