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A Brief History of Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire

This page is based on Robert D Mackenzie's Parish History of Kilbarchan (1902) which is available on CD at low cost from Rod Neep's Archive CD Books project.  It's a wonderful resource for anyone with Kilbarchan ancestors. 

Kilbarchan has seen mixed fortunes over the centuries.  Before 1560 the monks of Paisley Abbey owned much of the parish and agriculture was the main industry.  At the time of the 1695 Poll Tax, agriculture still dominated, but other trades of  masonry, carpentry, weaving, tailors and smithies were apparent.  Before 1750 rents were paid largely in kind to the land proprietors.  Cattle were milked, there were few pigs, and only gentlemen kept sheep for their own tables.  Horses were used for ploughing,two or three per plough with a driver and ploughman.

There were corn mills at Glentyan, Locher, Mill of Cart and Johnstone (Milliken) in 1794 -see the map of Kilbarchan for many of the names mentioned here.  A system of thirlage was often used for paying the miller for grinding the oats grown on thirled land.  Thirlage was paid in kind and all grain apart from oats was free.

In 1695 there were 30 or 40 weavers but the 18th century brought rapid expansion due to the introduction of improved methods of weaving and bleaching. John Barbour built a factory, probably at Stack Yard, in 1739 making thick linen,and this was followed by a bleaching factory using water from the burn.  There was also a candle factory and John Houston owned a brewery in 1782.  In 1742 Allan Speirs started manufacturing higher class goods (lawns, cambrics etc) mainly for the Dublin market, since transport by sea was easier than by land.  In 1782 Alexander Speir, John and Humphrey Barbour in company, John How, John Barbour Jr., and John Houston employed 360 weaving looms.  Muslin and gingham were the early home-made products, then the hand looms were used for tartan.  With the advent of competition from power looms they turned to the production of decorative and plain ponchos for South America. In the latter half of the century extensive trade with England and Ireland was developed, but business declined towards the end of the century and many of the merchants ventured elsewhere in Scotland, England and abroad to start new enterprises.

Cotton spinning became important by the end of the 18th century.  Carlisle and Rorison owned the old Red Mill, built before 1792.  In 1793 the Glasgow yarn merchant John Freeland built Gryffe Mill at nearby Bridge of Weir, which at the time was one of the largest cotton factories in the country with 2120 spindles capable of employing 70, mainly women and children.  The Mill at Linwood, "the most splendid establishment in the cotton spinning business perhaps in Britain" was built around 1794, and could employ 1,800 people on 25,000 spindles.  However due to poor trade it only had 75 employees.  Power was supplied by two water wheels, one badly situated so it often stopped working due to tail water.

The parish had 7 coal mines, and lime and freestone resources.  In 1713 Thomas Kennedy of Pennel was mining coal and lime, William Cunninghame of Craigends [1742-65] mined coal, with water being removed by a water engine, and in 1755 there were coal pits in the lands of Kaimhill.  James Milliken, owner of the Milliken estate, used waste from his coal pits at Barrhill to improve his roads.  Around 1794 Kilbarchan coal was only used for burning lime, with household coal, costing 6d per cwt, coming from Paisley.

In 1740 there was a population of about 200 in 40 families, which had increased to 304 families in 142 houses with 180 looms by 1774.  Home looms were on the ground floor with living accommodation above.  The number of looms peaked at 900 in 1840, then declined with the advent of power looms in factories, so that by 1900 there were only 200, now down to one in the Weavers cottage owned by the National Trust and open to the public each afternoon in summer.  Much of the housing growth took place in the 1820s and 30s.  By 1900 Locher Mill had moved on to printing, Glentyan Mill was a laundry, Linwood Mill was a paper factory, and there were flax and paper mills in Johnstone and a thread factory in Paisley.  Today many of the original terraced houses survive, together with old names such as Shuttle Street and Ewing Street, although many of the outlying mansions were demolished as needs changed.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries trams and trains introduced links to Glasgow.  Today a dual carriageway bypass speeds traffic into Paisley and Glasgow and Kilbarchan is a Conservation Area and dormitory and tourist town with a population of about 4000, two pubs and a few shops.  See John Butler's Tour of Kilbarchan for more information and photographs, also GENUKI for genealogy information.

There are two churches, east and west, both with graveyards, but sadly not that many readable memorials.  The churches have been rebuilt by benefactors over the centuries, and the present West Parish Church was built between 1899 and 1901 at a cost of £7,128. Stained glass windows are dedicated to members of the Cunninghame of Craigends, Anderson, and Glen families, also the Rev. Dr. Robert D MacKenzie (minister 1895 – 1934 who published ‘Kilbarchan: a Parish History’ in 1902) and the Rev. Dr. Robert Graham (minister 1847 –1895).  The fine window in the vestry door was donated by Sir Robert Milliken-Napier (9th Baronet) in 1858 (more Napier information).  The three manual organ, (photograph), built in 1904 by William Hill and Sons, is considered to be one of the finest in Scotland.  Elsewhere on this site are photographs showing the church interior and the font presented in memory of Humphrey Barbour in 1902.

The name Kilbarchan means "the Church, Cell, or Retreat of Barchan".  Saint Barchan (Bearchan) was, according to MacKenzie, a Scoto-Irish saint who lived between 550 and 650.  He pursued his clerical calling both in Ireland and in Scotland, at Clonsast, King’s County and at Kilbarchan.  In his old age, being stricken with blindness, he received as a compensation from heaven, the gift of prophecy.  On his death his body was borne to Inishmore, Galway Bay, where he was buried beside three other saints in the church which was thereafter known as the Church of the Four Illustrious or the Church of the Four Comely Saints.

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