Tuesday 24th May Alex Blair on the Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal

Past District 1230 Governor, Alex Blair gave us an insight into the Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal which was first proposed by Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton in 1791. Hugh wanted to connect the booming industrial towns of Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone to his new deep sea port at Ardrossan and his Ayrshire coal fields. Despite the name, the canal was never completed down to Ardrossan, the termini being Port Eglinton in Glasgow and Thorn Brae in Johnstone.

Alex showing Ronnie & Euan the canal route

Alex showing Ronnie & Euan the canal route

Engineers John RennieThomas Telford and John Ainslie were employed to design the canal, survey a route, and estimate the costs which depending on the barge capacity ranged between £140 to £167 thousand pounds – between 8 and 10 million in today’s money.

Construction began in 1807 and the first boat, the passenger boat, The Countess of Eglinton, was launched on the 31 October 1810. The passenger service initially only ran between Paisley and Johnstone. The full length to Glasgow’s Port Eglinton was completed in 1811. The original plans to extend the canal to Ardrossan were soon suspended. The costs of completing the first 11-miles had consumed all the available funds and investors were reluctant of invest further.

Within months of opening, the canal was the scene of a major disaster. The Paisley Canal Disaster took the lives of 85 people, Many people, with the day off work for the Martinmas Fair, took the opportunity to travel the short distance of 6 miles (9.7km) by canal between Paisley and Johnstone. As The Countess of Eglinton docked at the Paisley wharf, there was a rush of people trying to get onto the boat. At the same time, people from Johnstone were attempting to disembark and the weight of people pushing onto the boat caused it to suddenly overturn. Even though the wharf was only 6 feet (1.8m) deep, the coldness of the water and the sheer sides compounded the problem as few people could swim.

Freight also made a significant part of the traffic on the canal. In 1840, the canal handled 77,000 tons of goods.  However, the construction costs were so high that the canal never made a profit. Even after 20 years of operations, the accounts showed an outstanding debt of £71,208.

The canal was eventually purchased in 1869 by the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company. In 1881, an Act of Parliament closed the canal. Much of the route was used to construct the Paisley Canal Line.

Charles Gray gave the vote of thanks for a fascinating insight into a piece of local history long forgotten