Sketch from a photograph taken at canal bridge in Paisley circa 1870
Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal
The next major change to affect Corkerhill, at the onset of the industrial revolution, was the coming of the canal. The 12th Earl of Eglinton promoted a scheme to build a canal from Glasgow Port Eglinton, near today’s Eglinton Junction on the south side of the River Clyde on the railway line going into Glasgow Central Station. The canal was intended to run from Glasgow to Paisley and on to a new harbour at Ardrossan. Thomas Telford, the great engineer of the time, drew up plans for a canal to be 25 feet wide by 4 feet deep and work began in 1807 at Port Eglinton. Telford drew up his “Report on the Harbour of Ardrossan and Canal from thence to Glasgow” in 1805. His report described the general course of the canal in two main levels. The first level running from Tradeston, on Glasgow’s south side to Johnstone being a contour canal without need for locks; the second level would run from Johnstone to Saltcoats, near Ardrossan which would require locks.
The report also described approximate revenues and where revenues from passenger and freight carriage on the canal would emerge from. Telford appendixed the report with detailed maps and his plans included a spur canal at Low Henderston farm running through Corkerhill and Crookston up to the Alum Works at the Hurlet near Nitshill. This spur was never constructed; however, it was abandoned in favour of a horse drawn waggonway, which ran alongside the Crookston Road to the canal at Rosshall Quay. In 1805, Parliament passed the bill which was “an Act for Making and maintaining a Navigable Canal from the Harbour of Ardrossan in the County of Ayr, to Tradestown near Glasgow, in the County of Lanark; and a Collateral Cut from the said Canal to the Coal Works at Hurlet, in the County of Renfrew.” This Act established the rights of “the Company of Proprietors of the Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal; Directors Hugh Earl of Eglinton and Archibald Lord Montgomerie.”
The Scots Magazine reported in May 1806 that “Lord Eglintoun . . . has procured an Act of Parliament and is getting an excellent harbour constructed at Ardrossan. His Lordship further proposes to connect this harbour with Paisley and Glasgow; by a canal . . . The whole tract abounds with manufacturing towns and villages, which must occasion an ample conveyance of persons and goods. It also abounds with coal, lime and iron-stone and other minerals, which the canal will render valuable.”
The construction of the new canal would have reached Corkerhill by about 1808, skirting alongside the River Cart until it reached Cardonald Mill, then proceeding west to Hawkhead Mill, following the long established Scott’s Road. This necessitated the building of a road bridge over the canal called Henderston Bridge on Corkerhill Road, where the present Corkerhill Railway Bridge is sited. The canal passed through Paisley and by 1810 it had reached Johnstone. Due to financial difficulties with the scheme the canal was not extended beyond Johnstone and freight traffic from Ardrossan and other parts of Ayrshire, including coal and ironstone, were carted to Johnstone and Paisley for onward barging to Glasgow. Passenger boats maintained a daily service between Glasgow and Paisley with various stopping places including Corkerhill, Cardonald Mill, Crookston and Hawkhead.
A description of the infrastructure of the canal was published in ‘Annals of Glasgow, Vol. 1’ by James Cleland, Glasgow’s celebrated Master of Public Works, in 1816:-
“The length of the Canal. . . . from Port-Eglinton to Johnston (sic), eleven miles. Breadth of the waterway, thirty feet; and four and one half feet deep. From Port-Eglinton to Johnston, there are thirty-five stone Bridges thrown across the Canal for the accommodation of the public; two Tunnels through which the trade passes, viz. one under Causewayside-street of Paisley, 240 feet long, and one through Ralston-square, at the west end of Paisley, 210 feet long; and five Aqueducts. The bridge across the Cart is 240 feet long, twenty-seven feet broad, and thirty feet high, the span of the arch, eighty-four feet. There are eighteen Culverts for taking off water from the Canal, eight basins, twelve Landing-places, and three large Store-houses, viz. one at Port-Eglinton, Paisley and Johnston, and a spacious house of public-entertainment for the accommodation of passengers at Port-Eglinton.”
On 7 October 1811 the “Glasgow Herald” reported “The opening ceremony Friday 4th October 1811”, which read:-
“The ceremony was attended by Right Hon. Earl of Eglinton, Sir John Maxwell of Pollok, Mr. Campbell of Blythswood, Mr. Hamilton of Grange, Mr. Smith of Swinridgemuir, Sheriffs and Magistrates of Renfrew and Paisley accompanied by the Band of the 1st Reg. Lanarkshire Local Militia. An immense crowd cheered the embarkation of three elegant and decorated barges and proceeded in the grandest style to Port Eglinton basin in Glasgow.”
My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather John McGee had a son John McGee (b. 1780) who married Mary Guthrie on 15 December 1808 in Tarbolton, Ayrshire. John McGee was a canal agent who drew package boats (barges) through the canal, with horses, from Paisley Canal Street to Port Eglinton, Glasgow. He began this work on 3 October 1811. John McGee moved his wife and children from Tarbolton to Paisley to carry out his business; he hired, at times, others to draw the boats and at one time had up to 3 barges running. John McGee was listed in the Houston papers on the “List of Shareholders of the Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal Company” holding a single share, along with more notables such as the main shareholder Lord Eglinton and the engineer Thomas Telford. John McGee also ran an inn-keeping business at Port Eglinton in the Laurieston district of Glasgow in the 1820s, prior to becoming an agent for the canal with an office at Port Eglinton and this is possibly the “spacious house of public-entertainment” described above in 1816 by James Cleland. John McGee is recorded in a manuscript from the papers of William Houston of Johnstone entitled “Men’s wages on the Canal”:-
Men’s wages on the canal
Wages of Men & Horses employed in the Carrying Trade
James Stewart has charge in Glasgow
James Bannerman Office Keeper
2 Porters 67½p each
1 Do. at P. Eglinton
John McGee for 5 Horses & Carts @ 37½p a day and 2 Men & Horses with Boats @ 37½p a day
2 Porters 75p & 60p
3 Carters @ 80p
3 Captains of Boats 90p
1 Do. Do. 65p & asst. 55p
1 Hire Horse & Cart 27½p
John McGee at P. Eglinton wages
Keep of 5 Horses & Carts charged @ 16½p a day Sunday included
Besides the above the Trade is charged with the cost of New Boats and repairs which cannot be less than £120 a year.
Paisley 14 Jany. 1834
Disaster on the Paisley Canal in 1810
The launch of the first passenger boat on the Paisley Canal caused great excitement; the “Countess of Eglinton”, named after the Earl’s wife, was designed to carry 150 passengers and was drawn by two horses at a speed of four miles per hour. The boat was launched on 31 October 1810 and started passenger carrying trips on 6 November 1810, between Paisley and Johnstone. Martinmas Fair was held on Saturday 10 November 1810 and a large number of holidaymakers were curious to sail on the new boat, to taste the delights of aquatic travel, possibly for the first time. Paisley weavers and their families thronged the banks of the Paisley Canal wharf in anticipation of a pleasure cruise.
When the “Countess of Eglinton” touched the landing stage the eager Paisley folk rushed to board the boat as the passengers from Johnstone disembarked. The boatmen, realising the danger of capsizing, quickly pushed the boat a few feet out from the quayside. Hoping to balance the boat, the crew shouted to the passengers aboard to go into the cabin below. Amid the noise and confusion their warnings went unheeded. Eager passengers crowded the deck before the cabins and steerage below were filled. In seconds the boat capsized and two hundred people, men, women and children were thrown into the cold, wintry water. The disaster at Paisley claimed 85 lives. 115 people were saved, with many being dragged to safety from the banks of the wharf. Only ten people managed to swim out of the freezing cold waters of the canal basin. Practically all the victims were weavers. More than half the numbers were children, who at that period worked in the weaving trade. Boys of nine or ten were listed as weavers or draw boys, while girls aged between twelve and fourteen were listed as clippers, darners or tambourers.
The Scots Magazine reported in November 1810 of a “Dreadful Catastrophe at Paisley” stating that “it appears that no less than eighty-four persons perished on that fateful day”. The Paisley magistrates decreed that a fund be set up to relieve the suffering of families bereft of any income. Despite the disaster the "Countess of Eglinton" continued to sail for many years on the canal. She carried countless passengers without further losses.
Troubled Waters at the Paisley Canal
The following is extracted from an article written by W.D. Hunt and published on 30 December 1967 in the Glasgow Herald:-
“Few West of Scotland enterprises of the Industrial Revolution were of greater pith and moment than the Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal and none had a more chequered career. High promise, splendid achievement, failure, bitter litigation, tragedy – all found their place in a fascinating chapter of Scottish history. . . .Saturday, November 10, 1810, was the date: the scene the Paisley basin of the planned and partially completed waterway. . . .As the Saturday coincided with the Paisley Martinmas Fair family outings en masse were a domestic compulsion. . . . The pushing throngs of the Paisley folk determined to gain vantage points not in the cabin but on the roof made the situation alarming and to prevent further hordes from clambering aboard the boatmen pushed off a few feet.
This move proved disastrous. The boat keeled over steeply and more than 100 people, the majority of them children, were toppled into the 6ft deep canal. Heroic feats of rescue and resuscitation were performed. As soon as bodies were recovered from the water they were carried into houses where ‘every exertion of individual humanity and medical skill was made to restore animation’. More than 40 inert figures were borne to the house of a Mr. Barclay whose family ‘had the heartfelt satisfaction of seeing their benevolent labours succeed in recovering 11 persons from apparent death’.
Although the first chapter in the canal story was written when the progressive Twelfth Earl of Eglinton persuaded a Paisley public meeting in 1803 to accept the idea enthusiastically, a prologue was drafted by James Watt of steam engine renown 30 years earlier. Surveying the route of a Paisley-Hurlet canal he suggested the feasibility of a much more ambitious link between Glasgow and Ardrossan via Paisley and Johnstone.
'The Glasgow Herald’ records that ‘after a cold collation’ the company agreed, on the suggestion of Provost John Hamilton, that the depot at Tradeston should be named Port Eglinton. At regular intervals a horse-drawn omnibus conveyed passengers from the Tontine Hotel to the Port Eglinton landing stage. . . . The Glasgow – Paisley stretch was filled in and used as the railway line from St. Enoch to Paisley Canal Street, the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company attached the name ‘Port Eglinton’ to their signal box. . . . Mr. R. Newton Innes, managing director of the 90-year-old firm of building material distributors who have taken over the site (stated) ‘We are perpetuating the name Port Eglinton on our premises and we have bought from British Rail the two signal box name boards for £2 each. . . . Port Eglinton remains. Next to these premises is the British Railways parcel depot at Salkeld Street where the old canal bollards may still be seen.”
The premises of R. Newton Innes was based at 30 Salkeld Street, Glasgow, then superseded by J&W Henderson Ltd and now operated by Keyline Distributors. The name ‘Port Eglinton’ is still proudly displayed at the entrance, commemorating the existence of the Paisley Canal terminus over 120 years after it was converted to railway use.
 Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal – Mitchell Library
 Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal – Mitchell Library
 Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal – Mitchell Library; Scots Magazine, May 1806
 Old Cardonald Had a Farm, John A. McInnes, Glasgow Mitchell Library Press
 Annals of Glasgow, Vol.1, James Cleland, 1816
 The Glasgow Herald, 7 October 1811
 The Diaries of John McGee: Donna Hoff-Grambau, USA; Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal, Mitchell Library; Houston Papers, Mitchell Library
 Old Cardonald Had a Farm, John A. McInnes, Glasgow Mitchell Library Press; The Scots Magazine, November 1810
 The Glasgow Herald: Article by W.D. Hunt published 30 December 1967, Glasgow University Archives UGD 8/8/34 & 35
 Jim Holmes, Keyline Distributors