Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal

Last updated

Coordinates: 55°50′53″N4°15′07″W / 55.848°N 4.252°W / 55.848; -4.252


Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal
Glasgow and Ardrossan Canal - geograph - 2269943.jpg
Remains of the canal at Ferguslie Mill
Statusconverted to railway
Original ownerGlasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal Co
Date of act1806
Date completed1811
Date closed1881
Start point Glasgow
End point Johnstone
Glasgow Paisley and Johnstone Canal
BSicon KBHFa.svg
Glasgow Central station
BSicon mKRZo.svg
River Clyde bridge
BSicon gKBHFa.svg
BSicon STR.svg
Port Eglinton basin
BSicon gSKRZ-Bu.svg
M77 motorway
BSicon lBHF.svg
BSicon gSTR.svg
Dumbreck station
BSicon lBHF.svg
BSicon gSTR.svg
Corkerhill station
BSicon uexSTR+l.svg
BSicon geuKRZo.svg
BSicon uexSTRq.svg
White Cart Water
BSicon uexSTRl.svg
BSicon geuKRZo.svg
BSicon uexSTR+r.svg
BSicon lBHF.svg
BSicon gSTR.svg
BSicon uexSTR.svg
Mosspark station
BSicon gSKRZ-Au.svg
BSicon uexSTR.svg
A736 Sandwood Road
BSicon lBHF.svg
BSicon gSTR.svg
BSicon uexSTR.svg
Crookston station
BSicon gSKRZ-Yu.svg
BSicon uexSTR.svg
Hawkhead Road
BSicon lBHF.svg
BSicon gSTR.svg
BSicon uexSTR.svg
Hawkhead station
BSicon uexSTRq.svg
BSicon geuKRZo.svg
BSicon uexSTRr.svg
River Cart Aqueduct
BSicon gSKRZ-Au.svg
A726 Lonend
BSicon lBHF.svg
BSicon gSTR.svg
Paisley Canal station
BSicon gSKRZ-Yu.svg
B775 bridge
BSicon geuKRZo.svg
BSicon gKBHFe.svg
Johnstone basin

The Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal, later known as the Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal, was a canal in the west of Scotland, running between Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone which later became a railway. Despite the name, the canal was never completed down to Ardrossan, the termini being Port Eglinton in Glasgow and Thorn Brae in Johnstone. Within months of opening, the canal was the scene of a major disaster.


The canal was first proposed by Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton in 1791. He 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. His fellow shareholders included William Dixon of Govan who wished to export coal from his Govan colliery. [1] The Earl had spent £100,000 on creating Ardrossan's harbour and intended to make it the principal port for Glasgow. [1] Interest was also shown by Lord Montgomerie and William Houston who would also benefit from the canal passing through their lands and connecting their own coal and iron mines to nearby industrial consumers. In this pre McAdam period, the roads around Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Ayrshire were not suitable for heavily loaded traffic. The other alternative route, up the Clyde river estuary to Glasgow, was not navigable by large ships as the river was too shallow.

Engineers John Rennie, Thomas Telford and John Ainslie were employed to design the canal, survey a route, and estimate the costs. The original design was in three parts. The first section would be a contour canal of about 11 miles (18 km) in length. Following the land, a contour canal is entirely level and requires no locks or lifts making navigation quick and easy. Contour canals require only a small water supply since no water is lost to locks, but this method of construction would make the canal longer than it need have been. The second section would see a series of 8 locks lift the level up to a summit near Johnstone. The third and last section would use 13 locks to bring the canal down to sea level at Ardrossan Harbour. When complete the canal have been just shy of 33 miles (53 km) long. The dimensions of the cutting were to be 30 feet (9.1 m) broad at the top and at bottom, 18 feet (5.5 m). The depth was to be 4 feet 6 inches.

The Company of the proprietors of the Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan canal was incorporated by an Act of Parliament which received Royal assent from George III on 20 June 1806. [2] This bill allowed for funding to be raised by the sale of two thousand eight hundred shares of £50 each, a total of £140,000, of which the proprietors, the Earl of Eglinton, Lord Montgomerie and Lady Jane Montgomerie subscribed £30,000.

Construction began in 1807 and the first boat, the passenger boat, The Countess of Eglinton, was launched on 31 October 1810. The passenger service initially only ran between Paisley and Johnstone. The full length to Glasgow's Port Eglinton was complete sometime in 1811. The original plans to extend the canal to Ardrossan were soon suspended. The costs of completing the first 11-mile (18 km) contour canal had consumed all the available funds – the initial estimates having been grossly understated. Further estimates indicated that £300,000 additional funding would need to be secured to complete the project. Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton, had already spent £100,000 on a separate project to build a sea harbour at Ardrossan, at the proposed terminus of the canal. The Harbour project would eventually be competed by his grandson, the 13th Earl, for a total cost of £200,000. [3] Attempts were made to raise extra funds but other major investors, such as William Houston, were reluctant to invest as the canal already linked his own coal and iron mines, around Johnstone, to Glasgow and Paisley.


location of Port Eglinton PortEglinton.jpg
location of Port Eglinton

The canal ran from Port Eglinton; and an inn was built there in 1816. [4] A wharf was built on the north bank of the White Cart near Crookston Castle; and canal basins provided at Paisley and Johnstone. [4]

Passenger traffic

The canal became a popular service for passenger transport.

In 1830, long, and shallow wrought iron canal boats began to run regularly, conveying about sixty passengers a distance of 12 miles (19 km), at an average rate of 8 miles per hour (13 km/h), stoppages included. The boats reached speeds of 10 miles per hour (16 km/h), and although 14 journeys were made each day, no damage was caused to the canal banks by their wash. [5]

This development was copied widely in the canal world, where they were known as swift boats or fly-boats, but it took the young John Scott Russell to explain the phenomenon and show its limits. [6]

The Paisley canal passage boats were 70 feet (21 m) long and 6 feet (1.8 m) wide. With 90 passengers on board their draft was 19.25 inches (489 mm). The hull was constructed of light iron ribs and thin metal plates. The cabin was covered with oiled cloth. They covered the 7.75 miles (12.47 km) between Glasgow and Paisley in 50 minutes. They were towed by teams of two horses which were changed every 4 miles (6.4 km). [7]

Deaths on the canal

A few months before the canal saw its first traffic, poet Robert Tannahill drowned himself during a bout of depression, by throwing himself into a deep pit which carries the water of a stream down to a culvert under the canal. This came to be known as Tannahills Hole. [8] A group of his poems had just been rejected by an Edinburgh publisher. He was well known for periods of depression. He burned many of his writings at this time. His body was found on 17 May 1810 in the Candren Burn tunnel under the canal.

Shortly after the canal's opening, the Paisley canal disaster took the lives of 84 people, 52 males and 32 females. [9] Saturday 10 November 1810 was the Martinmas Fair. Many people, with the day off work, took the opportunity to travel the short distance of 6 miles (9.7 km) 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. [4] At the same time, people from Johnstone were attempting to disembark. [4] Despite the attempts of the boat men to push off again, the weight of people pushing onto the boat caused it to suddenly overturn, throwing many passengers into the cold water of the wharf. [4]

Even though the wharf was only 6 feet (1.8 m) deep, the coldness of the water and the sheer sides of the embankments compounded the problem that few people of the time could swim. 85 people died in this disaster. [4]

Freight traffic

Freight also made a significant part of the traffic on the canal. Basin dues were set at 2 pence per ton. Stone, dung and earth were charged at 2 pence per mile per ton; coal, coke culm and lime were 3 pence per mile per ton; Bricks, tiles, slates, ores, iron and metal were rated at 5 pence per mile per ton; and all other goods were charged 2 pence per mile per ton. [10] In 1840, the canal handled 76,000 long ton s (77,000  t ) of goods. [11]


The construction costs were so high that the canal never made an issue of dividend on its shares. Even after 20 years of operations, the accounts showed an outstanding debt of £71,208, 17 shillings and 6 pence. [12]

Canal versus railway

In 1827, a second bill passed parliament and gained Royal Assent on 14 June. [12] This bill allowed for the financing and construction of a railway from the Johnstone canal basin to Ardrossan. This railway was to have been 22 miles (35 km) and 3 furlongs long. Parliament dictated that due to the failure to complete the canal past Johnstone, that work on the railway should be started at the Ardrossan harbour end. The line did not progress past Kilwinning before running out of funds. The railway, owned and operated by the canal company, was built to the Scotch gauge of 4 feet 6 inches (1,370 mm). It used pairs of horses to pull carriages of up to 22 people each. The fares were initially 1 penny per mile but in 1837, due to the application of a government duty, the fare was raised to 8 pence per 6 miles (9.7 km). In the three years preceding September 1839, the railway transported an average of 30,000 people each year. Apart from passengers, the main freight was coal from Eglinton's mines. [13]

The dredging of the River Clyde and other navigation improvements, allowing ships to sail directly to the centre of Glasgow, meant Eglinton's dream that, "Ardrossan would be to Glasgow what Liverpool is to Manchester." [14] would not be fulfilled.

A second railway line was opened, in 1840, by the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway Company (GPK&A), in direct competition with the canal. This new railway linked with the Ardrossan Railway near Kilwinning and later purchased the Ardrossan Railway, the railway company's debts and the harbours. The canal continued to compete with the railways for many decades, but in 1869, was purchased by the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company (the successor to GPK&A). In 1881, an Act of Parliament closed the canal. Much of the route was used to construct the Paisley Canal railway line.

Conversion to a railway

The Ardrossan Railway

In the 1820s the canal company planned to build a railway between Johnstone and Ardrossan to finish the link. [1] They raised further capital and started building the railway from Ardrossan; reaching Kilwinning before running out of money. [1] In the 1830s they planned to turn their canal into a railway and complete the link from Kilwinning to Johnstone; but allowed the scheme to fold. [1] In the 1840s they split off their railway to form a separate company, the Ardrossan Railway, and transferred their debt to the new company. [1]

Closure of the canal

The canal was 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. This line still uses the River Cart Aqueduct (which it crosses at a skewed angle). This makes the former aqueduct the world's oldest railway bridge that is still in active use.

Closure and partial reopening of the Paisley Canal Line

The Paisley Canal railway line closed to passengers in 1983. The rails between Elderslie and the original Paisley Canal Station were uplifted in 1986; and the station became a steakhouse. In 1990, passenger services resumed on the section from Glasgow Central station to a new Paisley Canal station. Much of the abandoned track bed beyond Paisley has now been developed into a cycle and walkway operated by Sustrans.

Short sections of the original canal can still be seen at the Millarston and Ferguslie Mills area of Paisley. Houses in Tenters Way and Cromptons Grove face across the remnants. Traces of the old canal are also visible in fields between Hawkhead and Rosshall.

See also

Related Research Articles

Glasgow and South Western Railway British pre-grouping railway company

The Glasgow and South Western Railway (G&SWR) was a railway company in Scotland. It served a triangular area of south-west Scotland between Glasgow, Stranraer and Carlisle. It was formed on 28 October 1850 by the merger of two earlier railways, the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway and the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway. Already established in Ayrshire, it consolidated its position there and extended southwards, eventually reaching Stranraer. Its main business was mineral traffic, especially coal, and passengers, but its more southerly territory was very thinly populated and local traffic, passenger and goods, was limited, while operationally parts of its network were difficult.

Kilwinning Human settlement in Scotland

Kilwinning is a town in North Ayrshire, Scotland. It is on the River Garnock, north of Irvine, about 21 miles (34 km) south of Glasgow. It is known as "The Crossroads of Ayrshire". Kilwinning was also a Civil Parish. The 2001 Census recorded the town as having a population of 15,908. At the 2011 Census, Kilwinning had a population of 21,456. Kilwinning is a mainly affluent town.

Ayrshire Coast Line line within the Strathclyde suburban rail network in Scotland

The Ayrshire Coast Line is one of the lines within the Strathclyde suburban rail network in Scotland. It has 26 stations and connects the Ayrshire coast to Glasgow. There are three branches, to Largs, Ardrossan Harbour and Ayr, all running into the high level at Glasgow Central. All trains call at Kilwinning and most trains call at Paisley Gilmour Street.

Ardrossan Human settlement in Scotland

Ardrossan is a town on the North Ayrshire coast in southwestern Scotland. The town has a population of roughly 11,000 and forms part of a conurbation with Saltcoats and Stevenston known as the 'Three Towns'. Ardrossan is located on the east shore of the Firth of Clyde.

Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton Scottish noble

Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton KT was a Scottish peer, politician, and composer.

Paisley Canal line

The Paisley Canal line is a branch line in Scotland running between Glasgow and Paisley. The line currently terminates at Paisley Canal railway station, although it previously continued through Paisley West station, near Ferguslie, to Elderslie junction where it met and crossed under the main Glasgow and South Western Railway line running from Paisley Gilmour Street station to Johnstone, and beyond. After Elderslie, the line terminated at North Johnstone, however another junction allowed services from the Paisley Canal line to continue onto the Bridge of Weir Railway and Greenock and Ayrshire Railway to the latter's terminus at Greenock Princes Pier.

Johnstone railway station railway station in Renfrewshire, Scotland, UK

Johnstone railway station serves the town of Johnstone, Renfrewshire, Scotland. The station is managed by Abellio ScotRail and is on the Ayrshire Coast Line 10 34 miles (17.3 km) south west of Glasgow Central. Johnstone has no ticket gates but ticket checks take place occasionally.

Dalry railway station railway station in North Ayrshire, Scotland, UK

Dalry railway station is a railway station serving the town of Dalry, Ayrshire, Scotland. The station is managed by Abellio ScotRail and is on the Ayrshire Coast Line.

Kilwinning railway station railway station in North Ayrshire, Scotland, UK

Kilwinning railway station is a railway station serving the town of Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, Scotland. The station is managed by Abellio ScotRail and is on the Ayrshire Coast Line 26 miles (42 km) south of Glasgow Central, as well as the Glasgow South Western Line 69 miles (111 km) north of Stranraer. British Transport Police maintain an office here.

Paisley Canal railway station railway station in Renfrewshire, Scotland, UK

Paisley Canal railway station is a railway station in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. The station is managed by Abellio ScotRail and lies on the Paisley Canal Line.

The Lanarkshire and Ayrshire Railway (L&AR) was an independent railway company built to provide the Caledonian Railway with a shorter route for mineral traffic from the coalfields of Lanarkshire to Ardrossan Harbour, in Scotland.

Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway railway in Scotland

The Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock and Ayr Railway (GPK&AR) was a railway in Scotland that provided train services between Glasgow, Kilmarnock and Ayr. It opened its first line, between Glasgow and Ayr, in stages from 1839 to 1840. The section between Glasgow and Paisley was made jointly with the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway. Later it built a line from Dalry via Kilmarnock to Cumnock, linking there with the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway, and together forming a through route from Glasgow to Carlisle. The two companies merged to form the Glasgow and South Western Railway.

Ardrossan Railway railway that ran services between Kilwinning and Ardrossan in Scotland

The Ardrossan Railway was a railway company in Scotland built in the mid-19th century that primarily ran services between Kilwinning and Ardrossan, as well as freight services to and from collieries between Kilwinning and Perceton. The line was later merged with the Glasgow and South Western Railway, and is today part of the Ayrshire Coast Line.

The Polloc and Govan Railway was an early mineral railway near Glasgow in Scotland, constructed to bring coal and iron from William Dixon's collieries and ironworks to the River Clyde for onward transportation.

Forth and Cart Canal canal in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, UK

The Forth and Cart Canal was a short 0.5-mile (0.8 km) link canal which provided a short cut between the Forth and Clyde Canal, at Whitecrook, and the River Clyde, opposite the mouth of the River Cart. It was intended to provide a transport link between the town of Paisley, the Firth of Forth and Port Dundas, Glasgow, without having to go via Bowling, some 7 miles (11 km) downstream on the Clyde. The Forth and Cart Canal was closed in 1893. Railway works destroyed most of it soon afterwards.

The Largs Branch is a railway line in Scotland, serving communities on the north Ayrshire Coast, as well as the deep water ocean terminal at Hunterston. It branches from the Glasgow to Ayr line at Kilwinning.

Benslie is a small village in North Ayrshire, in the parish of Kilwinning, Scotland. Map reference NS 336 429.

Industry and the Eglinton Castle estate village in North Ayrshire, Scotland, UK

The Eglinton Castle estate was situated at Irvine, on the outskirts of Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, Scotland in the former district of Cunninghame. Eglinton Castle, was once home to the Montgomeries, Earls of Eglinton and chiefs of the Clan Montgomery. Eglinton Country Park now occupies part of the site.

Stevenston Canal canal in North Ayrshire, Scotland, UK

The Stevenston Canal was a waterway in North Ayrshire, Scotland, built for Robert Reid Cunningham of Seabank and Patrick Warner of the Ardeer Estate, which ran to the port of Saltcoats from Ardeer, and Stevenston with a number of short branches to coal pits along the length of the cut. The canal opened on 19 September 1772, the first commercial canal in Scotland. It closed in the 1830s, when it was abandoned following the exhaustion of the coal mines and the rise of importance of Ardrossan as a harbour. At the time of its construction it was said to be the "most complete water system of colliery transport ever devised in Britain."

Lands of Doura

The Lands of Doura, Dawra, Dawray, DowreyDowray,Dourey or Douray formed a small estate, at one time part of the Barony of Corsehill and Doura, situated near the Eglinton Estate in the Parish of Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, Scotland.



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Robertson 1983 , Chapter 2: The coal railways
  2. "Guide to canal records – The National Archives of Scotland website". National Archives of Scotland. 19 June 2006. Retrieved 26 May 2008. NAS reference: BR/GPA, CS96/2002
  3. Lee 2001.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Lindsay 1968
  5. Macneill 1833, pp. 3–5.
  6. Russell, John Scott (1837) [printed 1840], "Researches in Hydrodynamics" (PDF), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
  7. Whitelaw 1834, p. 277.
  8. Howitt 1877, p. 628.
  9. Scott 1812, pp. 227-228.
  10. Society for the Benefit of the Sons and Daughters of the Clergy of the Church of Scotland (1841). The Statistical Account of Lanarkshire. W. Blackwood.
  11. Thomas 1971.
  12. 1 2 Priestley 1831 , pp. 284–287
  13. Whishaw 1842.
  14. Slaven 2006.