Those of you who know me personally, or follow me on twitter, will know that apart from being gluten free, the thing I talk about most is probably the town of Paisley. Paisley is not my home town, but it’s a town which I feel played a huge part in shaping who I am as a person.
When I was younger, Paisley was where we came to go to the shops. I have vivid memories of eating doughnuts under umbrellas in the cafe at the bottom of the Paisley Centre with my dad before I even started school. As I grew up I attended PACE Youth Theatre, based in Paisley, spending most of my summers in the town taking part in workshops.
Paisley is bidding to become UK City of Culture 2021. It is the only town in the competition and the only remaining Scottish contender. The winner will be announced tomorrow.
History and Heritage
Paisley was once a booming industrial town, best known for weaving and textiles. Our ancestors wove the famous Paisley-pattern shawls that brought the town her name. By the nineteenth century, shawls had lost their fashion and thread making took over Paisley’s industry, led by the Coats and Clark families until the mills closed in the 1990s. J&P Coats continue to manufacture thread worldwide today.
Many streets in Paisley show their links to the textile industry, boasting names such as Cotton Street, Mill Street and Thread Street to name but a few. Paisley Museum hosts a collection of original Paisley shawls, and other artifacts such as looms.
Paisley people are known as ‘Buddies’ and historical Buddies include influential globe-trotters such as John Witherspoon (a signatory of the American Declaration of Independence), Alexander Wilson (the father of American ornithology), and cultural figures like the town’s ‘weaver poet’ Robert Tannahill. In recent years, Paisley has produced stars such as actors Gerard Butler and David Tennant, artist John Byrne and musicians Gerry Rafferty and Paolo Nutini.
Buddies are known for being radical, and not afraid to stand up for their beliefs. In the 19th Century, weavers marched in protest against the mill owners over payment for the “Sma’ Shot” – a small cotton thread which, although unseen, was necessary in holding together garments. This is still remembered today through the annual Sma’ Shot Day where residents and visitors can celebrate Paisley’s history.
In 1928, a woman found a dead snail in a bottle of ginger beer and became ill. She sued the manufacturer for negligence and paved the way for modern law, introducing the precedent that manufacturers had a “duty of care” to their customers.
Paisley boasts a collection of listed buildings, second only to Edinburgh. The town is full of skyline-dominating churches, and buildings decorated with intricate details. All you need to do is look up.
One notable building is Paisley Abbey – standing proud since 1176 this is where William Wallace was educated and where many members of Scotland’s former royal families are buried. It has been restored and remains a working church today, often hosting many concerts as part of the Spree Festival.
The mill owners of Paisley didn’t just build an industry, they built the town itself. Paisley Town Hall was part funded by the Clark family, and the Coats family also left a lasting legacy through the town’s only Observatory, the Central Library and Museum, and the iconic Fountain Gardens.
Culture and Community
Paisley Arts Centre is a hub for cultural activity hosting everything from live theatre and music to poetry slams, dance performances and of course the annual PACE Pantomime. Paisley Museum and Art Gallery has a wide range of exhibitions for young and old alike – the Star Wars exhibition this summer was a particular highlight of mine!
There are many events taking place throughout the year in the town centre, including the British Pipe Band Championships and the Halloween Festival. The week long Spree Festival hosts performances from Scottish musicians across the town, including a headline concert in Paisley Abbey. In 2017, Frightened Rabbit and Paolo Nutini played in the Abbey.
Many local community organisations nurture Buddies young and old to take part in culture in their every day lives. Organisations such as Create Paisley, Loud n Proud, Engage Renfrewshire, Roar and The Star Project to name just a few. Through this project I have had the honor of meeting and working alongside many great ambassadors for Paisley who really make this town great.
The bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021 has brought life back in to Paisley. People have found hope where there was none before. We can and WILL make a difference. Please have a look at the Paisley 2021 website to see all the work that has done so far, and follow us on social media to be first to hear the result!