Prepared for the 1875 Edition.
TANNAHILL is a common surname in Ayrshire; in 1547, there were seven families in Kilmarnock bearing that appellation. We have no intention of tracing them downwards to the present time, but merely to remark that the Paisley Poet of that name would be descended from one of these families. The present narrative commences with his paternal grandfather and grandmother.
Thomas Tannahill, son of Robert Tannahill, weaver in Kilmarnock, was born in the year 1700, and Mary Bunten, daughter of James Bunten, weaver in Kilmarnock, and Janet Linton, spouses, was born in 1701. Thomas Tannahill, who had been brought up to the trade of a weaver in Kilmarnock, and Mary Bunten were married in that town on Tuesday, 21st July, 1730. They had a family of seven children, four sons and three daughters, born and baptised as follows:—
|1st,||MARION||Born, 16th July, 1731||Baptised, 18th July, 1731.|
|2nd,||JAMES,||Born, 9th May, 1733||Baptised, 10th May, 1733|
|3rd,||THOMAS||Born, 4th March, 1735.||Baptised, 6th March, 1735.|
|4th,||JANET||Born, 26th Feb., 1737.||Baptised, 27th Feb., 1737.|
|5th,||MARY||Born, 11th Feb., 1739.||Baptised, 11th Feb., 1739.|
|6th,||ROBERT||Born, 27th Aug., 1744.||Baptised, 29th Aug., 1744.|
|7th,||JOHN||Born, 6th Nov., 1724.||Baptised, 7th Nov., 1724.|
Thomas Tannahill brought up his four sons to his own trade of a weaver. The four brothers James, Thomas, Robert and John Tannahill left Kilmarnock and came to Paisley in the year 1756, when the manufacture of textile fabrics was rising in importance and becoming a prosperous trade in the latter town. The population of Paisley at that time did not exceed 4297, so that the town was a very small place indeed. It extended westward from the west side of the Old Bridge spanning the River Cart, to the road formerly leading to the Over-Common, now Lady Lane; northward, from the market-cross to Sneddon Dyke, now Back-Sneddon Street ; and southward, from the Cross down the Water-Wynd, now Saint Mirrin Street, and up to the head of Causeyside. There were then eight old streets as follows:—Main Street, now High Street; Wangaitend, now Moss Street; Grammar School House Wynd, now School Wynd, Dyer's Wynd, Water Wynd, Causeyside, Gordons Lone, and Common Lone, now Canal Street; and other seven modern streets, named New Street, Shuttle Street, Orchard Street, Prussia Street, Old Sneddon, New Sneddon, and Back Sneddon. In these days the pathways at the sides of the streets were of raised earth, and the roadways were considerably lower and of the roughest description, not paved except at the Cross, which was laid with small boulder stones. In wet weather these roadways were nearly impassable from mud, as there was no provision for drainage. The Main street curved round Oakshawhill, there being 114 properties in it, 56 on the south side, and 58 on the north side. The houses were of all ages, and were either one, two or three stories high, of irregular order, nearly all of rubble construction, built with clay or lime,and thatched or slated. There were 34 thatched houses on the south side, 38 on the north side, 22 slated on the south side, and twenty on the north side of the street. All the houses of two and three stories high had an outside stair to the front, leading from the street to the second story. The four most prominent houses in the Main or High Street were, No. 25, belonging to Cochran of Ferguslie, built in 1700, No. 29, to Cochran of Craigmuir, built in 1618, No. 55, called the Bighouse, belonging to Alexander Wallace, Sheriff-Clerk, occupied by the Rev. John Witherspoon, of the Laigh Church, Paisley, taken down in 1786, and No. 94, built by Andrew Sempill, Master of Sempill, in 1580, and were all originally erected for baronial town residences. The houses, Nos. 6, 7, 8, 9, 24, 35, and roc, were built in the Flemish style of architecture, of three or four storeys high, with craw-stepped twin gables in front, giving them a very antique appearance. The ashlar-built houses, Nos. 40, 66, and 79, still existing, are fine specimens of the mansion houses of the merchant princes of Paisley 130 years ago. The houses which were seen by James Tannahill when he arrived in Paisley, and can still be seen at the present time in the Main or High Street, are twenty-two, and are Nos. 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 24, 25, 29, 38, 39, 40, 51, 61, 62, 63, 66, 67, 70, 79, 91, 97, and 100. All the houses of the other numbers have been taken down and rebuilt. The other streets of the town in 1756 were similar in appearance to those in the Main Street, but rather inferior. The houses in the suburbs of Sandholes, Maxwellton, and Smithhills were also inferior; thatched houses of one storey predominating.
In noticing the public buildings of the town when the four Kilmarnock weaver brothers arrived in Paisley, we shall commence with becoming respect at the venerable Abbey. The only portion of the building remaining then, and at the present time, is the Nave, now occupied as the Abbey Parish Church. The rebuilding of the Abbey after the destruction of the House of Devotion by fire by the incendiaries of King Edward I. in 1306, was commenced in 1330, and, correctly speaking, has never yet been finished. Abbot George Schaw, in 1484, founded and erected a high ashlar wall, of a mile in circumferance, round the Abbey garden, and, at the north west angle or newk, he placed a stone tablet of five feet three inches in length, by two feet six inches in breadth, containing the following poetical inscription, probably written by the Abbot himself:
When the wall was taken down, on the Abbey garden being feued in 1777 for building houses, the stone tablet was placed as the lintel of the passage in the house erected on the same site, the locality continuing to be called the "Waw-Newk," now called Wallneuk Street. The "Waw-Neuk" tablet has now been exposed to public view for nearly 400 years, and may have been the silent inspirer of the Paisley Poets, whose names are now legion. The Place of Paisley, or Mansion of the Lordship of Paisley, was situated on the south side of the Abbey, and belonged to the Earl of Abercorn, afterwards to the Earls of Dundonald, and again to the Earls (now Dukes) of Abercorn, and consisted of four houses, two of them of four storeys, each fronting Balgonie Court, and two of them of two storeys each, the one fronting Abbey Street, and the other fronting Abbey Close (taken down in 1874 to widen street). The other features of interest seen by the Kilmarnock weavers were St. Rocque's Cross, eight feet high, erected about 1517, at the east end of Broomlands, in front of Saint Rocque's Chapel and Kirkyard; the Chapel was taken down in 1617, and the cross removed in 1764. The Meal market, erected in 1665, No. 26 High Street, and taken down in 1799. The Alms House or Hospital, erected in 1724 (No. 82 High Street), better known by the name of the Wee Steeple, from the stunted appearance of its spire. In the front of that building there was a poetical inscription:—
“HE THAT HES PITIE ON THE PUIR,
OF GRACE AND MERCIE SALL BE SUIR
QUHA GIE THE PUIR TILL GOD HE LENDS,
AND GOD AGATE MALE GRACE HIM SENDS.”
The reader will observe this is a paraphrase of the 17th verse of the 19th chapter of Proverbs, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord, and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” These stones, with their poetical inscriptions, which had been in the previous Alms House, built in 1618, may also have had some influence in wakening the muse in the hearts of the Paisley poets. The Steeple and Hospital were both taken down in 1808 ; the clock and weathercock were transferred to the Steeple of Hope Temple, an edifice built by John Love, in connection with his public garden of six acres (now the Fountain Gardens). The bell was bought at the price of £14 by the Linwood Cotton Spinning Company for their Mill. The new or Laigh Church in New Street, founded 13th May, 1736 (now the Evangelical Church) ; the new Hospital, No. 7 New Sneddon Street, erected in 1752, and still in use; the Grammar School, No. 4 School Wynd, built in 1753, superseded in 1802, and presently used as a candlework, would be seen by the four Kilmarnock weavers. The ancient Pretorium or Town Hall and Tolbooth or Prison, with spire at the south-west angle of the Wangaitend, now Moss Street, and Main Street, now High Street, had been taken down in 1756, and a new Town Hall and Jail erected in 1757. The Cross Steeple of 120 feet high was erected at the same time, from designs by Bailie John Whyte.*
*The Town Hall and Jail fronting Moss Street were taken down in 1821, and a handsome new building erected for additional accommodation to the Saracen's Head Inn in High Street. The under storey was occupied by two shops, and an entrance to the Inn. The Cross Steeple and the old portions of the Inn in High Street, and the new portion in Moss Street, were taken down in 1870, the High Street widened from 28 to 44 feet in breadth, and the City of Glasgow Bank erected on the remainder of the site.