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Paisley Abbey

Abbey (Medieval), War Memorial(S) (20th Century)

Site Name Paisley Abbey

Classification Abbey (Medieval), War Memorial(S) (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Abbey Close, Paisley Abbey; Abercorn Aisle; Royal Scots Fusiliers, Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders And Royal Engineers War Memorial Plaque

Canmore ID 43139

Site Number NS46SE 2

NGR NS 48559 63954

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2024.

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Digital Images

First 100 images shown. See the Collections panel (below) for a link to all digital images.

Administrative Areas

  • Council Renfrewshire
  • Parish Paisley (Renfrew)
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Renfrew
  • Former County Renfrewshire

Archaeology Notes

NS46SE 2.00 48559 63954

NS46SE 2.01 48537 63916 Place of Paisley (manse)

NS46SE 2.02 485 639 St Mirin's Church

NS46SE 2.03 485 638 abbey wall

NS46SE 2.04 485 638 Barochan Cross (see also NS46NW 1)

NS46SE 2.05 4849 6388 to 4858 6388 drain

NS46SE 2.06 485 639 Abbey Close trial excavation

NS46SE 2.07 484 638 trial excavations

For Barochan Cross (NS46NW 1: under guardianship in Paisley Abbey), see NS46SE 2.04.

The Abbey (NR)

OS 6" map (1911)

(NS 4855 6395) The Abbey (NAT)

OS 1:10000 map (1973)

The Clunic Abbey of Paisley was founded as a priory between 1161-4, probably 1163, at Renfrew (see NS56NW 16) moving to Paisley about 1169. It was erected into an abbey in 1219. The abbey was burned by the English in 1307, and again by Reformers in 1561; it was secularised in 1587.

I B Cowan and D E Easson 1976

The original conventual buildings have been altered and absorbed in later work, but the cloister court survives as a garden, the N and E alleys have been restored, and the church continues in use. It dates from a mid-15th century restoration, but includes the original late 12th century E processional doorway and a 13th century great W doorway. The aisled nave is complete and the well-preserved chapel of St Mirin projects E from the S transept. The church was fully restored at the beginning of this century (S Cruden 1960).

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1897; H R Howell 1936

Dates : S wall of nave, about 1190; W bay of nave, 13th century; remainder 15th century. Restoration and additions: nave 1788-8, nave and partial repair of transepts 1859-62; transepts, lower part of central tower 1912 onwards; vault of choir and central tower completed 1924-8; cloisters completed 1915.

SDD List 1963

A small, pierced stone 35mm in diameter, inscribed with a cross, found at Paisley Abbey is in the possession of Norma A Cunningham.

DES 1977

NS 485 639 Phase V of the restoration of Paisley Abbey included the removal, restoration and reinsertion of certain stained glass windows in the N and S aisles and N transept of the abbey. The archaeological works in December 2003 consisted of a watching brief to record any disturbance to the medieval fabric or below-ground archaeology. Evidence of earlier window glass was retrieved, and the remains of the 1879 E window from the St Mirin Chapel were recovered and boxed for storage.

Report lodged with WoSAS SMR and the NMRS.

Sponsors: HS, HLF.

C Evans 2003

Architecture Notes


Architect: Sir Robert Lorimer 1923-8 (restoration)

Dr Peter McGregor Chalmers (restoration) - choir stalls and cloister begun 1912

Wm McDowall. Marble by Flaxman executed by Wm Gowans 1810

N Transept gable partially restored by Jas. Salmon, architect of Glasgow 1862

NMRS Printroom - Inglis Photograph Collection Acc No 1994/90

Interior restoration by Robert Lorimer:

the chancel seen from the crossing

communion table 'Sanctus'

chancel ceiling, including organ

choir stalls

lantern at screen

detail of organ case - studio photograph

chancel desk

NMRS Printroom - Rev John Sime Collection Acc No 1993/144

Pencil plan dated 2 Sept 1816

LOR/P/1/5/4 previously numbered as NMRS/SpC/LOR/Printroom/121



Repair of the Church of Paisley

Payment of #28.11.4 (Scots) as the Duke of Montrose's proportion of the cost. Cash Book.

1733 GD 220/6/32/Page 660

Non-Guardianship Sites Plan Collection, DC28434, 1909.


Repair of the roof and glass of the Church is done but the Duke of Montrose has not yet paid his share of the cost. Letter from Robert Millar, Minister of Paisley Abbey, to John Graham, Chamberlain to the Duke of Montrose.

1727 GD 220/5/1049/5

National Library: Water Colour sketches, Series of, by Thomas Brown, Avocate. Vol. II, No 2 - 1 sketch


Publication Account (1982)

The Abbey gave Paisley its corporate existence. The ecclesiastical institution was founded c.1169 by Walter, son of Alan, Steward of Scotland, an Anglo-Norman, who had accompanied David I from,. and received lands_ from him in Pai.sley, Pollok, Renfrew, Cathcart and Eaglesham (MacGibbon and Ross, 1897, iii, 7; Metcalfe, 1909, 4). The Cluniac Priory, which was the daughter house of Wenlock in Shropshire, was to supercede the sixth-century church of St. Mirin.

St.Mirin, however, was one of four saints to whom the priory was dedicated, along with the Blessed Virgin, St.James the Greater and St. Milburga, patron of the monks of Wenlock (Howell i 1929, 8). The priory received abbatial status in 1245 during the incumbency of Abbot William (1225-1248), who also thoroughly consolidated the establishment (MacGibbon, 1897, iii, 8). It was one of Scotland 1s wealthiest abbeys, having been granted many lands, and in the fifteenth century, in the great age of lay piety, several chantry altars were established and sumptuously endowed. It was also in the fifteenth century that Paisley's founder, Abbot George Shaw, added greatly to the existing church fabric.

Before the Reformation, the Abbey consisted of the church, the cloister and conventual buildings. The church comprised a long aisleless choir, a nave with aisles, a north transept, a south transept, with St.Mirin's Chapel attached to the south of it, and a tower and spire over the crossing (MacGibbon, 1896, iii, 10).

By the mid-eighteenth century, the choir and transepts along with several parts of the Abbey were in ruins. These ruins contained excellent building stone, a fact which did not escape the notice of the 'reckless' young Earl of Dundonald who quarried this stone, undoubtedly to aid his building schemes in the New Town (Parkhill, 1857, 29).

When this quarry was exhausted, the nobleman proceeded to take down a good portion of the ruins which were still standing; but the heritors stopped him from removing the ashlar stone above the arch of the main window of the north transept, which is one of the finest of any abbey in Scotland (Parkhill, 1857, 29). A bullet at the 1758 siege of Louisburg ended Dundonald's vandalism. By 1788. however, the church was in a bad state of repair, and although there were moves to have the abbey completely taken down, large-scale restoration work was attempted instead (Lees, 1878, 338). The roofs of the nave and aisles were renewed, the side aisles were renovated, galleries and seatings improved and boardings which obscured the clerestory windows were taken down and replaced by stone (Howell, 1929, 43).

The Abbey church from the time of the Reformation until the eighteenth century had served as sole parish church for Paisley residents. In 17.33, the town council entered into an agreement with the Earl of Dundonald as patron of the parish for the erection of new churches in the town. Consequently, the Old Low Church was built in 1738, the High Church followed in 1756 and the Middle Church in 1781. In 1781. the town of Paisley was formally divided into three parishes (Metcalfe, 1909, 383).

Information from ‘Historic Paisley: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1982).

Publication Account (1985)

The Cluniac priory of Paisley (it was not raised to the rank of an abbey until 1245) was founded by WaIter, son of Alan, steward of Scotland, about 1163, and it replaced an earlier Celtic monastery dedicated to St MiIin. WaIter invited monks from Wenlock Abbey, in his native county of Shropshire, to colonise the priory and in 1169 Humbold, prior of Wenlock, came north bringing thirteen monks to establish the community.

Little of the 12th to 13th century church now survives; it was burnt by the English in 1307 during the Wars of Independence and appears to have been extensively damaged. Portions of early work can still be seen in the great west doorway, in the south wall of the nave and in the processional doorway leading from the nave to the cloisters. Rebuilding began in the late 14th century but the greater part of the church belongs to a major period of reconstruction undertaken in the mid-15th century. It is of cross plan with a graceful aisled nave, an unusually long choir, and has a tower situated over the crossing. The principal feature of the choir is a decorated four-bayed sedilia (seatsfor the use of the clergy during the celebration of a mass), which lies at the east end of the south wall. Opening off the east wall of the south transept there is a side-chapel dedIcated to the Celtic saint, St Mirin; erected in 1499, it contains a frieze below the east window filled with carved panels showing scenes from the saint's life. Such friezes must originally have formed a regular feature of interior decoration but few now remain, and the Paisley group represents a most fortunate survival. The chapel roof is also of interest as it is a double barrel-vault, a form of roofing more commonly encountered in tower-houses than in ecclesiastical architecture. In the centre of the chapel there is an ornamental medieval altar-tomb; it was found in fragments and reconstructed in 1817 and is thought to belong to Margery, daughter of Robert I. However, there is some doubt about the authenticity of the monument as it may have been pieced together from fragments of more than one original structure. In the nave and transepts there are a number of medieval grave-slabs, but the most important stone monument in the abbey is the Early Christian cross from Barochan, Renfrew, which stands in the nave (described in detail below, no. 63). Only portions of the claustral buildings survive: at the Reformation parts of the south range were converted to domestic use by the Commendator and became known as The Place (Palace) of Paisley. During the early 19th century The Place fell into disrepair but it has subsequently been restored for use by the congregation.

Until the late 19th century much of the abbey church lay in ruins and only the nave was roofed; since then extensive restoration has been carried out and the whole of the church is now in use.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Clyde Estuary and Central Region’, (1985).

Excavation (4 September 2010 - 13 September 2010)

NS 4849 6388 A limited excavation was carried out 4–13

September 2010 on the site of a major medieval drain at

Paisley Abbey. This work followed on from previous work

in 2009 to investigate the construction of the drain and the

deposits surrounding it. Although deep demolition layers

and recent levelling deposits were recorded over most of

the trench, there were areas of undisturbed archaeological

deposits. The remains of a stone foundation uncovered to

the N of the trench could be part of the monastic precinct. In

addition to possible medieval structures, more recent deposits

relating to the buildings and tenements that occupied the site

in the 19th and early 20th centuries were also recorded.

Volunteers from the Renfrew Local History Forum took part

in the excavation.

Archive: RCAHMS. Report: RCAHMS and WoSAS

Funder: Renfrewshire Council Paisley North Local Area Committee,

the Scottish Community Foundation and Historic Scotland

Project (February 2014 - July 2014)

A data upgrade project to record war memorials.

Trial Trench (31 August 2015 - 7 September 2015)

Limited archaeological trial trenching was carried out by GUARD Archaeology and volunteers from the Renfrewshire Local History Forum in September 2015 to the west of Paisley Abbey in Paisley. This excavation followed on from a similar small scale excavations between 2009 and 2011 to investigate whether buildings associated with Paisley Abbey and the drain survive within surrounding area. Three trial trenches were excavated to the west of the Abbey and uncovered deep demolition layers and recent levelling deposits along with stone and brick foundations from buildings that occupied the site in the nineteenth century and were later demolished and the area landscaped.

Although no definitive medieval structures were uncovered a large number of medieval roof tiles were recovered from the lower deposits in two of the trenches which provide information on what the medieval buildings would have looked like. The survival of late medieval deposits suggest that there is the possibility that medieval buildings or foundations may survive in the area.

Infromation from GUARD Archaeology Ltd.


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