|Scottish Gaelic: Baile Nèill|
A view of the village of Neilston, with the city of Glasgow in the distance
Neilston shown within East Renfrewshire
|Area||0.45 sq mi (1.2 km2)|
|Population||5,168 (2001 Census)|
|– density||11,484/sq mi (4,434/km2)|
|OS grid reference|
|– Edinburgh||44 mi (71 km) EbN|
|– London||343 mi (552 km) SSE|
|Council area||East Renfrewshire|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|UK Parliament||East Renfrewshire|
Neilston (Scots: Neilstoun, Scottish Gaelic: Baile Nèill, ) is a village and parish in East Renfrewshire in the west central Lowlands of Scotland. It is in the Levern Valley, 2 miles (3.2 km) southwest of Barrhead, 3.8 miles (6.1 km) south of Paisley, and 5.7 miles (9.2 km) south-southwest of Renfrew, at the southwestern fringe of the Greater Glasgow conurbation. Neilston is a dormitory village with a resident population of just over 5,000 people.
Neilston is mentioned in documents from the 12th century, when the feudal lord Robert de Croc, endowed a chapel to Paisley Abbey to the North. Neilston Parish Church—a Category B listed building—is said to be on the site of this original chapel and has been at the centre of the community since 1163. Little remains of the original structure. Before industrialisation, Neilston was a scattered farming settlement composed of a series of single-storey houses, many of them thatched. Some domestic weaving was carried out using local flax. Water power from nearby streams ground corn and provided a suitable environment for bleaching the flax.
The urbanisation and development of Neilston came largely with the Industrial Revolution. Industrial scale textile processing was introduced to Neilston around the middle of the 18th century with the building of several cotton mills. Neilston became a centre for cotton and calico bleaching and printing in the 18th century, which developed into a spinning and dying industry, and continued into the early 20th century. Although Neilston is known as a former milling village, agriculture has played, and continues to play, an economic role. The annual Neilston Agricultural Show is an important trading and cultural event for farmers from southwest Scotland each spring.
Although heavy industry died out in the latter half of the 20th century, as part of Scotland's densely populated Central Belt, Neilston has continued to grow as a commuter village, supported by its position between Paisley and Glasgow, from roughly 1,000 people in 1800 to 5,168 in 2001. Expansion continues due to several new housing developments.
Local historians have proposed various theories for the origin of the name Neilston. Although the first element is likely to derive from either the Gaelic forename "Niall" (genitive "Nèill") or else from the French Nigel, there is disagreement as to whether the second element represents the English "stone" or "town". The earliest mention of Neilston is in the Chartulary of Paisley Abbey, which mentions that the Anglo-Norman knight, Robert Croc of Crocstown (Crookston), assigned the patronage of Neilstoun to the monks of St Mirren's in 1163, on condition that masses should be regularly said for the benefit of his soul. G. W. S. Barrow suggested that the settlement may be identified with the follower of Walter fitz Alan, Lord of Kyle and Strathgryfe (and liege lord of Robert Croc), named Nigel de Cotentin.
Despite this, some writers have given etymological explanations which post-date 1163. For instance, it has been written that "Neil" was a General of King Haakon IV of Norway, who, fleeing from the Battle of Largs (1263), was overtaken in this locality and put to death. According to the custom of the age a burial mound was supposedly erected over his grave and the locality ultimately received the name of the General. In a similar semi-legendary popular etymology, Neilston's origin was said to derive from a stone erected over the grave of a Highland chief named Neil who was allegedly killed at the Battle of Harlaw (1411), in the reign of King James I of Scotland.
Before its recorded history began, and possibly before its founding, the territory of what became Neilston is known to have formed part of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde. Evidence attests that Neilston is much older than its larger neighbour Barrhead, as the first recorded mention of Barrhead was almost 600 years after Neilston's mention in the Chartulary of Paisley Abbey of 1163. The chartulary dealt with the foundation of the Clunaic Monastery in Paisley and its relationship to a chapel in Neilston, which were both answerable to Rome via the Clunaic Movement. Because of its chapel, which later became a parish church, Neilston was the most important settlement in the Levern Valley and much of rural Renfrewshire.
In the Middle Ages Neilston's position in the Barrhead Gap, a pass linking Ayrshire to Glasgow, gave it strategic importance. Robert Croc may have had a fort or watchtower at Coldoun in Neilston in the 12th century. "Doun" is a corruption of "dun" meaning castle or fort, and the prefix perhaps implies the lack of physical warmth within the tower or the greeting received by unwelcome guests. Despite this distinction of local importance, Neilston remained a scattered community of small dwellings and farms, changing only with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution.
In the 17th century Neilston shared in a national hysteria about witchcraft that plagued Scotland. In 1650 a number of people from Inverkip, Linwood and Neilston were accused of witchcraft. However, they passed certain tests which would disprove them to be witches. In 1697, Christian Shaw of Lambroughton succeeded in convincing a Minister that she was a victim of witchcraft. A Commission of Enquiry, which included the Laird of Glanderston, was appointed to investigate. As a result of the investigation, later known as the Paisley Witch Trials, four women and three men were arrested and eventually condemned to death and executed at Paisley. The Minister of Neilston Church, the Reverend David Brown, officiated at the hanging; he preached to them before the execution "beseeching them to turn to God, God having exercised a great deal of long-suffering towards them".
The foundations of a textile industry in Neilston were laid by the monks of Paisley Abbey who mastered the local woollen trade in the Middle Ages. Neilston became a centre for cotton and calico bleaching and printing in the 18th century. This developed into a spinning and dying industry and continued into the early 20th century. Bleachfields and textile processing brought rapid socioeconomic growth to the village. Neilston was one of the earliest centres of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution; the process of bleaching linens was introduced into Neilston in 1765, and a mill in the parish was the second erected in Scotland. By 1780, cotton manufacturing and bleaching had become the main industry in Neilston; the clear busy waters of the River Levern being well suited for power and processing. In the "Old" Statistical Account of Scotland (1792), compiled under the direction of Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, Neilston was noted to have two cotton mills employing together more than 300 people, over half of them children. The local Minister was concerned for the children's welfare, remarking on how they missed school to work in the mills where their lungs would be filled with cotton fluff and their skin spoiled by machine oil.
Crofthead Mill (known locally as Neilston Mill) was established in 1792. It was one of seven large cotton mills on the banks of the River Levern between Neilston and Dovecothall, and although it closed for business in the early 1990s, it is the only industrial structure from this period still standing. Because of the large size of the complex, coupled with its short distance from the main residential core of Neilston, it was described in 1830, at the peak of the industry's prosperity, as "a little town of its self". Other mills and factories have existed but have been demolished, including Broadley Spinning and Weaving Factory, and Gateside village and Spinning Mill.
Following its period of rapid industrialisation, in 1904 about 400 mill houses were constructed forming Lintmill Terrace and its neighbouring streets in what was then the non-contiguous Holehouse area of the Parish of Neilston. Additional housing schemes in the 1920s and 1930s led to Holehouse and old Neilston becoming a single continuously connected urban area, described as that of a "sizable small township". Since this time, much rebuilding and further expansion has taken place. Gentrification projects since 2000 have included the refurbishment of the parish church in 2004, an experimental public space renewal initiative in 2005 and the renovation of Nether Kirkton House, a mansion.
Neilston is represented by several tiers of elected government. Neilston Community Council forms the lowest tier of governance whose statutory role is to communicate local opinion to local and central government. It is one of ten community councils of the East Renfrewshire council area. East Renfrewshire Council, the unitary local authority for Neilston, is based at Giffnock, close to the border with the City of Glasgow, and is the executive, deliberative and legislative body responsible for local governance. The Scottish Parliament is responsible for devolved matters such as education, health and justice, while reserved matters are dealt with by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The territory of what became Neilston anciently formed part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. It has lain within the county boundaries of Renfrewshire from a very early time. Neilston emerged as a parish and administrative unit in 1170, and was for many years under the lordship of the Mures of Caldwell whose tombs are at the parish church. The parish was 8 miles (13 km) in length and by from 2 miles (3 km) to 4 miles (6 km) in breadth, encompassing six sevenths of what is now the town of Barrhead. Neilston Parish Council, a local body with limited power, was established in 1895, following the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1894, and abolished in 1930 following the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929. In 1890, Neilston fell under the authority of Renfrewshire County Council, where it remained until 1975 when the county was superseded by the regional council area of Strathclyde. In 1903, Neilston was within the Paisley Small Debt Court District and Poor Combination. From 1975 to 1996, Neilston was in the Renfrew District of Strathclyde until the two-tier regions and districts of Scotland were abolished. Since 1996 it has formed part of the unitary East Renfrewshire council area; East Renfrewshire Council is the local authority. Neilston remains part of Renfrewshire for purposes of registration and Lieutenancy.
Most of Neilston is in the North Neilston and West Arthurlie electoral ward. The village forms part of the county constituency of East Renfrewshire, electing one Member of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Jim Murphy of the Scottish Labour Party is the MP for East Renfrewshire. Before the constituency's creation in 2005, Neilston lay in the Eastwood constituency, represented by Jim Murphy. For purposes of the Scottish Parliament, Neilston forms part of the Eastwood constituency, which is represented by Kenneth Macintosh MSP, also of the Labour party, in addition to this Neilston is represented by seven regional MSPs from the West of Scotland electoral region.