RENFREW AND THE COUNTRY ROAD TO ERSKINE FERRY.
(Via BLUE CAR TO RENFREW.)
JOIN CAR AT COWCADDENS, JAMAICA STREET, OR PAISLEY ROAD TOLL.
Route—Cowcaddens—Renfield Street—Jamaica Street—Bridge Street—Morrison Street—Paisley Road—Govan Road—Renfrew Road
Jamaica Street to Renfrew, 6 miles.
HERE have been many changes in the landscape of the Clydeside within the past half century: none sharper or greater than that afforded by what is known as the old Govan Road which branches off to the right from Paisley Road Toll. In the times of which I speak—perhaps a little earlier—this road was known as the Greenock Turnpike. Hedgerows bordered it and green meadows lay between it and the Clyde. From Paisley Road Toll one can still travel by the line of the original Govan Road to where the Princes Dock cuts it off, just at the corner of the street-way leading to Mavisbank Quay. The new Govan Road begins at the point where the car takes a sharp angle to the left and skirts the docks with their multitude of shipping—an interesting scene—until the old road is taken up again at the graving or dry docks. The Princes Dock, known formerly as the Cessnock Dock, because of it being constructed on the lands of Cessnock, was renamed the Princes Dock by H.R.H. the Duchess of York, on 10th September, 1897. It has a water area of 35 acres and three inner basins, with a total quayage of over two miles. The area now occupied by this Dock was formerly a beautiful strip of pastoral land—at one period common land belonging to the community—studded with the villas of opulent city merchants. The old mansion of Cessnock stood almost opposite the big crane at the dock-end, and where now great ocean liners are canted in 40 feet of water! Cessnock House had fragrant memories. It was built in 1800 by Andrew Hunter, merchant in Glasgow. He was closely related to the brothers John and William Hunter, whose names are honoured as the founders of the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, and the Museum of the College of Surgeons in London. Joanna Baillie, the sweet Scottish songstress, was a cousin of the Cessnock folk and a frequent visitor, while Andrew’s brother William married a sister of the celebrated Scottish artist David Wilkie, and Cessnock House was a favourite rendezvous for that brilliant circle.
Cessnock House was latterly used by Wm. Quarrier as a home for boys. This property affords an excellent illustration of the rise in the value of land in Glasgow. Andrew Hunter bought Cessnock—eleven acres of the lands of Heathriehall, known as Cessnock—in 1800 for £1,600; in 1830 it was exposed for sale at the upset price of £3,800, in 1868 it was sold for £12,000, and in 1870 for £26,000.
The Dry Docks are constructed on what was the east end of the old village of Govan, a picturesque and typical “sleepy hollow” in the long ago. Simpson’s water-colour in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries shows the “East End of Govan in 1875,” a sylvan scene quite in harmony with the description in Lumsden’s “Steamboat Companion” of 1820, in which the writer, describing the sail from Glasgow to Greenock, says “The first object that comes in view is the village of Govan not inelegantly situated among surrounding trees,” perhaps not happily expressed, but visualising a happy landscape where, with Amien, we might sing—
“Under the greenwood tree
Who loves to lie with me
And tune his merry note
Unto the sweet bird’s throat,
Come thither, come thither, come thither.”
Green fields and trees, and cottages, romance and poetry, have all vanished, and industrial enterprise has given us Dry Docks! Amen!
On through industrial Govan, where are built the finest ships in the world by the finest craftsmen the world has ever seen, and where, in 1777, was established the Old Victualling Society, the oldest co-operative society in Britain. Clearly there was more than a soupcon of truth in the remark passed at the launch of the Czar’s yacht “Livadia” in 1880, when Admiral Popoff described Govan as “the centre of the intelligence of the world.” But centuries before the weavers of Govan thought of co-operation or the clang of the riveter’s hammer was heard, Govan was a place of note, one of the great ecclesiastical centres of Britain. St. Constantine founded a monastery at Govan in 565 A.D., and suffering martyrdom in Cantyre, his body was conveyed up the Clyde and buried at Govan. The Parish Church, known as St. Constantine’s, occupies the site of this early Christian kirk. Inside the church of to-day is preserved a precious relic—the sarcophagus of St. Constantine, and in the kirkyard is to be seen a wonderful collection of sculptured stones of sixth to tenth century Celtic work, a very treasure trove of antiquity. On past the Elder Park, gifted to Govan in 1885 by Mrs. John Elder, widow of the well-known shipbuilder, and so to the pleasant quarter of Linthouse, where we leave the town and breathe the caller country air. On our left is the sadly misnamed Merryflatts, a poorhouse, and, on the right, the shipbuilding yard of Messrs. Stephen & Son, a very old and justly famous firm, established first in Aberdeen in 1787, at Kelvinhaugh in 1848, and in 1868 at Linthouse. It was here that in 1883 the steamer “Daphne” turned turtle after leaving the launching slips, and 146 workmen lost their lives. Behind the factory buildings on our left there still stands the old mansion of Shieldhall, the home of the Glasgow family of Oswald; and a little further on is the immense Co-operative Works of Shieldhall, a tribute to the vitality and keen enterprise of the Co-operative movement. Further on and to our right before entering Renfrew, there stood the nobly-designed mansion house of Elderslie, built in 1780 by Alexander Speirs, ancestor of Speirs of Houston. When the mansion was young there stood in the hollow beneath, and some hundred yards nearer the road, the ruins of the ancient Inch Castle, erstwhile home of the Stewarts, progenitors of the Royal Stewarts of Scotland. Its name is derived from its situation on the inch or island, that part of the land being in medieval times an island of the Clyde. It is so marked in Blaeu’s map of Renfrew in 1654. My sketch of the King’s Inch Castle was done from old plans in the possession of Captain Speirs of Houston and Elderslie. It shows a typical Scottish keep of the fifteenth century, the successor probably of the twelfth century castle. You leave the car at Renfrew Cross, the terminus of this route.
Renfrew is an ancient habitation, although there are few traces left of its old glory. It is now modern, respectable, and clean, and not at all suggestive of a genealogy that links it with the very roots of Scottish history. Walter Fitzalan, who, in 1141, accompanied David I. to Scotland, became Hereditary High Steward of the country and the pious David like unto the generous monarchs of old bestowed much land upon his favourite, Renfrew being included in the gift. From this fortunate steward descended the Stewarts or Stuarts, Kings of Scotland. Walter is said to have built a castle at Renfrew. Mayhaps that was on the Inch, as there was another castle in Renfrew built therein by David I. We know, however, that Walter built a manor house at Blackhall not far from the south bank of the White Cart and near to Paisley, and this manor afterwards served the Stewarts as a hunting lodge. Its ruins still stand and now serve the rather plebeian but practical and peaceful purposes of a byre for the farm of Blackhall. You catch a glimpse of this ancient home of the Royal Stewarts from the canal railway line to your left before reaching Paisley. Great events were witnessed at Renfrew in the year 1164, when Somerled, prince of Argyll, made a bid for Celtic domination over the invading Saxons. He was defeated by the more skilled forces of Walter the High Steward. Somerled and his son were killed, and as late as the year 1772 a mound in a field near the Knock—between Renfrew and Paisley—was pointed out to Pennant, the English traveller and author, as the place of Somerled’s burial. Beyond Inchinnan to where we are going, and in a field near the Clyde is a spot known as the Bloody Mire, a philological note that, I fancy, links us with the battle of Renfrew. Within the Parish Kirk of Renfrew are preserved fifteenth century recumbent effigies of Sir John Ross of Hawkhead and Marjory, his wife. The monument is known as “Palm-my-arm,” tradition saying that Ross got the lands of Inch by overcoming, in a wrestling bout, a great English champion. The story has it that the Englishman held out his hands to the Scot with the invitation Palm-my-arm. Ross seized his rival’s wrists, and with one jerk wrenched his shoulders from their sockets and won the match and the lands.
And from Renfrew to Inchinnan we tramp on a road imbued with all the charm of a woodland path, stately beech and elm throwing grateful shadows on our way. Turn aside at the second gateway on the right. The courtesy of Lord Blythswood permits a right of way past the little gatehouse and through the policies—by a path just at the side of the gatehouse—to where stands the chariot of St. Conval, a monolith hoary with age, and beside it the pedestal of a vanished cross. List to the old tradition. Standing one day on the shores of Ireland, St. Conval, a disciple of St. Mungo, prayed to be borne to the regions beyond the sea, and, says the second lection of the saintly Anchorite, a marvellous thing happened —“The stone on which the saint was standing stirred, and as if it had been a light boat floated over the sea, conveyed the saint safe to the bank of the river Cart, and there staying its course is called to this day the carriage of St. Conval.” During the mediaeval ages the stone or shrine of St. Conval was the scene of devout pilgrimages. In 1608, and for many subsequent years, these stones were the starting point for the Silver Bells Race of Paisley, which was appointed “to be started at the gray stane callet St. Conval’s stane, and fra that rycht eist to the lytle house at the calsaend of Renfrew, and fra that the hie Kyng’s way to the Walnuik of Paislaye;” and in 1685, after his defeat, the unfortunate Earl of Argyll was captured at these stones, prior to finishing his career on the scaffold of “The Maiden” in the High Street of Edinburgh.
A couple of years ago the meeting of the waters at Inchinnan was spanned by a series of bridges—a swing bridge crossed the canal-like cut made in 1835 by the Town Council of Paisley over a section of the White Cart; a second bridge, on which stood a quaint old Toll house over the main channel of the White Cart; and a third and longer and handsome bridge spanned the waters of the Black Cart and the Gryffe. The trio of old bridges have been removed, and their place is occupied by a modern erection, strong, and immune from the floods which, in old times, were wont to endanger the Inchinnan bridge. Poor John Wilson, the unfortunate poet-teacher, whom the scholastic authorities of Greenock forbade trifling with the Muse on pains of dismissal, speaks in his too little known and rather fine poem, “The Clyde,” of—
“When the proud bridge on stately arches rides
And from his height surveys the slumbering tides
Of tranquil Cart.”
The “proud bridge” of Wilson’s day collapsed in the 1809 flood, after a career of half a century, having been built in 1759.
A MODEST RAMBLE.
From Inchinnan bridge there is a modest but interesting ramble for the modest pedestrian. Follow the road which goes south on the river’s left bank; after a mile’s walk branch off to the right, and another mile takes you to Walkinshaw bridge crossing the Cart. This is a pleasant road. We pass on our right the farms of Pointhouse and Yonderton, where is one of the few thatched houses remaining in Renfrewshire. Cross Walkinshaw bridge, leave the highway and take the path by the river back to Inchinnan. It is an interesting byway. You will find the Black Cart a loitering stream, but of almost majestic and certainly unexpected breadth as it winds hither and thither before passing the knowe on which stands the Kirk of Inchinnan. The grey kirk tower peeps over the tree tops at the smiling fields and listens to the gentle music of the waters, while grateful vistas of blue mountain and green meadows, full of scented grass and clovered hay, greet the rambler.
Cross Inchinnan bridge and pay your devoir at the Kirk of Inchinnan. For seven hundred years a church of St. Conval has stood on the holy mound by the banks of the Cart. Knights Templars gathered within its cloisters so many long centuries ago that their very memory has faded and become almost lost in the mist of the years. A few mouldering stones in the kirkyard are all that is left to tell us that for wellnigh two centuries, 1124 to 1312 A.D., Inchinnan was one of the chief strongholds of that body in Scotland. When the ancient pre-Reformation Kirk of Inchinnan was pulled down in 1828 the floor was found literally paved with skulls, grim relics of those fighting mail-clad pioneers of the Christian faith. The sculptured stones are interesting. There are thirteen of them—three of the early Celtic period, relics of the days of St. Conval, approximately of seventh century date; four, probably five, Templar stones ridged on the top and flat below as if they had formed the lids of stone coffins, some with swords sculptured on the ridge; and five “ecclesiastical stones,” flat recumbent stones ornamented with crosses. There is a small square stone lettered and bearing date 1631. This stone came from the old mill of Garneyland, on the farm of that name about two miles from the kirk. Near Garneyland was erected, in 1506 by the Earl of Lennox, the Palace or Place of Inchinnan—visited at least once by James the Fourth—but not a stone remains to mark its site. Sempill, writing in 1782, says he observed one of the palace stones dated 1631, built in the gable end of the corn mill of Garneyland, and it is this stone that now reposes in the kirkyard. And in a corner of the kirkyard is to be seen a collection of iron mortsafes, grim reminders of the days of the Resurrectionists and Burke and Hare. These iron coffin-like instruments were placed in the grave, allowed to remain there for six weeks, when they were dug up and cleaned for future use, the decomposition of the body by that time rendering it unfit for anatomical purposes. The present handsome Church of Inchinnan, erected by the munificence of Lord Blythswood, replaced the building reared in 1828 and taken down in 1902.
Celtic Anchorite, mailclad Templar, and Resurrection men vanish before the sunshine and fine airs that meet us as we turn on to the highway for Erskine Ferry. It is a broad highway with a keen surface, a rare tramping road. It is an old road, a road of memories of the old coaching days, romantic days to the railway and airship generation. We see the Glasgow and Greenock coach spanking along, a merry crew atop, red-faced and bluff coachman handling the reins with the touch of an artist, red-faced and bluff guard weaning music from his great horn, a jolly company of care-free souls exuding the very spirit of the good old times—great times, for we see them “magnified by the purple mists” of the vanished years, and thus alway does old age see its youth in a glorified perspective.
We follow this old coaching road for a mile and a bittock, to where the new and unromantic road branches off to the left, passing en route the farms of Portnauld—a distillery in the halcyon coaching era—and Barrack Shaw, a place-name reminiscent of the times when. at that place the military bound for Greenock and the troopships for the American War halted for the night. And at the parting of the ways, Braehead it is called, we go to the right and follow still the old coaching way. By the wayside a mile further on is Gateside, a tavern and stopping place where thirsty travellers by coach could imbibe tankards of foaming ale in summer, and tumblers of steaming hot punch to warm them against the snell blasts of the wintry days. Alas and alack! the glories of Gateside have followed coach, coachman, and passengers into the limbo of the past. But it has taken to itself new and, on the whole, pleasanter glories. It is the home of the ploughmen of the neighbouring farm. Brown-faced children play at the doors, and brown-faced men and rosy-cheeked women watch them, a wholesome scene and good to see. And about a mile past Gateside we say farewell to the coaching way, and strike off on the right on the sylvan road that leads us to Erskine Ferry. This is a beautiful road, a place of wayside flowers, of trees, of greenness and fragrance, a path where for the nonce you forget the stony sermons of the streets, and where your lungs are cleansed by the breeze, salt-laden from the not far-distant sea. Adown this road, and on your left, you pass the entrance to Erskine House. The Erskine’s held the barony until 1630, and in 1700 it passed to the family of Blantyre; it is now a peaceful home for men mutilated in the late war. Erskine Ferry and Inn strike a picturesque note, pleasing to the aesthetic sense, and pleasing also to the physical, for rest and refreshment await the wayfarer at this spot, and the Glasgow car beckons him or her across the river.