First off, David Rowand and Jim Smith of Renfrewshire Family History Society introduced the group to the resources that the FHS has within Paisley Abbey. Their two small rooms (one up a spiral staircase and along an unbelievably narrow medieval corridor) contain a wealth of material for family history research – including microfilm of OPRs and censuses; reference books; old photographs; journals of their own and other FHSs; a transcription of passport applications made in Glasgow from the 19th and early 20th centuries; bombing maps of Paisley showing damage done to the town during WW2; and what’s known as the “Register of Bookings for the Burgh of Paisley”, which is similar to the Register of Sasines. Jim Smith is researching the Paisley fallen of WW1, and hopes to have this published next year; David Rowand (known as “Mr Paisley”) is the author of a number of books about the town, and fount of many stories.
The Abbey had strong connections with Robert the Bruce (who received Papal Absolution there for his murder of the Red Comyn) and with the Stewart kings of Scotland.
Over the centuries, parts of the Abbey were damaged or destroyed, and some of the rebuilding took place before and after WW1, despite its ancient appearance.
After a tasty lunch in the lovely Ta Ta Bella’s cafe (the name leads to another interesting story!), we crossed the road to the Heritage Centre, which shares a building with both the Central Library and Paisley Museum.
David Weir and his staff had brought out lots of interesting archive material for us to see, including examples of the exceptionally good Poor Law Records, which start in 1839; some of the 46 handwritten volumes of the Cairn of Lochwinnoch (a local history covering everything from family trees to wildlife, news and gossip compiled between 1827 and 1854); some of the vast collection of newspapers, including the Glasgow Journal which goes back to 1755, as well as the Paisley Advertiser, Paisley Herald, Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette and Paisley Daily Express. There are indexes available, a number of them handwritten.
As well as its thread mills, Paisley was of course famous for its weavers, and in particular its Paisley shawls, and we were lucky in having Curator of Textiles Dan Coughlan guide us around the shawl gallery and explain the origins of these garments (and indeed works of art!).
The shawl gallery has a selection of wonderful woven and printed shawls, with displays on how they were worn with the changing fashions of the day. Dan also showed us some of the looms and other weaving machinery that he has managed to rescue, including a machine for making the punched-hole cards that the weavers used as patterns - it’s amazing to think that one Paisley shawl could require up to 50,000 punched cards.
Paisley has a lot to offer the family historian, and a number of SGN members are keen to return to the town to start digging into these great archives. A big thank you to all who made the day so interesting and enjoyable.