I’ve been leading tours of Paisley, together with my wife Sandra, for 22 years now. We get people from all over the world – we’ve had Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, Canadians, Zimbabweans and people from all parts of the world.
My father was a keen historian and musician and he especially loved the songs of Robert Tannahill. When I was young, Kenneth McKellar famously sang Tannahill songs such as ‘The Bonnie Wood O’ Craigielea’ and I was brought up among songs and tales of Tannhill, Hugh MacDonald and the weaver poets.
My father used to take me a walk around Paisley town centre on a Saturday and the thing I always remember was that you nearly broke your neck looking up at all these big, imposing buildings! Especially Paisley Jail, which was such as a looming presence on the skyline. And everything was black with the soot of the chimneys...it was such a treat at the end of the walk when we would stop in at Polly Brown’s on Causeyside Street for my father to buy Capstan cigarettes for himself and a quarter of sweets for me.
I used to work in the Procurator Fiscal’s office on Love Street and, because of the nature of the job I did, I joke that I saw more of the cells than the prisoners did! But I had to take medical-retirement because of serious ill-health.
Being house-bound for a long period of time, I lost a lot of self-confidence and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. So taking the guided tours has really changed my life...
I’ve been doing the tours, together with my wife Sandra, for 22 years now. We get people from all over the world – we’ve had Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, Canadians, Zimbabweans and people from all parts of the world.
Often, they are the children or grandchildren of people who emigrated from Paisley, keen to trace their family roots and see where previous generations of their family lived and worked.
The tours can take lots of different shapes – it depends on what things the visitors on each particular tour are most interested in. I’d say the single most popular stop tends to be the museum and the shawl gallery, which many American visitors in particular love to see.
I find so many different aspects of Paisley’s history fascinating. There’s the influence of the Coats family, from their own travels around the world which influenced the designs of many of Paisley’s most famous buildings to the pastimes, societies and recreational activities they organised for their workforce. There are also the organised holidays the weavers used to take to Arran where they could breathe in the fresh air and avoid the fibres that filled their lings in the workplace.
But I really love all the little stories, the bits of urban folklore, like looking up to Oakshaw Trinity Church from the spectacles and trying to see wee Leitchy...but if you want to know the full story, you have to come on one of my tours!