- RENFREW, a parish, burgh, and market-town, in the Upper ward of the county of Renfrew, of which it is the capital; containing 3079 inhabitants, of whom 2027 are in the burgh, 3 miles (N. E. by N.) from Paisley, and 48 (W. by S.) from Edinburgh. This place appears to have derived its name, which is of British origin, and signifies "a point of land in the midst of the waters," from the situation of the ancient town near the conflux of the rivers Clyde and Gryfe, which, before they were confined to their present channels, almost surrounded its site; and the appellation was subsequently given to the parish, and also to the county. The origin of the town may be justly attributed to the family of the Stuarts, afterwards kings of Scotland, to whose ancestor, Walter, the adjacent territory was granted by David I., who appointed him steward of the royal household, and invested him with many honours. The town gradually rose up around the castle of Renfrew, which was erected on one of the numerous islands which at that time divided the channel of the Clyde, for the residence of the lord of the manor; and this isle, since the accession of the Stuarts to the crown, has been distinguished by the name of the King's Inch. Walter instituted a Benedictine monastery near the site of the castle; but the monks were during his lifetime removed to the abbey of Paisley, which he had founded previous to his decease in 1177, when he was succeeded both in his office and estates by his son, Alan, who died in 1204. Walter, son of Alan, was seneschal of Scotland under William the Lion, which office was hereditary in his family; and on his demise in 1246, he was succeeded by his son, Alexander, who in 1255 was made one of the regents of the kingdom, and subsequently commanded the Scottish army at the battle of Largs, in 1263. James, son of Alexander, who came to the barony on the death of his father, took a distinguished part in the contest between England and Scotland; and, dying in 1309, was succeeded by Walter. This Walter was then only sixteen years of age, but soon afterwards appeared at the head of his vassals previously to the battle of Bannockburn, in which, taking the command of a part of the Scottish forces, he greatly distinguished himself, and was knighted in consequence by Robert the Bruce, by marriage with whose only daughter he became heir to the throne of Scotland, which his descendants continued to possess till the Revolution of 1688. The castle of Renfrew was for many years the residence of the Stuarts; and there are still existing some memorials of its having been a royal residence, in the names of several localities, as the King's Inch, already mentioned, being the site on which it was built, and the adjacent ground called the King's meadow. The manor was subsequently granted to Sir John Ross, of Hawkhead, by the king, as a reward for his prowess in overcoming a champion of the English court who had challenged the most valiant of the Scottish knights to meet him in single combat. Sir John, in addition to the grant of the manor, was made constable of Scotland; and the office became hereditary in his family. The castle, which thus became the residence of the Hawkhead family, was eventually taken down; and nearly on the site was erected the present mansion of Elderslie House, the residence of Alexander Speirs, Esq. Few other events of historical importance are connected with the place. The Earl of Argyll, in 1685, having posted his troops in part of the county of Dumbarton, crossed the river Clyde on his way to this place, when, having forded the Gryfe near the bridge of Inchinan, he was attacked by some soldiers who wounded him and took him prisoner. A stone near the spot where he fell is still called the Argyll stone, in commemoration of the event.The town was formerly situated on a branch of the Clyde; but since the waters have retired from their ancient channel, a canal has been cut, which for the last fifty years has opened a communication between the town and that river. It consists principally of one street; the houses are neatly built, and the whole presents an appearance of comfort and respectability. A library, which is well maintained by subscription, has been established for many years, and contains a valuable collection of well chosen volumes; there is a news-room supported, and an association has been recently formed for the cultivation of the useful arts and the study of natural history. The establishment of a savings' bank, also, has been for some time in contemplation; but it has not yet been carried into effect. The trade of the town was once considerable, but it has greatly diminished; and the port was at one time the principal on the river Clyde, and possessed an extensive foreign and coasting trade. A small number of vessels still frequent the harbour, and discharge their cargoes, consisting chiefly of grain from Ireland, dye stuffs for the Paisley weavers, and sometimes potatoes and fish from the Highlands; potatoes and other agricultural produce are also occasionally shipped from this place. There are, however, no vessels belonging to the port, except a few employed in conveying coal and manure to the neighbouring places. A very convenient quay was constructed a few years since, at an expense of £800; it extends chiefly along the bank of the canal, and the harbour might be greatly improved at a moderate cost, so as to facilitate the access of sailing vessels. The weaving of muslin is carried on to a considerable extent in the town, and many females are employed in tambouring and flowering muslin. A large bleach-green has been established, affording occupation to more than one hundred persons, of whom ninety are women and female children; there are also an iron-foundry, a yard for building iron steamvessels, and some extensive works for manufacturing British gum. The trustees for improving the navigation of the Clyde have their chief establishment at this place, and give employment to a number of smiths, engineers, carpenters, and builders, and nearly one hundred labourers who are employed in the dredging-machines. A distillery for malt whisky produces on an average 140,000 gallons annually, and employs nearly thirty men; the spirit is sent chiefly to Glasgow, and in connexion with the distillery is a dairy of about one hundred milch-cows, which are during the winter partly fed with the grains, and turned into the pastures during the summer. The fisheries, though less extensive than formerly, owing to the establishment of numerous works on the banks of the river, yet produce an aggregate rent of more than £200 per annum. The market has fallen into disuse; but fairs are held annually, for cattle, on the third Tuesday in May, the second Friday in June, and the third Friday in October. Facility of intercourse with the neighbouring towns is partly afforded by the Clyde, and a railway from Renfrew Ferry to Paisley has been constructed; the line is three miles in length, is worked by horse-power, and has a station with every accommodation for passengers by the Glasgow steamers, which touch here on their way. There are bridges over the Gryfe and Black Cart, and a swing-bridge of iron thrown across the canal. The post-office of Renfrew is a branch of that of Paisley, and has two tolerably good deliveries daily.The town of Renfrew, formerly the head of the barony of Renfrew, was, on the separation of that barony from the county of Lanark, of which it previously constituted a part, made the capital of Renfrewshire. It was erected into a royal burgh in the year 1396, by Robert III., who granted the inhabitants a charter of incorporation, investing the burgesses with many privileges and immunities. Among these were, the holding of a market and fairs, the exclusive fishery on the Clyde within the limits of the burgh, and the right of having courts with jurisdiction extending to all offences not capital; all of which were confirmed by successive charters till the reign of James VI., who added the privilege of a ferry on the Clyde, the small duties, customs, and tolls within the barony, a free port and haven, a guild-merchant, and various other grants. A confirmatory charter was in 1703 bestowed on the burgesses by Queen Anne, in which, as the representative of the Prince and Steward of Scotland, she recites the charters of Robert III. and James VI., and gives to the corporation certain property in lands, and the right of exacting certain payments from each ploughland in the barony. The corporation under these charters consists of a provost, two bailies, and a council of sixteen burgesses, assisted by a treasurer, town-clerk, and other officers. The provost and bailies are elected annually by a majority of the council, and the burgesses fill up vacancies in the council, as they occur, by a majority of their own body; the treasurer and town-clerk are also annually elected, and a procurator-fiscal, gaoler, and inferior officers are appointed by the magistrates. The only trade incorporation at present is that of the tailors; they are governed by a deacon who is not a member of the council, and are strict in enforcing their privileges. The provost and bailies are justices of the peace by virtue of their office, and hold weekly courts for determining suits to a small amount, and a court of requests for the recovery of debts under twenty shillings; also a court for the trial of misdemeanors, in which they act without an assessor. The judgments in this last court are generally small fines or short terms of imprisonment. The police are under the exclusive direction of the magistrates, and the expense of maintaining that force is paid out of the funds of the burgh. The quarter-sessions for the county, and the election of the member, are held in the town-hall, a plain but convenient building; the council-chambers are neat, though not distinguished by any architectural character, and the gaol is well ventilated, and adapted to its use. Previously to the passing of the Reform act, the town united with Glasgow, Rutherglen, and Dumbarton, in returning a member to the imperial parliament; but a representative is now returned in conjunction with Kilmarnock, Rutherglen, Dumbarton, and Port-Glasgow; the right of election being vested by the Reform act in the householders of the annual value of £10.The parish is intersected by the Clyde, and bounded on the west and north-west by the rivers Black Cart and Gryfe, which separate it from the parishes of Kilbarchan and Inchinnan; it is about five and a half miles in length and about two and a half in breadth, and comprises 4540 acres, of which two-thirds are arable, and the remainder meadow, pasture, woodland, and demesne. The surface is generally level, rising in some few places into hills of very moderate elevation, whereof the highest is Jordan hill, which attains the height of 180 feet above the level of the plain, and is situated in that division of the parish north of the Clyde. On the south side of the river the lands form one continuous plain, relieved only by a low hill called the Knock. The banks of the Clyde, on both sides, are ornamented with handsome seats and thriving plantations, giving an interesting and picturesque appearance to the parish, which is seen to great advantage from a small hill near Scotstown. The channel of the stream is studded with numerous islands, of which the King's Inch, the Buck Inch, the Sand Inch, and the Ron at the mouth of the Gryfe, are within the parish; but from the great improvements that have been made in the navigation of the Clyde, they are now nearly connected with the main land. Salmon abounds in the rivers, in which the right of fishing is secured to the inhabitants of the burgh by charter. The soil is generally fertile, and in tolerable cultivation; the crops are, wheat, oats, barley, and potatoes, with green crops in rotation. There are some dairy-farms, and many head of cattle are fed in an extensive meadow belonging to the corporation; the cows are usually of the Ayrshire breed; the sheep are from the Highlands, and the horses of the Clydesdale breed. The farms are mostly from sixty to 100 acres in extent, though some few comprise more than 200 acres; the buildings and offices, inferior to many, are nevertheless commodious and comfortable. But little more than one-fourth of the inhabitants are employed in agricultural pursuits, the great majority being engaged in the various trades and manufactures connected with the burgh and the adjacent towns, in the mines, and in the salmon-fishery on the Clyde. The substratum of the parish is chiefly clay-slate, with boulders of trap-rock, resting on the coal formation common to the whole of this district. Limestone is also prevalent, and was formerly wrought at intervals, though not to any great extent: a fossil fish of large size was found imbedded in the limestone; and in the sand which frequently alternates with the clayey substrata, have been discovered shell-fish of various kinds. Coal has been for some time worked on the estates of Jordanhill and Scotstown: the three principal seams are respectively eighteen, twenty-four, and twenty-one inches in thickness; but the last is the only one now in operation. Two pits have been sunk to the depth of thirty-one and thirty-eight fathoms respectively, below which, at a depth of four and a half fathoms, is more coal, not yet worked: from thirty to forty men are employed. About a mile to the south of the town is a manufactory of tiles for draining, of various sorts, for which the clays found in the district are well adapted. The number of looms at work in the parish is 257, affording employment to about 560 persons, of whom one half are women and children; the weavers are engaged by the manufacturers of Glasgow and Paisley, and the men upon an average earn from eight to ten shillings each, and the women and children from eighteen pence to half a crown, per week. The rateable annual value of the parish amounts to £14,992. The chief seat is Elderslie House, a handsome and spacious mansion, surrounded by thriving and beautiful plantations; the demesne is extensive, and comprises one of the finest parks in the country. Walkingshaw has for some years been unoccupied, and has consequently become dilapidated. Scotstown is a modern house pleasantly situated; Blythswood is an elegant mansion in grounds tastefully laid out and embellished with ornamental plantations; and Jordanhill, occupying an elevated situation, commands an extensive view of the surrounding scenery, which is finely varied, and in many points strikingly picturesque.Renfrew is ecclesiastically within the presbytery of Paisley and synod of Glasgow and Ayr, and in the patronage of the Crown: the minister's stipend is averaged at £278, and there is a manse, with a glebe valued at £54 per annum. The church, which is conveniently situated, is of ancient date; it was repaired, and enlarged by the addition of an aisle, in 1726, and has been since reseated. It affords accommodation to 750 persons, but is much too small for the number of parishioners, for whose benefit an additional service is performed at eight o'clock on Sunday mornings. There is a place of worship for members of the Free Church. The burgh grammar-school appears to have been originally founded by charter of James VI., who granted to the corporation the revenues of certain chapels and altars in trust for its support; the endowment at present affords to the master a salary of £36. 13. 4. per annum, which is paid by the corporation, by whom he is appointed, and the school fees amount to £45. The number of scholars attending the school averages about 100. There are some district schools, the masters of which are supported by the fees, augmented by small allowances arising from private subscriptions. Two schools of industry for girls are maintained by subscription; and there are several Sabbath schools, to which are attached libraries for the use of the children attending them; also a parochial library, which, like the others, is supported by donations. A society has been formed for the distribution of Bibles, by selling them at a reduced price; and a female benevolent society has been established for relieving the poor in cases of emergency. Two Roman urns were in 1778 discovered on the summit of Knock hill, within a mile of which are the remains of the Roman station at Paisley; the lower edge of this hill is still called the "Butts," and was most probably a place for the practice of archery in former times. Several antique rings and a key were met with in digging part of the foundations of Renfrew Castle, the site of which is still called Castle Hill; a small street near it is designated Dogs'-row, probably from its being the site of the ancient kennel; and in a cottage at the end of this street is preserved an old fire-place of great length, supposed to have been used for boiling the meat for the king's hounds. Near the Knock farm is a circular mound of earth, about twenty yards in diameter, surrounded by a moat five yards in breadth; it is called the Kempe Knowe, and is traditionally pointed out as the spot where Sir John Ross overcame the English champion in single combat, for which he was rewarded with the lands of the King's Inch. In an aisle in the church are the remains of a monument with the statues of Sir John and his lady, much mutilated; the inscription, however, is still legible on the crown of the arch under which the statues lay for a long period previously to their removal into the aisle. An ancient octagonal pillar, about ten feet high, formerly stood at a small distance from the Knock hill: it was called "Queen Blearie's stone," though no inscription records the purpose of its erection, which is by tradition said to commemorate the death of Marjory Bruce, daughter of Robert I., who was killed by a fall from her horse near the spot. The pillar was removed about the year 1780, and the shaft made the lintel of a barn on the farm, the offices of which having been subsequently rebuilt, it has altogether disappeared. There were anciently many chantries and altarages in connexion with the old Cluniac monastery founded by Walter, the ancestor of the Stuarts; but nothing remains of them but their names, which have been transferred to the lands in the neighbourhood of their site, still called Monk-Dyke, St. Mary, St. Thomas, and by other names of saints. John Knox is said to have derived his family name from Knockhill estate, of which his ancestors were at one time proprietors. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, born in 1841, bears the title of Baron of Renfrew, and is great steward of Scotland.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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