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Editted Neilston village (Glasgow beyond).jpg
Neilston, with Glasgow in the distance
Grid reference: NS480572
Location: 55°47’5"N, 4°25’24"W
Population: 5,168  (2001)
Post town: Glasgow
Postcode: G78
Dialling code: 0141
Local Government
Council: East Renfrewshire
East Renfrewshire

Neilston is a village and parish in Renfrewshire, in the Levern Valley, two miles south-west of Barrhead, and four miles south of Paisley, south of the south-western fringe of the Glasgow conurbation. Neilston is a commuter village with a resident population of just over 5,000 people.

Neilston is mentioned in documents from the 12th century. Before industrialisation, it was a scattered farming settlement composed of a series of single-storey houses, many of them thatched. Some domestic weaving was carried out using local flax. Water power from nearby streams ground corn and provided a suitable environment for bleaching the flax.

The urbanisation and development of Neilston came largely with the Industrial Revolution. Industrial scale textile processing was introduced to Neilston around the middle of the 18th century with the building of several cotton mills and it became a centre for cotton and calico bleaching and printing, later spinning and dyeing, into the early 20th century. Nevertheless, agriculture has played, and continues to play, an economic role. The annual Neilston Agricultural Show is an important trading and cultural event for farmers from south-west Scotland each spring.[1]

Although heavy industry died out in the latter half of the 20th century, Neilston has continued to grow as a commuter village, supported by its position between Paisley and Glasgow, from roughly 1,000 people in 1800 to 5,168 in 2001. Expansion continues due to several new housing developments.


Local historians have proposed various theories for the origin of the name Neilston.[2] The first element, Neil is a personal name, but it is uncertain whether the second element represents the English "stone" or "town",[3] so 'Neil's stone' or 'Neil's town'.

The earliest mention of Neilston is in the Chartulary of Paisley Abbey, which mentions that the Anglo-Norman knight, Robert Croc of Crocstown (Crookston),[4] assigned the patronage of Neilstoun to the monks of St Mirren's in 1163, on condition that masses be said regularly for the benefit of his soul.[2] G. W. S. Barrow suggested that the settlement may be identified with the follower of Walter fitz Alan, Lord of Kyle and Strathgryfe (and liege lord of Robert Croc), named Nigel de Cotentin.[4]

Despite this clear dating, some writers have given etymological explanations which post-date 1163. For instance, it has been written that "Neil" was a General of King Haakon IV of Norway, who, fleeing from the Battle of Largs (1263), was overtaken in this locality and put to death. According to the custom of the age a burial mound was supposedly erected over his grave and the locality ultimately received the name of the General.[2] In a similar semi-legendary popular etymology, Neilston's origin was said to derive from a stone erected over the grave of a Highland chief named Neil who was allegedly killed at the Battle of Harlaw (1411), in the reign of King James I of Scotland.[2]


Neilston is mentioned in a charter of 1163, when the feudal lord Robert de Croc, endowed a chapel to Paisley Abbey to the North. Neilston Parish Church, now a Category B listed building, is said to be on the site of this original chapel and has been at the centre of the community since 1163. Little remains of the original structure.[5][6] The chartulary dealt with the foundation of the Clunaic Monastery in Paisley and its relationship to a chapel in Neilston, which were both answerable to Rome through the Clunaic Movement.[7] Because of its chapel, which later became a parish church, Neilston was the most important settlement in the Levern Valley and much of rural Renfrewshire.[7]

In the Middle Ages Neilston's position in the Barrhead Gap, a pass linking Ayrshire to Glasgow, gave it strategic importance.[8] Robert Croc may have had a fort or watchtower at Coldoun in Neilston in the 12th century. "Doun" is a corruption of "dun" meaning castle or fort, and the prefix perhaps implies the lack of physical warmth within the tower or the greeting received by unwelcome guests.[8] Despite this distinction of local importance, Neilston remained a scattered community of small dwellings and farms, changing only with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution.[7]

In the 17th century Neilston shared in a hysteria about witchcraft that plagued the land in Puritan days. In 1650 a number of people from Inverkip, Linwood and Neilston were accused of witchcraft. However, they passed certain tests which would disprove them to be witches. In 1697, Christian Shaw of Lambroughton succeeded in convincing a Minister that she was a victim of witchcraft. A Commission of Enquiry, which included the Laird of Glanderston, was appointed to investigate. As a result of the investigation, later known as the Paisley Witch Trials, four women and three men were arrested and eventually condemned to death and executed at Paisley. The Minister of Neilston Church, the Reverend David Brown, officiated at the hanging; he preached to them before the execution "beseeching them to turn to God, God having exercised a great deal of long-suffering towards them".

The foundations of a textile industry in Neilston were laid by the monks of Paisley Abbey who mastered the local woollen trade in the Middle Ages. Neilston became a centre for cotton and calico bleaching and printing in the 18th century. This developed into a spinning and dying industry and continued into the early 20th century. Bleachfields and textile processing brought rapid socioeconomic growth to the village. Neilston was one of the earliest centres of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution; the process of bleaching linens was introduced into Neilston in 1765, and a mill in the parish was the second erected in Scotland.[3] By 1780, cotton manufacturing and bleaching had become the main industry in Neilston; the clear busy waters of the River Levern being well suited for power and processing.[9] In the Old Statistical Account of Scotland (1792), compiled under the direction of Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, Neilston was noted to have two cotton mills employing together more than 300 people, over half of them children.[10] The local Minister was concerned for the children's welfare, remarking on how they missed school to work in the mills where their lungs would be filled with cotton fluff and their skin spoiled by machine oil.[10]

Crofthead Mill

Crofthead Mill (known locally as Neilston Mill) was established in 1792. It was one of seven large cotton mills on the banks of the River Levern between Neilston and Dovecothall, and although it closed for business in the early 1990s, it is the only industrial structure from this period still standing.[11] Because of the large size of the complex, coupled with its short distance from the main residential core of Neilston, it was described in 1830, at the peak of the industry's prosperity, as "a little town of its self".[3] Other mills and factories have existed but have been demolished, including Broadley Spinning and Weaving Factory, and Gateside village and Spinning Mill.[3]

Following its period of rapid industrialisation, in 1904 about 400 mill houses were constructed forming Lintmill Terrace and its neighbouring streets in what was then the non-contiguous Holehouse area of the Parish of Neilston. Additional housing schemes in the 1920s and 1930s led to Holehouse and old Neilston becoming a single continuously connected urban area,[7] described as that of a "sizable small township".[8] Since this time, much rebuilding and further expansion has taken place.[8] Gentrification projects since 2000 have included the refurbishment of the parish church in 2004, an experimental public space renewal initiative in 2005[12] and the renovation of Nether Kirkton House, a mansion.

About the village

Neilston's built environment is characterised by its mixture of 19th- and 20th-century detached cottages, single and two-story buildings. Several mansion houses were built for the owners of former mills and factories. Many of Neilston's dwellings are painted in whites or ivories. In his book Ordnance Survey of Scotland (1884), Francis Hindes Groome remarked that Neilston "presents an old-fashioned yet neat and compact appearance",[13] a view echoed by Hugh McDonald in Rambles Round Glasgow (1910), who stated that Neilston "is a compact, neat, and withal somewhat old-fashioned little township", although continued that it has "few features calling for special remark".[2]

The village is frequently described as a quiet dormitory village.[7][12] There is a mixture of suburbs, semi-rural, rural and former-industrial locations in Neilston, but overwhelmingly the land use in central Neilston is sub-urban. The territory of Neilston is not contiguous with any other settlement.

The Killock Burn and Killock Glen, to the north of Neilston, have become associated with a witch because at low water the numerous pot-holes or rock-cut basins have worn into one another, giving unusual shapes. Locals named some of these the witch's floor, hearth, cradle, water-stoup and grave.[14]


Long existing as a rural settlement, Neilston's economy was historically driven by farming, although a trade in handloom woven garments from the village's cottage industry also existed from very early times.[7] Mills were operating in Neilston by 1667.[7][15]

Due to the availability of power from the River Levern, Neilston, like neighbouring Barrhead, developed factories and cotton mills after the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. Neilston fostered a flourishing textile processing industry. At the peak of business, the River Levern was lined with bleachfields, cotton mills and calico printfields.[7] Passing through the ownership of a series of successful companies, Crofthead Mill was once the biggest producer of spun cotton in Renfrewshire.[16] Thread from Crofthead, and thus Neilston, was traded across the world.[16] It is claimed that thread from Crofthead Mill held together the boots of the climbing team led by Chris Bonington on the British Everest Expedition in 1975.[16]

Neilston Agricultural Show is a cattle show, sheepdog trial and sports and arts festival held near the village on the first Saturday of every May with a tradition beginning in the early 19th century.[1][17] It began as a result of a dispute between two farmers from the village. Each farmer had a prized bull that he said was better than the other's. In a bid to settle the argument, the farmers arranged a contest that would be judged by the other farmers in the area. It is not documented who had the better bull, but the contest grew into an annual event that has become a local custom.[17]

Although agriculture continues to a limited extent on the village's outskirts, Neilston's textile processing industry has diminished. Since deindustrialisation, Neilston is a commuter village with significant numbers of its inhabitants travelling to the major urban centres of Glasgow, Paisley and Barrhead for work. The village has retained a selection of amenities from local shops, leisure facilities, and schooling however.[12] The Barrhead News, a local newspaper published by Clyde and Forth Press, reports on Neilston, Barrhead, Nitshill and Darnley.


Neilston Parish Church

The original Neilston Kirk was one storey high, and was rebuilt in 1762 to accommodate the growing population of the parish. The only remaining parts of the original mediæval chapel are a Gothic window in a back wall and the burial vault of the Mure family of Caldwell, including the tomb of Laird, scholar and MP for Renfrewshire, William Mure (1799–1860).[13] Between 1796 and 1798 the roof was taken off the church and an additional storey constructed, making space for a gallery to accommodate the growing population of Neilston. The structure has a spire, a clock, and 940 sittings.[13] The old graveyard is centuries old and has a headstone dating from the 15th century. The church is part of the Church of Scotland.

In 1559, in the Reformation, an image of Mary mother of Jesus was taken from Neilston Parish Church and thrown into a pool of the River Levern. The pool ever since has been known as the Midge Hole.[7] One of Neilston Parish Church's most celebrated ministers was Dr Alexander Fleming and his Life (1883) contains much of interest relating to Neilston.

In 1826, despite enlargement of the church, it was too small to accommodate the population and the Heritors demanded payment of seat rents for those attending services. Dr Fleming proceeded to preach from a tent erected in the graveyard for a period of about eight years, insisting that "the people of the Parish are entitled to hear the gospel without money or price." The case went to the House of Lords and although it was not successful, the parishioners were subsequently able to return to the church and take their places without paying rent and with no further opposition from the Heritors.[18]

In 2003, in a major refurbishment, six skeletons were found beneath the floorboards of the church.[19] Initially sealed off as a crime scene, archaeologists from the University of Glasgow confirmed the skeletons were around 400 years old.[19] A local historian suggested they could be the bones of former priests.[19]

About the village

Other listed buildings in Neilston include Nether Kirkton House and Crofthead Mill, both Category B.[20] Nether Kirkton House is a mansion and the former home of whisky heiress Marion Buchanan,[21] and Crofthead Mill is Neilston's largest and oldest cotton mill, dating in part from 1792 but predominantly 1880 after much of the original building was destroyed by fire.[11] The mill is now used by J & M Murdoch & Son Ltd., a transport, waste disposal and recycling company.[22]


Brig O'Lea Stadium

Neilston Leisure Centre has a 82 ft swimming pool and a gym.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Neilston)


  1. 1.0 1.1 McCaig, Donald (1988-07-24). "Seeing Sheepdogs Have Their Day". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 McDonald, Hugh (1910). Rambles Round Glasgow. John Smith & Son. p. 197. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Taylor, Charles (2003). Views of Neilston Parish: the Levern Delineated. The Grimsay Press. ISBN 0-902664-71-9. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Barrow, G.W.S. (2003). The Kingdom of the Scots: Government, Church and Society from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth Century. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-1803-3. 
  5. Hood, John (2011). Old Barrhead and Neilston. Catrine, Ayrshire: Stenlake Publishing. p. 3. ISBN 9781840335620. 
  6. McWhirter, James (1970). Mine Ain Grey Toon – A Story of Barrhead from Prehistoric Times to 1914. Barrhead: W. Neilly Ltd. ISBN 978-0-9501896-0-4. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Burgess, Moira (1992). Discover Barrhead & Neilston. Renfrew District Council. ISBN 0-86122-010-2. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Neilston 1895 Ordnace Survey Map ISBN 1-84151-862-X; Renfrewshire Sheet 16.02
  9. "Development of the Village". Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Fry, Fiona Somer (2002). A History of Scotland. Routledge. p. 358. ISBN 978-0-415-27880-5. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Portal to the Past; East Renfrewshire's Heritage Collection; Mills". East Renfrewshire Council. Retrieved 2014-02-16. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Gallacher, Pauline (2005-04-19). Everyday Spaces. Thomas Telford Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7277-3344-3. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Groome, F. H. (1884). Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical. Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works. 
  14. Pride, David (1910). A History of the Parish of Neilston. Paisley: Alexander Gardner. p. 97. 
  15. National Archives of Scotland: GD20/7/312 'Tack Lord Ross to John Stewart and James Dunlope 1667'
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "Crofthead Mill, Neilston". Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Neilston Agricultural Society (2007). "About Neilston Show". Retrieved 2007-08-16. 
  18. McDonald, Alexander (1994). Man of principle: Alexander Fleming, minister of Neilston Parish Church 1804-1844. Alexander Fleming Appreciation Society. ISBN 978-1-899523-00-9. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Innes, John (2003-07-26). "Church's mystery skeletons may have been priests". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  20. Historic Scotland. "Search for Listed Buildings - Results".,COU,PB,CAT,DF,DT:%2C%2C1655%2C%2C%2C. Retrieved 2014-02-16. 
  21. "Nether Kirkton Online". Retrieved 2008-01-09. 
  22. "Warehouse". Archived from the original on 2007-11-17. Retrieved 2008-03-06.