Paisley 2021: Architectural gems light up City of Culture bid

The town has more listed buildings than any other place in Scotland outside of Edinburgh.

Paisley: Decision day looms. Paisley City of Culture

After a year-long campaign to be nominated at the UK's City of Culture 2021, Paisley is holding its collective breath ahead of decision day on Thursday.

Paolo Nutini's performance, a Baker Street saxophone event and dress-up day featuring costumes with the letter P - pirates, pumpkins and police - have all contributed to its bid.

Some of the brightest stars in the town are its architectural gems, however, with the town having the most listed buildings in Scotland outside Edinburgh.

Here are ten of the town's top landmarks.

Blackhall Manor

The home gave shelter to kings of Scotland. CC

Blackhall Manor is the oldest house in Paisley and plays an important part in the history of the country as well as the town.


It was built in the 12th century as a hunting lodge in the middle of the Forest of Paisley at the time.

Owned by Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland, it was passed through the generations down to Walter Stewart, who would marry Marjory Bruce - daughter of Robert the Bruce.

Walter and Majory's son, Robert, would go on to become King Robert II.

The house became uninhabited around 1840 and lay in a state of ruin for 100 years.

It was donated to the Burgh of Paisley and left alone for another 38 years, and the council debated demolition.

After public outcry, the house was saved and bought in 1982 by a family.

The new owner has successfully renovated the house and created a home comprising a great hall, dining room, four bedrooms and a stone spiral staircase.

The entrance now is guarded by stone lions salvaged from Ferguslie House and the dormer windows are surmounted by a stone thistle, also from Ferguslie House, and a stone rose from the Ferguslie Mill buildings.

Paisley Abbey

The church opened in 1163. CC

Paisley Abbey remains at the heart of the community, with different events taking place throughout the year.

Built as a priory in the 12th century, by the middle of the 13th century the church had gained enough power, wealth and influence to be raised to the position of monastery.

The southern aisle, the western wall of the main body of the abbey kirk and St Mirin's Cathedral all date from the building work that was carried out at this time - its only surviving original sections.

The rest of the abbey was destroyed in a fire when Robert the Bruce was fighting for power against the English.

The Stewarts had local connections to the town and to the Abbey.

It also holds some claim to another Scottish hero.

Legend reports William Wallace was educated by monks at the abbey before being sent off to his uncle in Dundee.

Because of this, there is a tribute to William in the Wallace Window at the end of the southern aisle.

During the Reformation, the abbey fell into disrepair and the church was sealed off until the 19th century when the decision was made to restore the building.

The project ran out of funds, however, so it was not until the early 20th century that the work was actually completed.

The abbey now is used for types of concerts and exhibitions.

Marjory Bruce and her grandson King Robert III are buried in the abbey grounds.

Medieval drain

The structure was rediscovered in the 1990s. Paisley City Council

The medieval drain running under the abbey was all but forgotten until 1990 when it was rediscovered.

It was the stone-lined tunnel was the main drain of the Monastery of Paisley and measure two metres high by one metre wide.

About 90 metres of the length of the structure have been uncovered so far.

A team from Glasgow Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) is plumbing the depths of the drain in the grounds of the 14th century Paisley Abbey.

It is closed to public except on the Doors Open Scotland events, when you can book to be taken down below on a tour.

Paisley Mills

The building helped put Paisley on the map. Paisley City of Culture

It is hard to think of Paisley without its famous pattern or mills.

Once a booming industrial town, now only the shells of the great textile industry are left behind.


The original mills were established by the Clark Brothers in 1812.

The two brothers discovered that selling cotton thread for domestic sewing could be a profitable business, and thereby laid the foundations for much of Paisley's fame and prosperity in the late 19th century.

Paisley became the epicentre of shawl weaving due to a ready supply of material and more shaws were produced in the popular colourful patter of the time than in anywhere else in the world.

At its peak, there were more than 7000 registered weavers in Paisley.

Although originally an Indian design, the pattern soon became synonymous with Paisley and the name has stuck ever since.

There is now the Paisley Thread Mill museum, located in one of the old mills, while others have been turned into flats.

Dooslan Stane

The stone is surrounded by the four Paisley Tolbooth stones. CC

The Dooslan Stane or Stone is a landmark connected with the textile industry.

The stone was used as a meeting place of the Weavers Union in the south of Paisley and was used as a soapbox for locals.

It was originally inscribed with its history and was moved from its original site in the corner of Neilston Road and Rowan Street to its present location in Brodie Park.

Also present, arranged around the Dooslan Stane, are the four original Paisley Tolbooth stones.

The Dooslan Stane is still used today as the congregating point for the annual Sma' Shot parade, which takes place on the first Saturday in July.

John Neilson Institution

The former school has now been turned into flats. CC

The John Neilson Institution has now been converted into flats but its start in life was somewhat different.

John Neilson of Nethercommon had been a successful grocer in the town.

In 1839, before he died, he set up a trust deed to build and endow a school. By 1852, a school, for males only, had been built on the site of a bowling green.

To gain entry the pupils had to have lived in Paisley for three years and their parents had to either be poor or dead.

The school gained a gold medal at the Paris exhibition in 1900.

It was was closed and converted to flats in 1978.

Paisley Town Hall

The hall was opened in 1882. Geograph

Paisley Town Hall officially opened in 1882 after a generous donation from George A.Clark, a member of the famous thread family, left £20,000 in his will in 1873.

The impressive building became a landmark in Paisley.

The taller of the two towers, with its sculptured figures representing the four seasons, housed a clock and a chime of bells which could play a different tune for every day of the month.

The many rooms of the Town Hall proved ideal for meetings and social events.

By the 1980s, however, the chimes no longer worked and the halls and rooms were shabby and run-down.

Plans for repair and modernisation were drawn up.

For the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Paisley in 1988, the bell tower was restored.

By the early 1990s, work began on repairing the interior of the hall to bring it to what it is today.

Thomas Coats Observatory 

Cost: The original building cost £2004. CC

At the 1880, annual general meeting of the Paisley Philosophical Institution, it was decided the society should purchase an astronomical telescope.

Thomas Coats, of Ferguslie, then a member of the council, offered to pay for the telescope.

It cost £2004 - around £226,000 in today's money - and the first stone was laid in March 1882.

A year and a half later, the observatory opened in October 1883.

Mr Coats died just two weeks after opening and ill health prevented him from ever seeing the building.

His trustee later added further equipment and made an additional gift of £2000 to the established trust.

Restoration work began on the observatory in 1975, which had begin to crumble after almost a century in business, with help from the arts and community committee.

Maxwellton Cross

Memorial: The horseshoe marks the spot where the seven were buried. Google

This horseshoe plaque marks the spot where seven witches were buried following their trial in 1697.

Witchcraft was against the law in Scotland and Paisley caught a case of witch-hunting fever.

When Christian Shaw, the ten-year-old daughter of the laird of Bargarran near Erskine, fell mysteriously ill after an argument with a local, seven men and women were found guilty of witch craft.

In accordance with the laws of the time, they were taken to the Gallow Green, just off Castle Street, and executed on June 10, 1697.

Katherine Campbell was carried struggling and screaming to the stake, where she called down the wrath of God and the Devil on her accusers.

While another woman, Agnes Naysmith, laid "a dying woman's curse" on all those present at the scene and their descendants.

For many years afterwards, Paisley tragedies - including the Paisley Canal disaster in 1810, which claimed 85 lives - were attributed to "the witches' curse".

Holy Trinity and St Barnabas

The original building was erected in 1833. Geograph

The Church of the Holy Trinity and St Barnabas was erected in 1833 for members of the Scottish Episcopal faith.

The building was made in two stages creating very different designs for the one building.

The first half including the church nave was built in a very plain style.

The second half, with investment from the Earl and Countess of Glasgow, resulted in a much more ornate, decorative east end of the building.

There has been no construction on the building since 1883 - although electric lighting was added to the church in 1907.

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