Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal

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

Geographic coordinate system Coordinate system

A geographic coordinate system is a coordinate system that enables every location on Earth to be specified by a set of numbers, letters or symbols. The coordinates are often chosen such that one of the numbers represents a vertical position and two or three of the numbers represent a horizontal position; alternatively, a geographic position may be expressed in a combined three-dimensional Cartesian vector. A common choice of coordinates is latitude, longitude and elevation. To specify a location on a plane requires a map projection.


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
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Glasgow Central station
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River Clyde bridge
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Port Eglinton basin
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M77 motorway
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Dumbreck station
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Corkerhill station
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White Cart Water
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Mosspark station
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A736 Sandwood Road
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Crookston station
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Hawkhead Road
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Hawkhead station
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River Cart Aqueduct
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A726 Lonend
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Paisley Canal station
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B775 bridge
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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.

Canal man-made channel for water

Canals, or navigations, are human-made channels, or artificial waterways, for water conveyance, or to service water transport vehicles.

Glasgow City and council area in Scotland

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and the third most populous city in the United Kingdom, as of the 2017 estimated city population of 621,020. Historically part of Lanarkshire, the city now forms the Glasgow City council area, one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the local authority is Glasgow City Council. Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde in the country's West Central Lowlands. Inhabitants of the city are referred to as "Glaswegians" or "Weegies". It is the fourth most visited city in the UK. Glasgow is also known for the Glasgow patter, a distinct dialect of the Scots language that is noted for being difficult to understand by those from outside the city.

Paisley, Renfrewshire town in the historic county of Renfrewshire in Scotland

Paisley is a town situated in the west central Lowlands of Scotland. Located on the northern edge of the Gleniffer Braes, the town borders the city of Glasgow to the east, and straddles the banks of the White Cart Water, a tributary of the River Clyde.


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.

Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton Scottish noble

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

Ardrossan town in Scotland

Ardrossan is a town on the North Ayrshire coast in southwestern Scotland. Although there are high levels of deprivation around the town centre of Ardrossan, the town is gentrifying but with some suburban developments around the outskirts of the town. The town has a population of roughly 11,000 and forms part of a conurbation with Saltcoats and Stevenston. Ardrossan is located on the east shore of the Firth of Clyde.

A shareholder is an individual or institution, including a corporation, that legally owns one or more shares of stock in a public or private corporation. Shareholders may be referred to as members of a corporation. Legally, a person is not a shareholder in a corporation until their name and other details are entered in the corporation‘s register of shareholders or members. A beneficial shareholder is the person that has the economic benefit of ownership of the shares, while a nominee shareholder is the person who is on the corporation’s register as the owner while being in fact acting for the benefit and at the direction of the beneficiary, whether disclosed or not.

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.

Thomas Telford Scottish civil engineer, architect and stonemason

Thomas Telford FRS, FRSE was a Scottish civil engineer, architect and stonemason, and road, bridge and canal builder. After establishing himself as an engineer of road and canal projects in Shropshire, he designed numerous infrastructure projects in his native Scotland, as well as harbours and tunnels. Such was his reputation as a prolific designer of highways and related bridges, he was dubbed The Colossus of Roads, and, reflecting his command of all types of civil engineering in the early 19th century, he was elected as the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a post he held for 14 years until his death.

John Ainslie Surveyor and cartographer

John Ainslie was a Scottish surveyor and cartographer.

A contour canal is an artificially-dug navigable canal which closely follows the contour line of the land it traverses in order to avoid costly engineering works such as boring a tunnel through higher ground, building an embankment over lower ground, or constructing a canal lock to change the level of the canal. Because of this, these canals are characterised by their meandering course.

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 the 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.

An act of parliament, also called primary legislation, are statutes passed by a parliament (legislature). Act of the Oireachtas is an equivalent term used in the Republic of Ireland where the legislature is commonly known by its Irish name, Oireachtas. It is also comparable to an Act of Congress in the United States.

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 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 Tenenter Way and Cropton Grove face across the remnants. Traces of the old canal are also visible in fields between Hawkhead and Rosshall.

See also

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  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.