Johnstone History Museum
A Project of Johnstone History Society
JHM Web Log
We welcome news of Johnstone, photos of Old Johnstone, stories of former and continuing businesses and even professional articles on regional history. Use our contact form to send story and content ideas.
History Society Talk Syllabus 2018/2019 Session
It may be a bit early but we now have all our speakers organised for the History Society Talks starting in September 2018. Thought you might like to see what is in store for you. See the Coming Events in the Home Page for details.
History Society Talk Tuesday 8th May
Our May talk is the last of this session. The Good news is that we shall return in September. Valerie has already arranged all the Speakers for Session 2018/2019 starting in September 11th 2018
New Historic Research Feature
We've added a new feature we hope will interest our readers and those members with a desire to share their knowledge and research. The new Research Articles feature will enable writers to submit their scholarly work to the JHS website.

Articles will be reviewed by the editorial committee and if approved may be subject to editing for style or content. When fully implemented, each article will also have a download option to facilitate printing by the reader. Each article will be copyrighted by the Society and the author, so careful attention to annotations and bibliography should be given by authors.

More information about submitting articles will be provided as the project develops. For now, we've collected some previous content that provides a look at how the content will be presented. Please follow the link below this article for a preview.

Preview the Articles feature

Mouse Traps Required; Made in Johnstone
🐁 Iain Murray writes: Johnstone History Museum has recently been contacted by a David Drummond who has written a historical account of the Mouse Trap Factory in South William Street (1896-1960). David is going to send photographs and information about the factory. It would be great if we could set up a little display of the Mouse and Rat traps that were produced in Johnstone. Some of you must have some laying about at the back of a cupboard. All we have at the moment is a little display trap used for advertising.
WW1 Roll of Honour List Update
We have recently updated our World War 1 Role of Honour list that you will find under the Categories section of our Web Log list. Should you so wish, we can now add your information to the names. If you wish to add information please use the contact form to submit information you wish to include.

Read the article

Reminiscences of Wickman Lang by Eddie McRorie
Skilled trades workers were a major factor in the development of Johnstone's reputation as a center of innovation in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Eddie McRorie has described his experiences working in the machine tool industry in the 1970s; excerpts follow, click here for the full story.


"This is the story of my work as a time served engineering fitter at Wickman Lang, Mary Street, Johnstone from 1971 till 1979 when the factory was closed.

I had served my apprenticeship with Thomas White and Sons woodworking machine tool makers in Paisley and saw an advert for fitters in Wickman Lang as  in 1971 they were expanding and paid the highest wages in the area. The hourly rate at Thomas White was 11/6 pence and in Langs 15/3 pence so an enormous increase in wages and no more buses to work in Paisley. I also stayed in Johnstone castle so the move made sense all round.

I was interviewed by Jim Gibson the senior fitting foreman and told they would let me know. I waited six weeks before my mother told me a Mr Gibson had phoned and I was to call him. It appears that due to a postal strike a letter offering me employment had not been delivered.

...It was skilled work to fine tolerances which when completed had to be passed by the inspector who all wore brown dust-coats and were very strict as anything not exact was returned to you for sorting.

We all worked in a long line at benches running up the length of the fitting bay with steel vices spread along the bench to hold the workpieces.

As you worked you chatted and joked with all around you. Most of the worlds problems were discussed and solved especially at a teabreak when eight or nine would sit on boxes, benches and gossip, argue about football etc. 

...To break the monotony you would go to the toilet several times a day with a different newspaper stuffed inside your boilersuit each time, you had to keep up with the news ha  ha. Everybody bought a different newspaper and they were shared around. Another ploy was to have an assembly drawing in your hand and go for a wander to see who you could blether to and the gaffer thought you were working as you had a drawing. I had a small circle of men I had a blether with throughout the works from storemen,drillers,turners all who became good friends.

The toilets as you would imagine were large and always busy and a lot of extraneous business was conducted there and you could even get your haircut as one of our labourers had trained as a barber and did a roaring trade.

When the Derby race at Epsom was on the radio the toilet would be packed with men listening to various transistor radios ha ha.

There was a works bookie runner who took your bets and passed them to a local bookmaker (the bookmaker used was in Laighcartside street and is the house Penney the dentist now occupies) 

...The boiler suits were part of a scheme whereas for a weekly charge you got three boiler suits with one washed every week in rotation ensuring a clean one on a Monday morning.

...The works canteen was very popular as it was both good and heavily subsidised by the company so it is no surprise that it was always very very busy. Getting to the top of the queue became an art form with all sorts of tricks being used to get out of the factory first and cross over the cobbled road to the canteen building as soon as the dinner hooter went off.

...The works were full of characters funny,sad, idiots,complete nut cases (I joke not) but it gave a variety of situations to entertain us and gossip about. One of the fork lift drivers was always crabbit in the morning but always cheery by the afternoon as he had drunk a quarter bottle of whiskey by then.

...There was an electric oven for heating up cylindrical bushes so as the metal bushes expanded with heat and were then fitted over a shaft and when cooled were immovable. However this oven was used constantly for heating Wisharts pies and sausage rolls. 

...the job now needed me to think a lot more instead of following drawings on a well tried build program as there were errors in drawing calculations and machining some components. This meant our team had to come up with answers to many problems during the build and I was now involved with more of our technical personnel which I found interesting. 

...(the manager) had been developing an Index chuck as there were many factories across the world who had employees put a component into a chuck then complete an operation before having to stop the revolving chuck take out the component and turn it round and put it back in the chuck and repeat the same operation. Donald's idea was a chuck which you didn't stop but was able to revolve the component up to four times without stopping the chuck. This would result in major time saving and revolutionise chucking."


Click here for the full article. See also the related gallery linked below.



Johnstone History Society welcomes submissions of personal, professional and company histories. Use the Contact form to suggest a topic or submit an article for evaluation by the editors.

John Lang & Sons Gallery

John Lang & Sons a brief overview by Jessica Reid
The Lang organisation started as a private family partnership and progressed into a limited company around 1916. John Lang and Sons specialised in designing and producing lathes. Although they mainly and successfully produced lathes. The company also produced tools and machine parts such as gears.

Read the Article

Johnstone Grand Industrial Exibition 1853
The Great Industrial Exhibition, organised by the Johnstone Mechanics' Institiution took place in 1853 in a building behind McDowall Street in Johnstone. It showcased over a thousand items in four classes, Machinery; Manufactured Goods; The Fine Arts and Curiosities. This article, published in Jan 15 1853, was written by the Paisley correspondent of the "Glasgow Citizen".

Read this

The Johnstone Fair (1875) courtesy of Iain Reynolds
Iain Reynolds of Johnstone has kindly provided us with an interesting insight into the importance of the Fair to all of the Town's citizens.

Read the Letter

Museum Update
As you may be aware, a willing team of Volunteers staff the Museum. With the Holiday season in full swing, the team are all arranging their holidays and this calls for a few rearrangements in the Rota system. But, we are a flexible lot and there is no sign that we will have any difficulty filling the slots. Thanks to all the Team for the great work they do to keep the operation on the road.

Use this link or call the museum to volunteer.

Volunteer (Contact us)

Rod MacDuff Traces Johnstone Roots VIDEO
Rod MacDuff has posted a personal documentary of sites in Johnstone related to his ancestors. (Re-posted from Facebook and Youtube; thanks to Jim McLaughlin for doing most of the homework for us.)




PS: If you have a Johnstone history video on line that is publicly accessible, we may be able to embed it in this fashion. Please coordinate through the museum.
Johnstone WWI Role of Honour
We've recently received a copy of the Johnstone Role of Honour from World War I. Watch the site for an expanded presentation. If you are a relative or friend of one of the persons listed, we plan to add a photograph and biography for as many as possible; details on that procedure will be announced soon on these pages.

This would be a good time register as a member of the website. If you are a regular member of the History Society, we will also be linking the two member lists, and an annoucement of that procedure is also forthcoming.

This list was compiled by the late John Kenny J.P. who was a Committee Member of the Johnstone History Society. It is reproduced here by kind permission of his widow Mrs Agnes Kenny.

Continues...

Download the list here

Fordbank House - Mansion & former Maternity Unit
Fordbank, a Brief Account of the House and its Occupants

by Bill Speirs

Fordbank House was built on the lands of Little Corseford, being part of the 40s land of Corseford.

Its genesis came about 1856-57, when James Richardson of Ralston, a wealthy sugar merchant in Glasgow acquired the estates of Caplaw and Hallhill on the extreme east of the parish of Lochwinnoch.

In January of 1858 he added the small farm of Little Corseford to his land holdings. In November of that year he feud a plot of these lands, 1 acre and 32 poles, to James Christie.

James Christie was employed as cashier to James Richardson & Co Merchants, Glasgow. Originally from Fife, he was resident at Hillhead in Glasgow in 1858, by 1859 he was living at Fordbank Villa.

By 1863 James had went into business own his own account, forming James Christie & Co. (Sugar Merchants) with offices in Virginia Street, Glasgow. The following year he was in partnership with an Edinburgh Merchant, James Bowe, trading as Bowe & Christie, Sugar Merchants, North Bridge Street, Edinburgh.

James Christie was not a success in business. In June of 1870 the stoppage was reported of Messrs James Christie & Co of Glasgow, in the sugar trade, with liabilities estimated at £8,000 to £10,000.

Fordbank House was put up for sale in November 1870 and went for £2,100

The new owner was William Blackburn Craig, a dry-salter and oil merchant in Glasgow. In the years 1870 to 1873 he was involved in erecting additions and alterations to his premises in St Vincent Street as well as the erection of new buildings. He may have overstretched his finances, by March 1873 Fordbank House was once again up for sale.

The Notice of Sale give a full description of Fordbank House at that time.
FOR SALE, FORDBANK HOUSE

3 Public Rooms, 5 Bedrooms, Bathroom, Pantry, Kitchen and Servants accommodation. There is a Byre, Stable, Coach House and other Outbuildings; also a Porters Lodge. The ground extends to about 10 acres enclosed.

The next owner and occupier was James Stewart, another Glasgow merchant, sometime foreign and colonial merchant. By 1885 the house and grounds were in possession of heritable creditors and the house was occupied by Henry David Crailsheim, as tenant

Henry David Crailsheim was born in Glasgow of a German father and a Belgian mother. He, his wife Maria and son Harry had only recently left Dunblane, their son Edward was born at Fordbank abt. 1888. The family were co-partners in the firm of Crailsheim & Herman, Foreign and Colonial Merchants, in Glasgow
By 1891 they had left Fordbank House and were resident in Lochridge House, Stewarton, Ayrshire.

Alexander Fullerton, Engineer and Ironfounder, next took ownership and occupation of Fordbank, sometime prior to 1891. He was born in Paisley, son of Alexander Fullerton, a partner in the Paisley shipbuilding company of Fullerton, Hodgart and Barclay. He continued with the company after his father retired in 1885.

Alexander was unmarried, as were his four sisters who shared the house with him. When he died in May 1911, Fordbank House was again up for sale.

1913, September 11th, Major Edward Howard Thornbrough Parsons, Chief Constable in the Metropolitan Police (Retired) married Marion Marjorie Winifred Glen Glen-Coats, only daughter of Sir Thomas Glen-Coats of Ferguslie Park, and took up residence in their marital home, Fordbank House.

Mrs Parsons was an enthusiastic supporter of the Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Hunt. She bred horses, hunters, with great success, and presumably was instrumental in erecting the stables to the rear of the house which are still in use today under the ownership of the Fordbank Livery and Equi Centre.

In November 1931 a new company was formed, The Crossford Estates Co. Fordbank, Milliken Park: "A private unlimited co. 'to aquire, manage & develop the landed Estates of Fordbank, Crossford/Corseford etc, in Renfrewshire etc.' Capital, £20,000 in £1-00 shares. Mr & Mrs Parsons & Miss Irene Philip, all of Fordbank, Milliken Park, Renfrewshire." The Parsons also had the estate of Lephenstrath at Southend, Kintyre,

With the coming of war in 1939, Fordbank was made available to the Public Health Dept. of Renfrewshire County Council, and used as an annex to the Thornhill Maternity Hospital. Strangely, it was known as the Gryffe Hospital, Kilbarchan.

Major Parsons died in August 1946, his wife Marion about 1948. The Property was once again on the market. The Stables were sold by October, the rest of the estate was acquired by the Welfare Services Committee in November 1948.

It was purchased at a cost of £4,000, including 7 acres and a lodge house, also the lease of the gardeners cottage at £35 per annum. Total cost estimated at £15,000 for furniture and fittings. The work was undertaken by J.Y.Keanie Ltd. of Johnstone.

It was officially opened on 19th May 1950 as an old peoples residential home with accommodation for 30 occupants, the first of whom were expected to move in the following week. It was the first home of its kind to be completed in Renfrewshire.

The opening ceremony was attended by 27 local dignitaries including Mr Norman Keanie, 27 other invitations were declined. The opening was performed by Baillie P. R. Jacobs, chairman of the Councils Welfare Services Committee. Afternoon tea was provided by Mr Jas. R McKay, The Clock Café, Thornhill.

Fordbank House continued as a home for old folk for 27 years. In September 1977 the authorities in the Social Work Dept. decided to transfer the residents to Stewart House, a purpose built home in Renfrew.

This caused outrage to many Johnstone residents, particularly as Fordbank was then to provide accommodation for 38 homeless men when it re-opened in January 1979

The Building was declared surplus to requirements by the Councils Social Works Dept. in May 1993, the residents were re-located and by September Fordbank House was closed.

In December1994 Strathclyde Region were expecting to have sold Fordbank House to a businesswoman, Mrs Maria Sutcliffe, for around £200,000 by the turn of the year.
It was understood that Mrs Sutcliffe was acting as an individual buyer and not as part of a bigger company.

The house was eventually demolished, the site cleared and is now a Private Housing Estate.

Download as PDF for printing

The Red House of Milliken Park -- 50 years of history
50 years in the life of a house, its owners and occupants, a brief history.

By Bill Speirs

In 1895 George Ludovic Houstoun granted a feu charter to Alexander Balfour McKechnie, then resident at Cochranfield, of 3 Roods 17 Poles of ground in the vicinity of the site of Cochran Castle. On this land Alexander McKechnie built his Red House. The site is located on the east side of Auchengreoch Avenue about 330 yards south east of the crossroads known locally as “Murphy`s Toll, on the B787 Beith Road, at the junction with the old Howwood Road.

The architect chosen to design the house was Charles Davidson. Originally from Forfar he arrived in Paisley in 1875 to work on the National Bank and the Bank of Scotland buildings at 2 St. Mirren Street. He remained in Paisley and about 1880 started his own practice, and was responsible for the design of the Royal Victoria Eye Infirmary and the Paisley Daily Express buildings to name but a few examples of his works

The building is constructed in the “Arts and Crafts” style which was much in vogue in that period. The ideal was to use local materials and the skills of a previous age to construct buildings of simplicity and move away from the Classical and Gothic styles with their excessive ornamental features. Arches were to be curved instead of peaked, many of the buildings were of modest scale and in styles more like the half-timbered cottages and manor houses of Tudor and Elizabethan England.

The Red House was built with red brick, not readily available locally, but probably made by Gibb & Sons, at Auchinlee, Cleland, Lanarkshire. These bricks were used in the building of a length of wall half a mile further south down Auchengreoch Road.

The 1901 census records the house having a total of 11 rooms. Alterations, possibly an extension to the rear of the house, were carried out between April 1908 and April 1909 under the supervision of Honeyman, Keppie & McIntosh, at a cost of £493-10-5.
Perhaps with the death of his mother in 1907 McKechnie may have fallen heir to a substantial inheritance, and used some of it to fund the improvements to his house.
A description of the house is given later when it was advertised for sale in 1940. It is not known if Charles Rennie McIntosh had any involvement in any of the works.

Also commissioned at the time of the building works was an order for 12 dining room chairs. This would suggest that McKechnie was intent on entertaining guests on a larger scale than previously deemed sufficient.

The Red House was not only a place for social gathering, on at least one occasion a marriage took place within its walls. On the 13th March 1917 Lieutenant Stanley Evlyn Lewis of the Royal Flying Corps married Elizabeth Riddell. He was the youngest son of Colonel John Lewis C.M.G. Union Defence Force, South Africa, she was a daughter of Dr John Riddell of Ayr. The ceremony was performed by Robert McKenzie, Minister of Kilbarchan, and J. Johnstone Wright, Service Chaplain, India.

At the same time Alexander McKechnie commissioned a brass memorial plaque in memory of his grandfather Robert McKechnie, a physician in Paisley, and his wife, mother, and sister. The plaque is mounted in the North Transept of Paisley Abbey.

As a point of interest, the Ordinance Survey Map revision of 1895 shows a symbol on the house indicating a position of antiquity. Was this deemed to be the site of the old Cochrane Castle as opposed to the Lairds Tower Monument site on the adjacent land?

Alexander McKechnie was the son of Dr William McKechnie, M.D. who practiced for many years in Paisley and within the County. His mother, Helen Landale Balfour was a cousin of Lord Kinross. He was born in Paisley, in October 1860. Later the family lived at Thorndean, Elderslie, a large house adjacent to Thornhill House and Elderslie Church.

Marriage came in October 1888 when Alexander married Helen Fullerton, daughter of John Fullerton, of the well-known Paisley Shipbuilders, their son William Gordon McKechnie was born in 1891, they may have been living at Cochranefield House, on the Beith Road,

Although his father and grandfather were both prominent in the medical profession Alexander had decided on a career in business. After an extensive education culminating at St. Andrews University, he trained in accountancy. He early decided that his vocation was elsewhere and studied at the Glasgow School of Art. He was regarded as a most distinguished student, proficient in both oil and water colours. His later works were almost entirely in watercolours, most notable for the fine drawing and delicate colouring.

He favoured landscapes of bright colours and particularly scenes from the countries of North Africa, such as Egypt, Tangiers and Algeria. His picture “Hall of the Pillars of Karnak” is especially memorable.

A Shipping Passenger List of March 1927 lists Alexander, artist, and Helen McKechnie returning to the United Kingdom from Tangier. Travelling with them was Jessie Keppie, artist. She was the youngest sister of John Keppie, a junior partner in the architectural firm of Honeyman, Keppie and McIntosh, and had been briefly engaged to Charles Rennie McIntosh. She was distraught when he broke off the engagement and never married. Presumably she was acquainted with the Red House.

He was a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Water Colours, the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, an artist member of the Paisley Art Institute, also for a period president of the Glasgow Art Club.

He died in 1930 and was laid to rest in Woodside Cemetery. After his widow Helen died in 1935 the Red House was put up for sale.

The next occupant was George Nicholson.

He was born in Consett, Co. Durham, in 1905, originally a Newcastle bus fleet owner, he took possession of The Red House in May 1936.

He had founded Northern Airways at Cramlington Airfield, a few miles to the north of Newcastle, on 1st July 1934, to provide a daily service from Newcastle to Carlisle and the Isle of Man. It was not viable and operated only till the end of October 1934.

In November 1934 the company had been changed to Northern and Scottish Airways, and was now based at Renfrew. On December 1935 the new company started twice weekly flights from Renfrew to Glenbrittle in Skye, using De Havilland DH 84 Dragon Rapide aircraft. The service was eventually expanded to include routes to Islay, Tiree, North and South Uist, and Barra. In 1936 it pioneered the use of the beach on Barra as a landing strip, where flight times were subject to the times of the tides.

The De Havilland Dragon Rapide was a twin engined six seater biplane, which made its first flight in 1934. They continued to grace the skies over Scotland into the 1950s.

In 1937 on the amalgamation with Scottish Airways Ltd. of Inverness, the new company became known as Scottish Airways.

With the coming of War in 1939, all internal air services were suspended, thus depriving George Nicholson of his livelihood. The Red House was once again put up for sale.

The Red House was advertised in the Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette on 9th March, 1940, and gives a full description of the house……..

FOR SALE, privately, that attractive Residence, known as The Red House,
Adjoining Cochrane Castle Golf Course

Accommodation----3 Public Rooms, 5 Bedrooms, 2 Maids Rooms, 3 Bathrooms, Kitchen, etc. Electric Light and Power. Electric Refrigerator, Central Heating, 2 Garages. Ground extends to approximately 2 ½ acres. Entry at Whitsunday or earlier, as may be arranged.


With the end of World War 2 in 1945, and the election of a Labour government with a programme of nationalisation, Scottish Airways was incorporated into British European Airways in December of 1946

George Nicholson held the position of Scottish Divisional Manager of B.E.A. till July 1947 when he was either dismissed or resigned from the Corporation.

Whatever the reason for his departure he was recognised as a pioneer of aviation in Scotland and was responsible for much of the expansion and advancement of its air services.

He was not long idle. By September 1847, at the Annual General Meeting of Vaux and Associated Breweries Ltd. in Sunderland he was proposed and elected a director.

When exploring the possibilities of business expansion into South Africa for the company in December 1950, he died suddenly in Johannesburg at the age of 45.

The next owner and occupier of the Red House was Charles H Johnson, managing director of Dent & Co. & Johnson Ltd, Linwood.

The son of a naval architect from Dumbarton, he was firstly employed there with Messrs. Wm. Denny & Bros., Ltd. Here he developed and patented the Denny-Johnson torsion meter, a device for measuring the horsepower of marine turbines.

Another invention to his credit was a watertight loud-speaker telephone which was taken up by Messers. Kelvin & Jas. White Ltd.,with whom he was later employed for some years as assistant works manager.

In 1912 he was involved in the takeover of the navigational instrument part of the London based company of Messrs. E. Dent & Co. Ltd., (makers of “Big Ben”) and the formation of Dent & Co. & Johnson, Ltd. Linwood.

Dent and Co., were at the time involved in the early stages of development of navigational compasses for aircraft. Mr Johnson was the source of many ideas throughout the development of these instruments.

He had an interest in radio broadcasting, his firm produced a radio receiver and loudspeaker known as “The Linwood” which was believed to be the only radio produced in Scotland at that time.

Charles Henry Johnson died of a heart attack while on holiday in Thurso, in August 1944. His widow eventually retired to Aberfeldy, where she died in 1969 at the age of 79.

Sometime later, certainly during the 1980s, the Red House became “The Red House Inn,” a public house.

The Red House is currently in use as a care home providing high quality residential care for a maximum of five children aged 12 to 19 years old who may have a learning difficulty or mental health problems.

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Munitions Factory Johnstone's Contribution to the WWI Effort
Munitions Factory Johnstone's Contribution to the WWI Effort
With this article we introduce a new feature of the website. This summary of a photo essay by Stewart Michie in the Gallery (link below) is accompanied by images of the WWW factory that put Johnstone solidly into the war effort.)

Georgetown Munitions Factory opened in September, 1915, at the start of the First World War, just over three miles east of Houston in what was then predominantly a rural community with plans to fill explosive shells for use on the battlefields of Belgium, France and the Middle East.

Delays could cost lives so it was imperative that the men who manned the artillery big guns had a ready supply of ammunition at their disposal to protect themselves and the infantry units.

A 2350 square foot town hall was erected, serving as a social center, church, Sunday school, lecture hall and more. The hall could seat 300 people. The building was an invaluable resource, especially in winter when the dark nights limited the range of human activities at a high-security site like Georgetown where vigilance could never be relaxed for safety and military reasons.

Continues...

Photo Essay

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