Crane at Barclay Curle Shipyard
|Area:||245 square miles|
|County flower:||Bogbean |
The County of Renfrew is a small but populous shire on the banks of the River Clyde. Its county town is Renfrew, though Renfrew is far from the largest town, a prize which, outside the parts within the Glasgow conurbation, belongs to Paisley.
The county lies on the south bank of the Clyde, stretching from the southern Glasgow suburbs to the coast opposite Cowal. It is bounded to the north by the River Clyde and on the north and the west by the Firth of Clyde. To the east of Lanarkshire and to the south, Ayrshire. A small detached portion of the parish of Renfrew stands on the northern bank of the Clyde, surrounded on the landward side by Dumbartonshire.
The main towns of Renfrewshire are in the east of the shire, within Glasgow or close by. The largest town is Paisley, an industrial town west of Glasgow. Renfrew itself lies a few miles northward on the bank of the Clyde and almost contiguous with the Glasgow conurbation.
The M8 and A8 run westward along the Firth of Clyde. The Firth of Clyde is a major commercial and industrial centre, and this coast is lined with shipyards, once the busiest in the Empire. Here are Port Glasgow and Greenock, and at the westernmost the more modest resort and passenger ferry port at Gourock.
The east of Renfrewshire is characterized by urban growth. To the west south of the coastal strip is higher ground which remains largely unspoilt.
In 2002, the charity Plantlife picked as Renfrewshire's county flower the bogbean, also known locally as buckbean, marsh trefoil or bog-nut.
The lie of the land
Renfrewshire lies along the broad waters of the River Clyde and along the Firth of Clyde, and along this coast are many of the towns, some absorbed within the "Greater Glasgow" conurbation, which were founded and grew with the industrialisation of the Clyde. Above the coastal land the county consists of low moorland, rising to such modest hills as those of the Renfrewshire Heights.
Only towards the Ayrshire border and that of Lanarkshire on the south-east are there any great heights in Renfrewshire and the county's surface is undulating rather than rugged. On the south-west towards Ayrshire the greatest hills are the Hill of Stake (standing at 1,713 feet; the county top), East Girt Hill (1,673 feet), Misty Law (1,663 feet) and Creuch Hill (1,446 feet). Much of the higher land in the centre is well wooded.
The upper scenery of the county can be wind-blown, wild and bleak, below the withered heights and fine pasturelands beside the rivers.
Strathgryfe is the only considerable valley in the shire. The wider district of the same name is the origin of the county itself. Strathgryfe extends from the reservoir to below Bridge of Weir, a distance of 10 miles. The scenery at its head is somewhat wild and bleak, but the lower reaches are pasture land. The wooded ravine of Glenkillock, to the south of Paisley, is watered by Killock Burn, on which are three falls.
Early Renfrewshire was in the lands of those Britons who did not bow the knee readily to the Romans, though the Roman did come and in AD 84 built the fort at Barochan, and for a time Renfrewshire was within a Roman province, some miles south of the frontier.
The earliest sign of the hand of man found here is in the remains of an Iron Age fort in the Busby area, and a pre-Roman village in Overlee. When the Romans advanced in the year 80 from the Solway Firth, they found the lands here occupied by the Damnonii tribe. The principal Roman stronghold in the area was at Uanduara, a fort on high ground now covered by the houses and streets of Paisley, though traces may yet be found here. The northern frontier on the Antonine Wall was not held however and the legions withdrew beyond the Galloway Hills to Hadrian's Wall.
During the Anglo-Saxon period, Renfrewshire was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, its capital at Dumbarton and in the 7th and 8th centuries the region passed under the supremacy of Northumbria. However Strathclyde fell under the dominance of the Kingdom of the Scots in the tenth century, though not quietly, for kings are recorded until the eleventh century. By the reign of King Malcolm III, the lands to become Renfrewshire became incorporated into Scotland.
Renfrewshire as such can trace its origin to Walter Fitzalan, the first High Steward of Scotland in the 12th century to whom was granted Strathgryfe, a district approximating to the shire. Fitzalan fled Shropshire during "the Anarchy"; the civil war between the Empress Matilda and Stephen, in which Walter had supported Matilda, but when her cause was lost, Walter befriended her uncle, King David I of Scotland, and became, David's Dapifer or Steward. Accompanied by his brother Simon, Walter came to Scotland about 1136 and fought for Scotland at the Battle of the Standard at Northallerton in 1138 under the command of David I's son, Prince Henry.
King David granted to Walter Fitzalan the lands of Strathgryfe. In 1163 Walter founded, first at Renfrew but shortly afterwards at Paisley, a house of monks of the Cluniac order drawn from the priory of Much Wenlock, in his native Shropshire. The monastery steadily grew and by 1219 became Paisley Abbey.
Fitzalan's descendants would eventually become the powerful House of Stewart (or Stuart), a name derived from their title as Steward. As the influence of the Stewarts grew, so the status of the area was gradually increased. Walter Stewart, the Fifth High Steward of Scotland married Princess Marjory, daughter of Robert I, in 1315 and in 1371 their son was crowned Robert II, King of Scots. Robert III who succeeded, established the shire of Renfrew based on the royal burgh of Renfrew, the site of the castle of the House of Stewart. From this point onwards, the county has been closely tied to the monarchy and the heir apparent to the British monarch holds the title of Baron of Renfrew.
Renfrewshire emerged as an industrial region following the Industrial Revolution. In point of commercial and manufacturing importance, in Scotland Renfrewshire was second only to neighbouring Lanarkshire. The goods produced were chiefly cottons, calicos and silks, though ship building, distilleries and printworks also contributed to the economy. Paisley was the largest urban and commercial centre in the county by some margin.
Renfrewshire was significantly involved in the Radical War of 1820, with many of the local industrial workers participating in the rioting and strikes.
In the Second World War, Renfrewshire suffered due to its shipbuilding industries on the banks of the River Clyde. Heavy bombing was inflicted over the 6th and 7 May 1941 in an event referred to as the Greenock Blitz. In 10 May 1941, Rudolf Hess, a leading official in the government of Nazi Germany, parachuted into a field near Eaglesham on an eccentric mission to meet Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton for peace negotiations, and was instead arrested by a farmhand with a pitchfork and imprisoned. It is believed Hess was privately distressed by the war with the United Kingdom as he had hoped that Britain would accept Germany as an ally. Hess may have hoped to score a diplomatic victory by sealing a peace between the German Reich and British Empire.
The severe decline of the heavy industries on the Clyde in the late twentieth century left much of Renfrewshire in depression.
The traditional industries of Renfrewshire were noted for their variety and diversity. Weaving and associated trades were common in the county and Paisley became particularly notable for this industry.
The distinctive Paisley pattern remains a symbol of the area and its weaving past to this day.
Shipbuilding on the River Clyde, particularly at Renfrew and Port Glasgow became significant in the later part of the 19th century and some of this industry remains to this day. At the height of the industry in the late Victorian era, Renfrewshire was strong in shipbuilding, sugar refining, foundry-work, rope-making, machine-making, mineral work and the manufacture of chemicals, industries centred in particular in Greenock and Port Glasgow.
Towns and villages
Renfrew is the only town in the county to be a royal burgh.
Smaller towns and villages
- Bishopton, Bridge of Weir, Busby
- Cathcart, Clarkston, Crosslee
- Eaglesham, Elderslie, Erskine
- Houston, Howwood, Hurlet
- Inchinnan, Inverkip
- Langbank, Linwood, Lochwinnoch
- Neilston, Newlands, Newton Mearns, Nitshill
- Wemyss Bay
*: Extends into Lanarkshire.
†: Comprises the ancient parishes of Abbey, Low Church, Middle Church, and High Church.
Things to see in Renfrewshire
|Accessible open space|
||Museum (free/not free)|
|National Trust for Scotland|
- Arthurlie House, Barrhead
- Caldwell Tower, Uplawmoor
- Castle Semple Loch, Lochwinnoch
- Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park
- Coats Observatory, Paisley
- Erskine Bridge
- Gleniffer Braes, south of Paisley
- St Mirren Park (home of St Mirren FC
- Muirshiel Country Park
- Paisley Abbey
- The Weaver's Cottage
- Ritchie, R. L. Graeme, The Normans in Scotland, Edinburgh University Press, 1954, p.281
- Anderson (1867) vol.ix, p.512
- Professor Geoffrey W S Barrow, The Anglo-Norman Era in Scottish History, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1980, ISBN 0-19-822473-7 page 64-5
- Ritchie, R. L. Graeme, The Normans in Scotland, Edinburgh University Press, 1954, [p.280
- ^ Watson, "Sir William Wallace", p. 27; Grant, "Bravehearts and Coronets", pp. 90–91.
- Adolf Galland (1968 Ninth Printing - paperbound) . The First and the Last: The Rise and Fall of the German Fighter Forces, 1938-1945. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 56.
- Shirer, William L.. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
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