Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Renfrew

Renfrew, a market town, port, and royal burgh, and the county town of Renfrewshire, is in the E of the parish just described, and close to the S bank of the river Clyde. It is by rail 3 miles N by E of Paisley, and 6 W of Glasgow. The burgh is of considerable antiquity, for in the charter granted by Walter, the High Steward, when he founded the Abbey of Paisley in 1160, it is spoken of as 'burgo meo de Reinfru' and 'oppidum meum de Reinfru,' so that it must even then have made some progress. The burgh, at first one of barony, became in the reign of Robert III. a royal burgh, having received a charter from that monarch in 1396, and subsequent confirmatory charters were granted by James VI. in 575 and 1614-the former making an additional grant of all the religious houses and altarages connected with the burgh, and the latter making provision, among other things, for the better maintenance of the grammar school; and again by Queen Anne in 1703. The burgh and district gave in 1404 the title of Baron Renfrew to the heir apparent to the Scottish throne, and the connection of the place with 'the ancient Stewart line' is still maintained by the retention of the title among those borne by the Prince of Wales. At the date of the charter of 1614 the burgh seems to have been the principal port on the Clyde, and as is mentioned in the article on Paisley, it had some bitter struggles with that place at earlier dates as to its privileges of trade. Its old prosperity has now, however, suffered decline, and it has been completely eclipsed by its younger and more vigorous rivals, though why it is a little hard to say. Probably when the pinch came it relied more on the dignity of its long descent and ancient origin than on its energy. The town now consists of a main body-the original town-about ½ mile distant from the present channel of the Clyde, and a more modern extension reaching down to the Clyde itself. From the Cross near the centre of the main body of the town High Street passes to the E along the road to Glasgow, with Queen Street branching off it, while Fulbar Street continues the line to the W. Southward, along the Paisley Road, is Hairst Street; and northward are Canal Street and Ferry Road, with Orchard Street branching off to the westward. The older buildings have for the most part a humble and very unpretending appearance, but the outskirts have many villas and cottages. The old town was washed along the N by the old channel of the Clyde, which cut off the King's Inch, as noticed in the last article; but this has long been closed up, though a portion of its course is occupied by the harbour at the mouth of Pudzeoch Burn and the course connecting that with the Clyde. These were constructed originally about 1785, and a stone wharf added in 1835 at a cost of about £800. During the year 1884 fresh operations were undertaken at a cost of £3000 for the purpose of giving greater accommodation and affording increased facility in loading and unloading vessels. After the improvements are completed the depth will be 6 feet at low water, and 16 feet at high water of ordinary spring tides, while in the former case the water area will be 1·169 acre, and in the latter 1·862 acre. Along the Clyde is a wharf, which is a place of call for steamers. The original castle of the Stewards probably stood on the Inch, but their later one was on a slightly elevated piece of ground on the W side of the road leading from the town to the ferry, and although all trace of the building has long been gone the site is still called Castlehill, and traces of the fosse remained till about 1775. Adjacent lands are known as the Orchard, the King's Meadow, and the Dog Row, and the Castlehill and Orchard are excluded from the burgh royalty, though they are almost in its centre. The foundation of the Abbey of Paisley seems to have been preceded by the establishment of a number of monks at Renfrew, as in one of the grants to the Benedictines of Paisley mention is made of 'molendinum de Renfru et terram ubi monachi prius habitaverunt;' but whether the buildings they occupied were on the Inch or near Mill Burn House has been a matter of dispute.

Public Buildings, etc.—The old town-hall, with its diminutive spire, was built in 1670, and remained on the W side of the Cross till 1871, when it was removed, and a new town-hall erected in 1871-73 at a cost of £7500. The original structure was partially destroyed by fire on 6 March 1878, but was immediately after renovated. The style is a somewhat mixed French Gothic, and at the E end is a massive square tower, rising to a height of 105 feet, with corbelled turrets and ornamented cresting and finials. The design is poor, and some of the ornamentation very tawdry. The buildings contain a public hall with accommodation for 800 persons, a council chamber measuring 39 feet by 24, business offices, and a police office and cells. The Athenæum, with a public library, dates from 1853. The parish church, to the S of High Street, was erected in 1861, and is an excellent building in the Early English style, with an aisle to the SE over the burial place of the family of Ross of Hillhead, now represented by Lord Glasgow, and containing the old effigy of Sir John Ross, commonly known as Palm-mine-arms. It replaced a very old church which had been repaired till it would repair no longer. There is a good spire about 130 feet high. The Free church, NW of the town-hall, which was built immediately after the Disruption, was replaced in 1882-83 by a new plain Gothic building on the same site. It has a squat square tower with pinnacles. The U.P. church, in Hairst Place, is a plain Gothic building with a corner turret. The Roman Catholic church (St James), erected in 1877, has 250 sittings. The Blythswood Testimonial, to the W, is a classic building, erected by subscription in 1842 in honour of Mr Campbell of Blythswood. Used as the burgh grammar school, it was vested in the town council on condition of their maintaining it as a school and contributing £100 a year to its support; and in 1873 was, under the Education Act, handed over to the burgh school board. There was a grammar school from an early date, and under the charter of 1614 revenues derived from the old chapelries and altarages were specially set aside for its better support. The Blythswood Testimonial, Lady A. Speirs, Manse Street Infant, and Mrs Campbell's and St James' (R.C.) schools, with respective accommodation for 514, 70, 76, 112, and 152 pupils, had (1884) attendances of 416, 92, 79, 112, and 103, and grants of £389, 8s., £50, 2s. 9d., £52, 4s., £98, and £70, 9s.

Municipality, etc.—The old royalty of the burgh was very extensive, covering an area of nearly 5 square miles, but the boundaries of the municipal and parliamentary burgh are much more confined. The latter line starts from the Clyde and passes up Pudzeoch Burn to Mill Burn Bridge, thence in a straight line S, taking in part of Govan parish, to the Mill Burn about 1/6 mile farther up. From this it strikes straight north-westward to a point on the road near Longcroft Cottage, and then N by E straight back to the Clyde. Municipal affairs are managed by a provost, 2 bailies, a dean of guild, a treasurer, and 7 councillors; and the corporation property is, considering the size of the burgh, large and valuable, comprising farms, pasture land, house property, the ferry across the Clyde, and the harbour dues. The annual value, which was £1448 in 1833, is now nearly £5000. Extensive rights of salmon fishing in the Clyde belong to the town, but they have long ceased to be exercised in consequence of the changed condition of the river, and a yearly sum of upwards of £200 is paid to the town by the Clyde Trustees as compensation. The town council acts as the police commission, and has under its charge a force of 5 men and a superintendent (one to every 917 of the population), the latter with a salary of £120 a year. The number of persons tried at the instance of the police in 1883 was 399; the number of those convicted, 369; the number who forfeited pledges, 253; and the number not dealt with, 43. There is a gas company with works to the N of the burgh. The burgh arms are a vessel with the sun over the prow and the moon over the stern with two crosses, one fore and another aft. At the top of the mast of the ship is a flag with a St Andrew's cross, and from the yard hang two shields, one bearing a lion rampant and the other the arms of the Stewarts; motto, Deus gubernat navem. The Prince and Princess of Wales were here in 1876, and the Duke of Albany in 1875 and 1882. The industries are connected with two shipbuilding yards, a chemical work, a forge, a dyework, and weaving. The town has a post office, with money order, savings' bank, and telegraph departments, under Paisley, an office of the Union Bank, and agencies of 10 insurance companies. A burgh court is held every Monday; and quarter sessions meet here on the first Tuesday of March, May, and August, and the last Tuesday of October. The weekly market is on Saturday; and cattle fairs are held on the third Tuesday of May and the last Friday of June. Renfrew unites with Rutherglen, Dumbarton, Port-Glasgow, and Kilmarnock in sending a member to parliament. Parliamentary constituency (1885) 772, municipal constituency, 898. Valuation (1874) £9417, (1885) £13,884. Pop. of parliamentary burgh (1841) 2013, (1861) 3228, (1871) 4163, (1881) 4825, of whom 2472 were males and 2353 females. Houses (1881) 989 inhabited, 126 uninhabited, 8 building. In 1881 the population of the royal burgh was 5115, and of the municipal burgh 5502.

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a market town, port, and royal burgh, and the county town of Renfrewshire"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Renfrew Burgh       Renfrewshire ScoCnty
Place: Renfrew

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