Johnstone History Museum
Johnstone History Society • Scotland
The Brig O' Johnstone its History Explained
October 8, 2020
As is well known the Brig O’ Johnstone is shown on Blaeu’s map of the County of Renfrew, published in Amsterdam in 1654, the name being shown as “Ihonstoun,” this map surveyed by Timothy Pont about 1590.
It shows Johnstone on the “Milliken” side of the River Black Cart , with Brigend on the other. According to Charles A. Scott in his History of Johnstone (1972) the bridge had been there much earlier than the date of the map. The earliest date he could find was an entry in City of Glasgow Records dated 1641 which he quoted verbatim :- “Given in contribution the source of fiftie merks for helping of tue the brig of Johnstone to be payit quham the work is outred and “tue brig ledger on both sides.” and sufficientlie calseyit at both ends.”
The reason why Glasgow might be interested, according to Scott, was that the Brig O’ Johnstone formed part of the old track from Glasgow to Greenock. “The road through Johnstone therefore carried some of the merchandise of Glasgow and packhorses would clatter over the cobbled brig at Johnstone and drivers would halt for a refreshment at the tavern which was there.”
A Brief Description of the Sheriffdom of Ranfrow (Renfrew) Described By Mr. James Montgomerie of Weitlands (Kilbarchan) and a colleague from Greenock (thought to be the Laird John Shaw), believed to have been written between 1647 and 1652, states :- “Bridges in the Shire are Paslay, Pollok, Johnstoun, Ramforlie (Bridge of Weir), Calder (Lochwinnoch), Kellie (Kellie Burn, modern day Kilburn), and Allerslie (Elderslie) &c.”
In connection with early Johnstone, much has already been written about Christian Shaw, b. 1685, daughter of the Laird of Bargarran, when in 1697, as an eleven year old, complained of being tormented by local witches, a number of which were condemned to death and hanged and burnt at the Gallow Green, Paisley, 10th June 1697. This however, is about her life afterwards in connection with Johnstone.
One version has her marrying the Rev John Millar (also spelt Miller), Minister of Kilmaurs about 1719. After his death in 1721 she went with her mother to Holland to observe Dutch spinning techniques, sketched the thread production process and is said to have smuggled some machinery back to Scotland in her luggage. The new methods resulted in a more durable thread and Shaw established a small thread manufacturing company “The Bargarran Thread Company” in Johnstone on her return. This involved a twisting mill from Holland, which ran twelve bobbins at a time, turned by hand.
Bargarran Thread became famous and, as happened frequently during the history of the thread trade, the honest producer was imitated by a host of inferior makers, and Bargarran had to fight for its rights.
The following advert was widely circulated :- “The Lady Bargarran and her daughters having attained to great perfection in making, whitening and twisting of Sewing Threed, which is as cheap and white, and known be experience to be much stronger than the Dutch, to prevent people’s being imposed upon by other threed, which may be sold under the name of “Bargarran Threed,” the papers in which the Lady Bargarran and her daughters at Bargarran, or Mrs Miller , her eldest daughter (Christian, now a widow) at Johnstone, do put up their threed, shall, for direction, have thereupon their coat of arms, Azure, three covered cups, Or. Those who want the said threed, which is to be sold from five pence to six shillings per ounce, may write to the Lady Bargarran at Bargarran, or Mrs Miller at Johnstone, to care of the Postmaster at Glasgow, and May call for same in Edinburgh, at John Seaton, Merchant, his shop in Parliament Close, where they will be served either Wholesale or Retail; and will be served in the same manner at Glasgow, by William Selkirk, Merchant, in Trongate.”
Thus the linen thread manufacture began. Christian Shaw’s invention and introduction of fine thread manufacturing to Renfrewshire sparked a country wide industry by the early 18th century.
According to Stephen Clancy, she was known as both Christian Shaw and Mrs Millar. Her Bargarran Thread Company was doing well, yet she chose to go to Edinburgh having, it appears, to have attracted the attention of senior people in the trade.
When the Board of Manufactures and Fisheries was established in 1727, her name began to appear on their Minute Book :- “Edinb. 3rd Nov. 1727 - Recommended to Lord Monsieur, Messrs McCauley, Drummond and Patterson to converse with Mrs Millar of Johnstone now in the town, and bring in her proposals for spinning and twisting thread.”
She was appointed Mistress to the main spinning school :- “Edinb. 18th April 1729 - A precept on the cashiers for paying out of the monies approprieted to the Linen and Hemp Manuafcturers for the year 1729 To Christian Shaw, relict of Mr John Millar, Minister of the Gospel, fiftie pound sterling in full of het salary payable per advance for the year from the First of April 1729 to the First of April 1730 as Mistress of the Spinning School erected in Edinburgh.”
Whilst in Edinburgh she met and married William Livingstone, a Glover ( Glove Manufacturer) in 1737. She died the same year and was buried 8th September 1737 in Provost Tod’s Tomb in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.
Of interest is the date 3rd November 1727 in the Minute Book which shows that Christian Shaw is shown as “Mrs Millar of Johnstone.”
This is significant when you consider that the original Johnstone at the time was on the left bank of the River Cart, in the lands now known as Milliken, after Major Milliken, who bought the estate from the Houstoun family who owned the land at that time, in 1733, the Houstouns taking the name of Johnstone across the right bank of the river, the lands of Easter Cochrane, which they renamed Johnstone., Major Milliken renaming his new acquisition of the former Johnstone lands after himself.
Frank Taylor in his book “Johnstone & Co-Operation (1916) mentions this area - “Mr Houstoun in 1781 decided on feuding a large piece of land in the vicinity of the Bridge of Johnstone, for the purpose of building a town. On the site chosen, or adjoining thereto (Milliken side) had stood in 1733 a corn mill and four cottar’s houses. In 1781 these had long disappeared, and the only representative of the Burgh that was to be was a lonely cottage beside the Bridge of Johnstone - a tavern of a sort in which dwelt ten persons.”
It appears that Christian Shaw’S Bargarran Thread Company was perhaps located in one of the four cottar’s houses in what was to become the Milliken side of the Bridge of Johnstone. According to Scott this hamlet at the Bridge was called the Bridge of Johnstone, and it is described by that name on Ainslie’s Map of Renfrewshire dated 1796.
With regards to the corn mill at this location, the following was found in The Judicial Records of Renfrewshire by William Hector (1876) :- William Wodrow, Milner ( variant of Miller) of Johnstoun Miln (corn mill) displayed Un-Christian and unwarrantable Conduct towards the Houstoune family, brought before the Sheriff of Renfrewshire (at Paisley) on 15th January 1720. He made no excuse for this outburst of temper and malignity. The Procurator craved that the Milner be made to beg the said Honourable family’s pardon and for future, bridle his unruly tongue, and find sufficient caution to keep His Most Sacred Majesty’s peace in the time coming.
From Renfrewshire Notes, Parishes at beginning of last century - Kilbarchan (3rd part) published in the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, April 19, 1902, we learn that there were two mills in ancient times, on either side of the river.
The lands of Johnstone (at present Milliken) appear to have descended to the representatives of Thomas Wallace of Auhinbothy, son of William Wallace of Elderslie in the end of the fourteenth century.
“30th June 1494 - The Lordis decrette that Robert Cocherane of that ilk does wrang in the awaydrawing of the watter of Black Kert far the Mylne of Johnstoune, pertaining heretably to Robert Wallace, to the said Robert Cocherane’s mylne. And tharfra in tyme to cum, to be braikit and joisit by the said Robert Wallace, efter the forme of the chartour, possession, and retouris gevin. Tharupon, schewin, producit, before the Lordis, and ordinis that letrez be written to charge said Robert Cocherane to desist and cess tharfra all perturbacion of the said Robert Wallace in the mylne watter of Black Kert.”
Press reports in the Paisley Herald covering the “Clippens Sucession” Jury Trial at Paisley, April 19, June 21 and July 26, 1862 mentions documents produced along with details of family trees.
One of the documents states that :-
“Mary Cochrane, daughter lawful of the deceased Hugh Cochrane of Clippings, and spouse to John Ferrier, Merchant at Bridge of Johnstown fore as much as my said father dyed intestate....
Subscribed at the Bridge of Johnstoun, 13th day of Feby. 1748
(Signed) John Ferrier, Mary Cochrane.
Further information shows that John Ferrier and Mary Cochrane were married in January 1744. They had a daughter Mary Ferrier, born 13 November 1744.
Another document dated at Paisley, January 16, 1745, states that :- “This day, a reference was brought in from the Kirk Session of Erskine, bearing that Mary Black, spouse to James Cooper, at Formaking, had a child born within six months after their marriage, and had accused before the Kirk-Session John Ferrier, at the Bridge of Johnstone, as the father of her child; but that the said John Ferrier, had, before the said session positively denied all guilt with her....”
Yet witnesses stated that they heard at an open window that John Ferrier “after taking James Cooper by the hand, acknowledged the child which Mary Black had brought forth , to be his and offered the same James Cooper five pounds for to take the child, and having baptised.”
What ever the outcome the marriage of John Ferrier survived and Mary Cochrane and he went on to have more children :- John Ferrier b. 4th May 1746 , William Ferrier (1st) b. 12th April 1748, William Ferrier (2nd) b. 23rd March 1751, James Ferrier b. 22nd Sept. 1753, Alexander Ferrier - Entry In Kilbarchan Parish Register states :- “ Alexander, lawful son to John Ferrier at Bridge of Johnstoun, and Mary Cochrane, was born February 22nd 1762, “ Mary Ferrier b. 11th July 1764.
From Johnstone, An Ecclesiastical Sketch, pub. In the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, Jan. 13, 1877 - With regards to the Burgh of Johnstone - In the year 1780, there was only one single, solitary house standing at the end of the bridge that spans the Black Cart at the Western extremity of the town. A little way further down the water at the same period, the village now known as Linwood had no existence, the only human inhabitation there being a farm steaming standing about three miles distant from the Cross of Paisley. In early times The rising town of Johnstone had the word “Brig” prefixed to its name.
Hence for many years it was known as “The Brig O’Johnstone.” The bridge over the Black Cart, and the single house at the end of it, of course, helped to give the place “a local habitation and a name. That house at the “Brig End” and by the wayside, was a public house, and had so for many years previous to the laying down of the plan for construction of the future populous town.
This will appear from the following case of “Kirk discipline.”
On the 10th of February 1747, John Orr, in Barnbrock, a farm lying in the west end of Kilbarchan Parish, had to answer to the Burntshields Kirk Session to the following charge :- “That he had been drunk some time ago, at the “Brig End of Johnstone,” and had even guilty of throwing yill (Scottish variant of ale) as also the dish that contained it, in the face of some who were then present with him in company. John acknowledged that he had been “feu” at the south end of “The Brig O’ Johnstone” sometime in the beginning of November last (1746) ; that he did vomit with hot ale and aqua vitae (The Mother of all Spirits, Water of Life, Scotch whisky) that he got, that he cast a cap and yill in the faces of some in the company ; but said also, that he was provoked thereto.” For this delinquency, John Orr, of Barnbrock, had to appear oftener than one before his ecclesiastical superiors.”
Towards the end of October 1782, nine houses of the new town of Johnstone had been built, two others were in building, and ground on which 42 more were to be built was feued.”
The historian David Semple wrote that Robert Corse Esq. of Greenlaw, Took the first feu in 1782, which consisted of a corn mill and a piece of ground to erect a cotton mill (which later became Patons) near the Brig O’ Johnstone.
Johnstonia by Duncan Macphail, published in the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette, December 21st, 1907 mentions that - “The first intimation of the feuding of Johnstone, as planned, as follows :- “George Houstoun of Johnstone proposes to feu a considerable plot of ground at the Bridge of Johnstone for the purpose of building upon, and having now fixed a regular plan he will open upon the ground on Saturday, 23rd February (1782) at 12 o’clock in order to show the same to any person who wants to feu....”
“An earlier reference to the place here named the Bridge of Johnstone May be cited....
“It appears that there was only one house at the place, situated at the foot of what is now known as the Old Mill Brae, near the bridge over the Cart , which was named the Brig O’Johnstone. This house had been a public house for many years prior to 1780.”
The author recites the story of John Orr of Barnbrock, already mentioned.
He then mentions that “William Semple, the historian, the continuator of Crawfurds “Renfrewshire” (1782), speaks of this bridge as the Bridge of Johnston, and he says it was re-built in 1770 (the one still being used today).
George Robertson in his “General Description of the Shire of Renfrew, published 1818, gives the following description of Johnstone - “The only village of much importance is Johnstone which is indeed the greatest village in the County, and one of the most recent in origin, as it is only 36 years since it began to be feued out on a regular and extended plan. Previous to this it was a small hamlet, consisting of a few cottages by the side of the River Cart, over which was a bridge on the road leading to the mansion of Johnstone, now Milliken, from which this small place, chearful enough of itself, was called the Brig of Johnstone, a name still applied in ordinary to the magnificent village that had so very lately been erected in its vicinity” which became a town.
The following is mentioned in The United Presbytery Magazine, Vol.3, Page 531, of 1849, “The Memoir Of The Rev. John Clapperton of Johnstone,” who came from Selkirk Associate Presbytery to Johnstone, which was under the Associate Presbytery of Glasgow, the “ Burgher” Church in Church Street, formerly ministered by the Rev. John Lindsay of Burntshields. John Clapperton was ordained Minister of Johnstone on the 14th day of July 1807, “ Johnstone then generally named Bridge of Johnstone.” This name seemed to have been used as well as Johnstone until the 1820’s.
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