This blog post is about my maternal 4 x great grandfather, John Barr, and what happened to his place of employment, the Crosslee Mill.
John Barr was born on 20 January 1791 in Shettleston, Glasgow to James Barr and Agnes Cummin and John was baptised 3 days later in Barony parish. James, a coal hewer, had married Agnes in 1787 also in Barony.
John married Agnes Lees in an irregular marriage on 28 March 1808 in Paisley. A regular marriage was a couple marrying in Church by a minister after banns had been read for 3 consecutive Sundays. An irregular marriage was also known as a marriage of declaration because the couple simply made a declaration in front of two witnesses.
John Barr and Agnes Lees had 11 children together and the description of John’s occupation in each of these baptisms tells us a lot. We know from these baptisms that from 1809 until 1815 John was in the 71st regiment, latterly a sergeant, and from 1817 to 1835 John was a smith at Crosslee mill in Renfrewshire. Crosslee mill has a rather chequered history which I shall cover in the latter half of this blog post.
The 71st Regiment had 2 battalions whilst John was with them, the 1st serving abroad in numerous campaigns and the 2nd at home. I suspect John was in the 2nd battalion as he had numerous children in the west of Scotland whilst serving with the 71st although I’m currently unable to prove that theory. I’ve searched for mention of John in the army records on The National Archive website and the Find My Past website but have been unable to find a candidate to match John. I’ve commissioned the experts at the Royal Highland Fusiliers museum (which is the most recent regiment coming down from the 71st) to see if they can find any of John’s records for me.
John does appear in one census with his family. In 1841 John was living at School Wynd in Barony parish with his wife and children: John was 50 and a machine mechanic journeyman (journeyman being the stage above apprentice), Agnes was also 50 and four of their children were living with them: Robert aged 15, a machine mechanic apprentice (following his father), David was 14 and a cotton weaver, George was 12 with no occupation noted and Agnes was 20 and a cotton weaver. George would eventually also enlist, served with the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment and would meet and marry his wife Mary Anne Marchant in Lincoln, Ontario in 1861.
John died between 1841 and 1851. In the 1851 census Agnes is living in Pollockshaws, she’s a widow and a pirn winder (a pirn being a yarn package inserted into a shuttle) living with her daughter Agnes, now a bobbin winder, and her son David, now a labourer.
The rest of this blog post I shall devote to Crosslee Mill to which John devoted at least 18 years of his working life.
Crosslee Mill was a cotton mill which originally opened in 1793. During it’s heyday it employed 300 people in a six storey building and was the largest mill on the River Gryfe. The mill burnt down in 1858 and was replaced by a factory which again was itself replaced by a concrete structure in the 1920s. From the 1920s until 1985 when it was demolished it was owned by Nobel Explosives/ICI and then TH Lawsson trading as Lawtex who manufactured umbrellas. Nowadays there is one remaining mill building which has been redeveloped as office space.
The destruction of the mill, which John would have known, in 1858 was extremely dramatic and was reported in almost 40 UK newspapers.
I shall share the report of the destruction of John’s former place of employment directly from the Thursday 29 July 1858 edition of the Northern Daily Times as it had the most detailed account of all the newspapers:
EXTENSIVE FIRE AT CROSSLEE, RENFERWSHIRE
On Sunday afternoon, about two o’clock, the large cotton-spinning mill at Crosslee, about six miles west from Paisley, was discovered to be on fire.
The mill was six storeys in height, and one of the largest in this country. When the fire was first observed the flames were bursting from some of the windows of the third flat. An express was instantly despatched to Johnstone and Paisley for the fire engines from these places, which were sent off without delay, but before either of them arrived the fire had completely gutted the centre flats, including the floors and joisting, and the weight of the machinery in the upper flats had brought down the walls – the front wall falling outwards, and the back wall falling inwards, carrying the roof along with them, and the whole was an undistinguishable mass of flaming ruins.
Nothing, therefore, could be done to save the main building, but a detached building comprising the picking room and store, was preserved from the devastating element. The engine-house and its contents were likewise saved. The fire continued to burn all afternoon and all Saturday night, and was watched from various points about Paisley with much interest till a late hour, and it was not fully extinguished on Monday afternoon.
The mill, machinery, and cotton destroyed, is altogether estimated at about £60,000, but the proprietors are insured, we are told, in three different offices. The catastrophe will throw upwards of 500 people idle, for whom there is no other employment in the district. Indeed, in that respect, it may be regarded as a terrible calamity. The proprietors are Messrs William Stevenson and Sons, a well known and highly respectable firm; and it is much feared that the mill may not be rebuilt.
Sources: Church records and census records on the Scotland’s People website, National Army Museum website, ‘Paisley – Oor Wee Toun & Environs’ Facebook page, British Newspaper Archive website.