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Pollokshaws in the 1700's

A potted history of what went on in Pollokshaws


At the end of the 17th century Pollokshaws began to change it's character from a rural village into a centre of industry. In 1695 a roll of the inhabitants and their occupations included cottar (crofter), cooper (barrel maker), cordiner (cord and rope maker), clothier, blacksmith, maltman (ale maker), glover, skinner (curing the skin of cattle and sheep), mason, and wright (carpenter). Also listed are eight handloom weavers working at home. These were the first of a great number of weavers who dominated the area in time to come. Their numbers steadily increased until in 1782 there were 311 home weavers working in the village. Then in 1801 a factory with 200 power looms began operating, and thereafter the number of home weavers steadily declined until by 1850 they had almost disappeared.

In 1742 the first bleachfield and printworks in the West of Scotland were established in what a writer described as 'the green haughs by the clear waters of the River Cart and the Auldhouse Burn'. It was here the art of textile printing was advanced from wooden blocks to engraved copper cylinders, and within a comparatively short time the premises expanded to cover thirty acres. By 1793 the works employed 226 men and boys and 174 women. Bleachfields were areas where the finished cloth was spread out on grass to whiten in the sun, and printing meant the printing of patterns and designs on the cloth. A tannery, established in the town in 1782 for the treatment of chamois leather, was the first of its kind in Scotland . Next, two cotton mills that together employed about 600 were established. These industries were followed by a great variety of businesses including the manufacture of linen, thread, brewing, dyeing, engineering, paper, laundering and pottery. In 1807 one of the cotton mills was lit by gas produced within the mill, a first in Scotland for industrial premises.

The Road of Change


Tolls were introduced in 1750 to assist with the upkeep of roads, and were paid at Toll Bars to a keeper who lived in a nearby house. There were six toll bars in and around Pollokshaws, and a minister of Eastwood Church wrote that local travellers considered them to be excessive in number, making even short journeys quite expensive. In Pollokshaws there was the Round Toll which controlled the crossing of he roads between Glasgow and Darnley, and Cathcart and Hurlet. The toll keepers distinctive roundhouse here, which is of an indeterminate date between the late 1750's and 1800, has survived, later for business use, and then, until 1963 as a dwelling and it can still be seen, but because of its present situation in a busy roundabout it can’t be accessed easily. Auldhouse Toll was on Nether Auldhouse Road on the way to Cathcart village, while Harriet Street Toll was on the road to Stewarton via Patterton. Harriet Street was the first stretch of the present Thornliebank Road, from the Round Toll to the Auldhouse Burn bridge. The road to Govan was covered by the Haggs Road Toll at (Shaw) Moss Road, and the road to Glasgow by the Shawlands Toll situated at 'High Shawlands', at the junction of Pollokshaws Road and Shawhill Road . Dovehill Toll controlled the crossing of two roads, to Eastwood Toll and to Cathcart. After tolls were abolished in 1883 the name Mains of Newlands Farm was changed to Dovehill Farm. Its buildings remained well preserved (until the site was cleared for a housing development in 2005) set back on the south side of Riverford Road near Kilmarnock Road .

Time to Teach

After the reformation in 1560, the leaders of the Reformed Church placed responsibility on the Kirk Sessions to provide free education for the children in their parishes. While this was idealistic, it was far from being realistic as education requires money to build schools and train teachers, and finance at that time was exceedingly scarce. In fact two hundred years were to pass before the ideal was attained, and not by the Kirk Sessions but by the local government authority. But Pollokshaws made more progress towards these goals than most other communities for three reasons; the diligence of Eastwood Kirk Session, the increasing prosperity of the town, and the ongoing benefices of the Maxwells of Pollok. The first reference to there being a school in the parish is contained in the minutes of Eastwood Kirk Session for 1689, where the Session Clerk is described as also being the Schoolmaster. In these early days it was common for a layman of the Church to conduct the newly formed, part time and very elementary school, imparting knowledge as best he could from his own probably limited education. It is apparent that by 1749 a proper Parish School had already been established, because in that year the minutes record the appointment of an experienced schoolmaster. In 1751 a private school was opened in Pollokshaws, but it was soon closed by pressure from the Kirk Session which regarded this new school as encroaching on its prerogative.

The Parish School was situated beside the Church half a mile from the town. But in 1756 it was moved to Pollokshaws to give it a more central position, Then in 1790 it was again moved to a new building where, in one large classroom, pupils of various ages and studying different subjects were taught by the only teacher. He received an annual salary of eight pounds six shillings & sixpence (£8.33p) and a free house, and also emoluments from being Clerk to the Kirk Session of Eastwood. The school charged fees and in 1796 had 105 pupils, each studying one subject as follows: 36 reading, 23 writing, 22 Latin, 18 arithmetic, 4 book-keeping and 2 mathematics. The fees per term (in decimal coinage) ranged from 10p for reading to 25p for mathematics, while for book-keeping it was £1.05p for the complete course. Pupils studied only one subject at a time, starting with reading then going on to writing and so on, the amount of knowledge they absorbed depending mainly on their own ability and the number of terms their parents could afford. Among the pupils were seventeen boys who boarded in the school at an inclusive charge of £20 per term.

The Way They Lived

The main sustenance of the people was oatmeal in the form of porridge, bannocks and oatcakes, and barley from which with kale and leeks a broth was made without meat, known as water broth. There was a strong prejudice against eating pork, and for this reason pigs were not kept anywhere in the district. Occasionally a fish from the river gave a little variety to the diet. Food was put on the table in one large dish from which everyone helped themselves with a horn spoon, and home brewed ale was drunk, usually from one large mug passed round the family. Personal cleanliness was given little attention and rubbish was deposited at the roadside in front of the house, creating a health hazard.

There were a number of crofts scattered round the village. They were poor affairs with small undrained and unfenced fields, used as pasture for one or two cows, and growing oats and barley. Methods of cultivation were poor, and when the crops failed the result from time to time was starvation for both crofters and villagers. Even in good years the cattle might fare badly. During the winter they were fed straw and chaff from the winnowing, which was boiled but lacked nourishment. With the result that when the time came for them to be returned to the fields, sometimes they were too weak to stand and had to be lifted on to their legs. This was known as ‘the lifting time’ and it was normal for the period in southern Scotland , but in the latter part of the century it began to be rectified. Progressive Lairds encouraged, assisted and, in some cases, had to force their tenants to fence and drain their fields, to use much improved agricultural methods, to rear pigs and grow potatoes and turnips as well as oats and barley. These new crops virtually ended the recurring winter famines for the people, and ensured that the cattle were adequately fed during the winter months.

While this was going on, Pollokshaws was becoming industrialised, accompanied by increases in population and the demand for food. Many of the less successful crofters gave up their land in the expanding village, and some of this land was taken over by more capable individuals who created viable farms. This improvement is illustrated by the fact that in the early part of the century, yearly rents were paid to the Laird in the form of produce and work at ploughing and harvest time on the Laird's own land. By the end of the century rents were paid in silver coin. The introduction of industry to Pollokshaws began in 1742 when a bleachfield and printworks was established. This was followed in subsequent years by other industrial activities, until by 1793 the village had become a small but rapidly expanding town. That the standard of housing had improved is shown by the following extract written in 1809; ‘Cottages, which have been lately built for tradesmen and labourers, are of good masonry, their dimensions about 16 or 17 feet square and covered with thatch or tile'. The expense of building such a house was, in 1794, commonly from £20 to £25.

The “Queer Folk” of “The Shaws”

weaverHow the expression came about is not known for certain, but a possibility is that the description was first applied to a group of French speaking weavers of the Protestant faith, probably Flemmings from catholic Flanders, who settled in Pollokshaws during the 18th century seeking work and freedom of worship. Because of their foreign tongue no doubt these people would appear odd, not only to the parochially minded inhabitants of the village, but also to others in neighbouring towns and villages who in the course of time came to apply the description to all the people of the Shaws. A Barrhead man used the phrase as the refrain for a song, which became very popular as a music hall ditty, in which a Glasgow lad describes his adventures on a visit to the races in Pollokshaws in 1839 or 1840. All the verses end with the same words. One runs thus:

Ma mither tel't me tae beware

An' mind what I was aboot

For 'mind' says she 'there's queer folk there

An' that you'll soon fin' oot.

They'll pick the siller oot yer pooch

An' tear yir Sunday braws

I've kent them dae the like afore

The queer folk o' the Shaws'.

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