Renfrew’s History Bygone Day’s part ten

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Our airport, which Renfrew folk were so proud of has also been relocated, this from necessity rather than any other reason, but from its humble beginnings in the Gilchrist’s sisters field in Newmains Road, then on to a new site at the top end of Broadloan, where Tesco’s Supermarket is now situated it was surely a sad day when the decision was made for the new International Glasgow Airport, as it was to be called, to be sited at Abbotsinch, formerly used by HMS Sanderling, but even there, it is still within easy reach of the people of Renfrew, although our once proud boast that we bad an airport now belongs to the citizens of Paisley.

My boyhood days were happily spent mostly roaming through what I imagined in those days to be acres and acres of ground known locally as the Blythswood Estates, this place in itself was a young boys dream come true. Within the grounds was a large orchard in which grew, Apples, Pears and Plums, and without any farther ado, a magnetic attraction for any nimble footed lad who was not afraid of the “Gemmie”. The “Big Hoose” was still occupied but steadily falling into a state of disrepair, and it saddens me to think that this beautiful building was not allowed to be preserved for the benefit of future generations to follow. Their was also a fine walk on a Sunday, up the Red Road to the stables to view the horses and other farm animals and along the Cartside past the Argyle Stones and out at the swing bridge where, after crossing you could wander past the old Inchinnan Church, by Snoddies farm, and the Fir Woods and a short detour took you to Dicks tomato farm, where If you spoke nicely to the owner he would reward you with a small bag of baby tomatoes, and I can assure you, nothing tasted sweeter than a good fresh Scotch tomato, especially If you got them for free. you could then walk on out to a little cafe situated next to the Western bus garage to slake our thirst with a glass of lemonade or orange juice then slowly meander back into town, life seemed idyllic in those days.

Even the transportation system we enjoyed in those days has gone, no longer can you walk down to the ferry, and for a halfpenny, later to be increased to a penny, one could get an open air view of the Clyde, sitting on the top deck of the old Renfrew chain ferry. These also now are a thing of the past, having been replaced by two smaller type craft namely the Renfrew Rose, and the Yoker Swan, surely delightful names, but they will never replace the pungent smell of diesel fames, or the excitement of watching the chains, magically appearing and disappearing over the large wheel situated in the bowels of the engine room.

Also a thing of the past was the thrill of sitting down at the ferry green watching the great ships ply up and down the river. Due to shortage of work in the late 60s and early 70s and the closure of the world famous shipyards of John Browns, Fairfield’s and Stephen’s, and many others, and the closure of the docks, inevitably led to less and less shipping using the upper reaches of the Clyde. Also over the years, the entertainment provided on this venue by the Renfrew Pipe Band and the Burgh Band ceased to exist, and all that remained was the weekly “Go as you please” held in the bandstand in the Robertson Park. This consisted of any brave soul who thought they could sing, dance, recite poetry, or such, would volunteer to perform in front of, what sometimes could be quite a large audience, depending upon the weather, the winner being decided by a pre set panel of judges, with the prizes being a small box of chocolates or similar. If the weather proved to be favourable, and from my recollection it usually was, the wooden and metal chairs would be cleared away, and the mums and dads and other adults who had come to see their prodigies perform, would spend the rest of the evening dancing to records played by a loyal volunteer.

And where might you ask have all the Renfrew worthies gone? long gone are the likes of, Cala Burns, Tin Bubbins, and Faither McGee, whom I fondly remember from my youth, never it seems to be replaced, or have I just blended into the scenery which now surrounds me.

But I can assure you not all Renfrew’s history is doom and gloom, past buildings have been replaced by others more new and modern, the streets have lost their dusty atmosphere and have been transformed into beautiful flower filled walkways, which must surely be admired by the visitors entering the town from either Glasgow or Paisley, and the Burgh has on numerous occasions been nominated first place in the best kept town in Scotland awards. The townsfolk now have shopping facilities not only within, but just outside the town, which are second to none.

With the advent of the Braehead Shopping Precinct the residents now no longer have to make the arduous and time consuming visits to either Glasgow or Paisley for their shopping needs, and when all three stages are finally completed the residents of the town will have on their own doorstep, a Cinema, an Ice Rink and a Curling Arena in which a top class international event has already taken place. And to my delight the planners have constructed a Maritime Museum to preserve the relics and artefacts from Renfrew’s seafaring past. Also in their plans they are providing a Clydeside Walkway, starting at the top end of the complex and down the riverside to the Renfrew Ferry landing stage, so therefore the old walks are being replaced by new.

The Brown’s Institute, which has had numerous mentions throughout this story should surely take pride of place as I near the end of my journey. This building, presented to the people of the town by the late Walter Brown Esq., has been used for numerous facilities, and from my early recollections has been, the towns library, and a snooker hall, and the Boys Brigade used it as their Old Boys Union Club house for a number of years, the Burgh Band also practised there after losing their original premises in Fulbar Street. But gladly the powers to be have not, as in the past, allowed this fine building to fall into disrepair, but have seen fit to have it fully renovated and turned into a museum to house items of local and historical interest of Renfrew, and I would recommend anyone who is interested in finding out more about the past, relating to their home town to pay it a visit, for I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.

Modern Renfrew is still a flourishing Burgh, it is the County town and still has many important industries, manufacturing a wide range of products, some of them famous throughout the world.

It is justifiably proud of its past, active and alert in its present, and confident in its future. I have offered this excerpt, because a history of Renfrew, however superficial, would not be complete without some reference to ancient times. So the question arises, as to whether the old days, that is within living memory, were good or bad?. The answer I suppose lies with ones personal experience, but there is a Freudian theory, that people tend to forget, that, which they do not want to remember. Consequently their are elderly people who are for ever talking of the “Good old days”, but on closer investigation one would wonder, why the passing years should distort their earlier experiences.

Henry Ford was the man who said ”History is Bunk” and I am reminded of the words of an old song which implies “Its hard to see the fly upon the mountain, because the distance interferes with the view”.

I should like to continue with this topic by reflecting not only on the historic aspect of the town itself, but on memories of certain changes to buildings, people, and events recalled to memory, starting with buildings. The two most dominant factors in my education namely, Blythswood Testimonial, and Renfrew High Schools are long demolished, the beautiful Doric columns and architecture of Blythswood, and the magnificent red sandstone brickwork of Renfrew High now consigned to obscurity, to be replaced by what?. The Primary school as I have previously mentioned, having been left neglected for a number of years, was finally demolished and replaced by a home for physically impaired persons, but due to extremely high running costs etc, closed down and at present is home to refugees from war torn Kosova, so who knows what the final outcome will be?.

As for the old Renfrew High School, after it was demolished, and the pupils re housed in a brand new school situated at the top end of Haining Road. A Roman Catholic Secondary school was erected on the site and named Trinity High. But many will still retain fond memories of the old building, the annexes, the playground and the old gymnasium, and have recollections of the smoke which billowed out of the boys toilets as you watched from the sanctuary of the French class as the “Jannie”, big Wullie McIlhargie sneaked up, trying to catch the offenders. Schooldays at that time seemed so long, yet passed with the swiftest of time, into oblivion.

As I write this, the area once occupied by Braehead Power Station has been taken over by a multi million pound shopping complex, thereby depriving todays youth the delights of exploring the fields and walkways of the Old Govan Road and the vast areas of the Elderslie Estates. Slowly but surely the green areas of the town are being eroded by building progress, thereby limiting the amount of leisure walkways available to the townsfolk. One such walk which years ago was a favourite, was what was known as “Down the back of Hendersons”, Hendersons being the name of one of the original shipowners situated at the bottom end of Meadowside Street where the now extinct Simons and Lobnitz yards were situated. You are still able to walk along this lane where once the sound of “Quoiters” rang out, as the drovers of these days, gambled on who was the most accurate. For the benefit of the uninitiated, “quolts or kites were originally metal horse shoes, which were thrown or tossed at a metal spike at a pre determined distance away, the object being to “ring or cleek” the shoe around the spike, thus gaining a point in your favour, alas now this skill has been lost to obscurity.

The walk continues, down to the riverside and past the golf course to the junction of the River Clyde and the River Cart to the lighthouse, affectionately known as “Wee Blinky” to the golfers playing the seventh hole on Renfrew Golf Course. The walk has seen the benefit of having been resurfaced, and although at times being covered with flotsam from high tides it is still a pleasurable pastime in the summer months. If one continues along you come to the golf driving range and the Normandy Hotel and to the Argyle Stones another land mark in the history of this Royal Burgh dating back to the 13th century.

The walk used to terminate here at the swing bridge (one of the only Basculle bridges left in Scotland) but now it has been extended to continue along the Cartside and terminate at the bottom end of Porterfield Road next to Babcock’s old yard. A continuation along Porterfield Road passed the Moorpark Primary School to the junction with Paisley Road and by turning right we pass the fire station and the library and health centre to the Moorcroft sports ground, now sadly too, in a state of neglect and disrepair, but recently been designated the site of a £5mlllion pounds revamp, incorporating a magnificent new sporting complex with indoor running track and an all seated arena for 6000 people, this is surely a bonus to Renfrew in itself.

Their are another two sporting complexes in the town, one in the Glynhill Hotel and the other in the David Lloyd centre, but being privately owned the cost of membership is outwith the reach of the average working class family. Major events taking place within the town are now few and far between, recently Renfrew hosted the World curling championships in the newly built ice arena in the Braehead centre, and although even at this time of writing, Glasgow City Council are attempting to alter the boundary line so as to incorporate the entire complex within their grasp, thereby doing Renfrew District Council out of the massive revenue generated by these amenities, and I would like to say that this proposal is being met with strong opposition from all parties within Renfrew District Council and we trust that in the long run common sense will prevail. But long since gone are the days when thousands of people flocked into the town for the World Pipe Band championships, originally held in the Western Park the home of Renfrew Juniors Football Club, and then moved to King GeorgeV playing fields, this proved to be a tremendous source of income for the town, especially the public houses, gone too are the days of listening to the pipe band or the Burgh band playing on the ferry green, or even the Salvation Army Band giving us a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers” at the street corner on a Sunday night.

And where is the youth of today? no longer do you hear the sound of exuberant voices, shouting and yelling whilst playing street games, have they found other pastimes or have they been driven indoors? It must be said that due to the altered features of the town, much of the play areas when I was a lad have disappeared, and I feel a sense of remorse for the children of today, who can no longer get the buzz of excitement from what was deemed then, a childish prank but would probably be looked upon today as an act of wanton violence, that of the heinous crime of “pinching apples”, each boy had his favourite spot irrespective of whether it was the Parish Church Manse, Blythswood Estate Orchards or “Laughing Sams”. Some people will tell you that “Laughing Sam” never existed or was not even a real person, but even the mention of his name put shivers down the spine of even the bravest of lads who thought for one minute that he might be caught. Sams domain was a large house situated at the corner of Meadowside Street and Ferry Road with a beautiful driveway leading up to the building, therefore to gain access to the orchard you first of all had to broach the front gates, then the driveway, then round the house to the rear and the awaiting fence bedecked with barbed wire, so it took a very brave soul to attempt all this and gain entry to his private “Garden of Eden”. Having achieved all this you were met with an abundance of different fruit trees which were a joy to behold, but their was to be a sting in the tail, no sooner had you ventured to the top of one of the trees then that was the signal from one of your so called chums to start yelling at the top of their voices, “Here comes Sam” and without fail, the large dogs which were kept in a compound at the side of the house would start to bark with an ever increasing crescendo, this was your signal to shove as much fruit up your jumper as you could carry and start out for the front gates, for if you did not bring any evidence that you had actually breached the inner sanctum no one would have believed you, and you would end up a laughing stock at school the next day. As you ran as fast as your legs would take you, it was always imagined that you could feel the hot breath of the dogs on your neck, and waited with expectation to feel the hand of “Sam” gripping your jacket collar. That is why I still feel to this day that no one ever actually saw the face of “Laughing Sam” as you always had your back to him as you ran for your life.

As this is the start of a new Millennium I have tried to reflect on memories of the past, and the changes, not only to the town itself but the people in general, and try and visualise what this little Burgh will be in the future, and close by using again the words of the songwriter.


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