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Paisley, Place Of Paisley

Manse (17th Century)

Site Name Paisley, Place Of Paisley

Classification Manse (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Abbey Close, Place Of Paisley

Canmore ID 43140

Site Number NS46SE 2.01

NGR NS 48537 63916

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

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

Archaeology Notes

NS46SE 2.01 48537 63916

(NS 4854 6391) The site of the chapter house, refectory etc of Paisley Abbey is occupied by the "Place of Paisley", built in the late 16th (TSA 1962) or 17th (SDD List 1963) century by Claud Hamilton, commendator of Paisley after the Reformation, later occupied by his descendants the Earls of Abercorn and in the 17th century by the Earl of Dundonald. In the 18th and 19th centuries it degenerated to dwelling houses; after renovation it now serves as the manse for the Abbey church.

The NE block is not the L-plan, four storeys high; a large, two storeyed addition was made to the S in 1675; further buildings (see plan: NS46SE 2) were removed in 1874. These buildings probably incorporate parts of the old monastic walls. The W entrance tower was raised and other alterations made in 1961-2.

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1892


Standing Building Recording (March 2010 - November 2012)

NS 48559 63954 The proposed erection of a new visitor facility and associated refurbishment of the Place of Paisley (the buildings on the S side of the abbey church) necessitated a series of historical, analytical and archaeological involvements towards the writing of a conservation plan for the Place of Paisley and towards assessing the below ground implications of new work at the site. This programme of work was undertaken March 2010 – November 2012.

Assessment of the standing buildings The Place of Paisley occupies the site of the S and E ranges bounding the monastic cloister. To the S of the St Mirren chapel (S transept of the abbey church) the E range incorporates parts of the monastic chapter house including most of its N wall and fragments of its S wall. Also surviving are parts of the W wall of the southwards-running dorter range (the existing E wall of the S range); part of the arched entry to the night stair can still be seen internally. Elsewhere ex situ carved monastic fragments were incorporated into the later Place of Paisley buildings – indeed its entire masonry content is of recycled monastic stone.

Much of the existing Place of Paisley is of post-Reformation date. The main walls of the S range, on the site of the monastic refectory, were wholly rebuilt and fronted with ashlar on the S elevation. The space occupied by the existing 1st and 2nd floor chambers constituted a single hall interior beneath an oak barrel-vaulted roof structure that still survives. The roof was assessed and judged likely to be a monastic period structure, perhaps the actual refectory roof that was taken down and re-erected. A substantial box-section oak, it has few surviving Scottish parallels, parts of the roofs of Glasgow Cathedral being a particular exception and of comparable form and, perhaps, date. The first floor hall seems to have been entered from its W end. Here a surviving broad ground floor arched opening facing into the cloister walk may have given into a stairwell; at first floor level there survives part of an entrance within the existing gable wall, this perhaps at the head of the stair. At the E end of the hall interior there survives part of a substantial arched feature, possibly a proscenium framing the high table, or defining a substantial window opening at that point. These works are likely attributable to Lord Claud Hamilton, who received the Lordship of Paisley and its holdings, and who seems to have refashioned the former claustral buildings into a palatial residence.

Following the sale of the Abbey to the Cochrane Earls of Dundonald in the mid-17th century the Place was re-fashioned. The hall in the S range was remodelled – a floor inserted and suites of rooms created at 1st and 2nd floor levels. Closet towers were added at either end of the S frontage (the SE tower survives, the former existence of the SW tower was confirmed archaeologically), part of the creation of a southwards looking architectural set-piece that doubtless overlooked formal gardens and the river beyond. A view of 1776 shows the former presence of an external balustraded terrace at the E end of the S range, supported by an open arcade and with a stair running down to the S – a viewing platform and direct access from the first floor rooms to the gardens below. The elaborate 2nd floor plastered ceiling within the SE closet tower, some panelled interior linings at 1st floor level, and a series of fireplaces within the inserted cross walls are all that survive to witness the opulence of the interiors at this phase. The principal rooms at 1st floor level were arranged as a formal baroque sequence that had clearly extended into the W range. Linking the three ranges of the Place of Paisley was a two-storey gallery structure erected upon the site of the S walk of the cloister.

The Place of Paisley had evidently ceased to function as an aristocratic residence by the third quarter of the 18th century. From the early 1760s onwards the monastic precinct was successively feued out and redeveloped. By the first half of the 19th century the Place had seen extensive subdivision and occupation by multiple tenancies that included domestic occupants, a public house and two chapels (upper floor of the W range), the latter each accessed by an external masonry stair.

Assessment of the historical evidence for the demolished W range The range bounding the W side of the cloister survived intact until its demolition in early 1874 in order to facilitate the widening of Abbey Close. Evidence for the former appearance of the superstructure include its surviving silhouette against the S side of the abbey church, the representation of its 1st floor arrangements on the OS town plan of 1858, a number of early engraved views, a series of exterior photographic views taken in 1873–4 for the 3rd Marquis of Bute (who objected to the demolition), and a detailed written account by the antiquarian David Semple made during the dismantling of the structure, with associated photographs taken during the process. The former appearance, precise dimensions and much of its structural history was thus deducible. In contrast to the existing Place of Paisley buildings it is apparent that the range was mostly composed of surviving monastic fabric, although vaulted cellarage and upper level window openings were certainly subsequent interventions. There had been a tower-like projection, of probable early post-Reformation date, at the NW angle of the range, this partly overlapping the W frontage of the abbey church. Evidence also survived for another westwards-projection that had existed further S, and for continuing vaulted cellarage that had extended past the W gable of the S range.

Building recording In a number of areas localised building recording exercises were undertaken. A section of the S range at its E end, including record of a truss section; a detailed assessment of the arrangement of the roof trusses and their assembly marks; and a formal analytical record of the W end of the N elevation – in order to inform design proposals.

Evaluation; an evaluation was undertaken on the site of the medieval range bounding the W side of the cloister, and in its vicinity. The intention was to assess ground conditions and extent of archaeological survival in advance of the detailed development of proposals for the erection of a new building upon the site. Eight trenches were excavated; each was targeted at specific points of the known or projected buried remains. The evaluation confirmed the following:

That the underlying natural topography of the site slopes down to the White Cart Water both to the W and to the S. In these directions the extent of archaeological survival increases markedly, as confirmed by archaeological excavations that have been conducted in recent years in closer proximity to the river. Natural subsoil deposits rise close to the surface within the northern parts of the site, of the W range and within the cloister area. More deeply stratified archaeological levels were present in the southern part of the W range and along the S side of the S range.

It was established that the road widening scheme of the 1870s along the E side of Abbey Close had dramatically affected the survival of buried archaeological remains. Deposits to the W of a diagonal line running from the SW corner of the abbey church to the existing SW corner of the S range had been scoured away to c0.8–1.0m deeper than the areas to the E of the line.

The evaluation determined that major masonry remains of the footings of the medieval W range still survived in most areas examined. In the western zone only scant remains of the very base of the footings survived further N; however, more substantial remains were encountered continuing S, revealed at a depth of c1.0m below the modern day surface. In this zone, except to the S, the surviving remains were all features that had been deeply cut into the underlying natural subsoil.

In the eastern part of the evaluation area, where not affected by the road formation, archaeological remains of the W range were far better preserved, their upper parts lying less than 0.20m below the present surface in some areas. Much of the lower part of the E wall of the medieval range clearly survives as upstanding masonry, this still faced with cubical ashlar blocks in the area where it was revealed. Further E the footing of the cloister walk wall was encountered. It appeared that occupation deposits had largely been removed down to the existing surface of underlying natural subsoil in most areas. The medieval floor levels on both sides of the wall probably lay only just below level of the existing grassed surface.

To the W of the line of the E wall of the range it is clear that there survive substantial remains of internal cross walls. Further to the S occupation deposits also seem likely to survive.

In addition to the remaining medieval fabric there may well survive some physical evidence for later activity, and particularly in relation to the installation of vaulted cellars within the range when its internal planning was altered and new cross walls inserted. Features cut down into natural are the most likely to survive generally.

A trench excavated against the S wall foot of the S range confirmed the position of the E wall of the missing closet tower; a mass of medieval masonry was also revealed within the trench although its characteristics and alignment were not determined within the limited area of exposure.

Gazetteer of carved stones A considerable collection of loose carved stones kept at the abbey, principally miscellaneous architectural fragments, but also including an important group of foliated cross-slab grave covers and some sculpted pieces, was catalogued. A number of fragments clearly represent elements of the earliest building campaigns at the abbey – of the later 12th and early 13th centuries.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: The Minister and Kirk Session of Paisley Abbey

Tom Addyman, Addyman Archaeology



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