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Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal

Designed by Thomas Telford and including the longest aqueduct span of the canal era. Opened 1811, converted to a railway in 1885, closed 1983, partially re-opened 1990

Red Wheel Site:
Transport Mode(s):

The Chancers Arm

1 Stow Brae


Visitor Centre:

About Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal

The Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal 's initial stretch opened was between Paisley and Johnstone; with the length between Paisley and Port Eglinton in Glasgow was completed and opened the opening the following year. 

 The Earl of Eglinton. Hugh Montgomerie, the 12th Earl of Eglinton had recently completed new docks in Ardrossan, and wished to create a simple way to transport goods from Glasgow to his new Port. The roads of 1800’s Renfrewshire or indeed Lanarkshire and Ayrshire were not suitable for transporting items such as coal over long distances, and then other transport system which we know today – the River Clyde – was not navigable to large ships as it was too shallow.

Shareholders in the Canal Company included many Merchants and landed gentry of the county and beyond. The Instigator of the project, The Earl of Eglinton held 60 shares, followed by the likes of George Houston of Johnstone and Robert Fulton of Hartfield who held 10 shares or William Dixon of the Govan Coal Company and Iron Foundry who held just 2 shares. Reading the list of shareholders is like reading a who’s who in Renfrewshire’s past. Shareholders included ministers such as the Rev Urquhart of Kilbirnie, Robert Speir a writer in Beith, Robert Caldwell another writer from Lochwinnoch and John Peddie Rector of Paisley Grammar School.

The canal never got any closer to Ardrossan than Thornhill in Johnstone, and if you look closely enough behind the Canal Garage, on Canal Road, you can still make out partial remains. The other terminus was Port Eglinton in Glasgow, with a third basin in Paisley, where a T shaped basin was fed by the St Mirin Burn. The Canal Basins in Port Eglinton and Paisley are both lost; Port Eglinton, covered by a builders merchant and the Paisley basin now covered by the Castle Gait housing on Canal Street.

The Canal saw two disasters in its short life time. In May 1810, before the Canal opened, Paisley poet, Robert Tannahill died by his own hand, drowned in a converted stream (the Candren Burn) which fed the Paisley Canal. Tannahill’s body was found in the Canal close to the Bridge which carried the main road to Meikleriggs and Foxbar. To this day the spot is known as Tannahill’s hole.

The bigger disaster happened on Saturday 10th November 1810 – the Martinmas Fair – The canal boat the “Duchess of Eglinton” was returning to the Paisley Basin from Johnstone. The outward trip had been popular and the just as many passengers were waiting in Paisley to make the journey again. As soon as the boat drew up beside the dock, there was a surge of people getting off; the passengers waiting to get on were also impatient and surged forward. In the chaos that ensued, the boat capsized. 115 people and children survived, though almost 200 of all ages died.

The drama continued in 1885 when the Canal was turned into a railway providing the Glasgow & South Western with an alternative to the congested main line through Paisley Gilmour Street. That alternative route closed in 1983, and was converted by Sustrans beyond Paisley Canal into an active travel route that takes walkers and cyclists deep into the serene Renfrewshire countryside - while the station building became a popular restaurant and bar. However in 1990 the railway reopened to a new terminus at Paisley Canal, and in 2012 it was electrified in a low-cost innovative scheme that holds lessons at a time when further mainline electrification has been called into question as too expensive by the UK Department of Transport.

Text from The Urban Historian web site and Chartered Institute of logistics and Transport  - with thanks.

Article  covering the Red Wheel unveiling in The Scotsman Tuesday 27 August 2019:

Download pdf copy of article here 

National Transport Trust, Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, Esher, Surrey KT10 0SR