When Paisley’s new town was built in 1779 this former small market town became the third largest urban area in Scotland after Edinburgh and Glasgow. Immigrants, mostly from Renfrewshire and Ayrshire working with flax, cotton and silk transformed the town. The weaving of shawls grew after a swirling pattern based on Kashmiri designs later called ‘Paisley’ was introduced in 1805. This is the period that Stephen Kemble appeared in the local theatre, fitting up inns and calling on old contacts to join his troupe. The ‘weaver poet’ Robert Tannahill was excited to see this northern celebrity and recorded having a bottle of ale with James Field Stanfield before the actor rushed off to rehearsals. Tannahill expresses anti-slavery sentiment in his writing and must have known about Stanfield’s life on a slave ship and his later abolition work. Tannahill had grown up with ‘Black Peter’ an escaped slave called Peter Burnett who had learnt to weave in the Tannahill family home in the 1780s. After Tannahill committed suicide by drowning in 1810, it was Burnett who dived into the Paisley Canal to recover his lifeless body.


Image by Unknown, Paisley, date unknown