A town situated 7 miles (11 km) west of Glasgow, and 53 miles (85 km) west of Edinburgh, Paisley is the largest town in Scotland, outside the four principal cities. An important ecclesiastical centre in Mediaeval times, based around its 13th century abbey, the growth of Paisley in the early 19th Century was primarily through textiles (printing, bleaching, cotton thread) and the name 'Paisley' was given to the Kashmiri pattern of curving shapes found on silk and cotton fabric. Its workers were highly independent giving rise to radicalism in politics and sectarianism in religion. Paisley became a burgh in 1488 and was overseen by the Hamiltons, the Cochranes and finally, in 1658, the town's elected bailies. Powerful local families controlling the 19th century cotton economy included the Coats and Clarks. Robertson's Golden Shred marmalade originated here in 1864 and Paisley is also home to a university, located near the town centre.
Paisley benefits from excellent transport links, with four railway stations (Paisley Gilmour Street, Paisley Canal, Hawkshead and Paisley St. James), together with the M8 motorway and Glasgow Airport lying immediately to the north.
The town grew up around the small settlement of Oakshaw, on the west side of the White Cart Water, where a Roman fort is said to have existed. A religious centre was established here in the 6th century by the Irish monk St. Mirrin or Mirren (c.565 - c.620). He became the patron saint of the town and gave his name to their football club (founded 1876). The town spread from its original site over numerous modest hills to the south and east, where it now forms an extension of the Glasgow conurbation, while following the White Cart Water north towards Renfrew. Numerous churches were built here in the 19th century, one of the largest being the Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church, which was created in memory of the 19th century mill-owner and philanthropist. Known for its poets, such as weaver Robert Tannahill (1774 - 1810), Ebenezer Picken (1769 - 1816) and William Motherwell (1797 - 1835), other Paisley "buddies" include ornithologist Alexander Wilson (1766 - 1813), critic John Wilson (1785 - 1854), educational pioneer David Stow (1793 - 1864), palaeontologist Robert Broom (1866 - 1951), actor Fulton Mackay (1922 - 1987), academic Sir John Burnett (1922 - 2007), nationalist Ian Hamilton (b.1925), singer Kenneth McKellar (1927 -2010), surgeon Prof. Sir Robert Shields (1930 - 2008), constitutional campaigner Canon Kenyon Wright (b.1932), cash machine inventor James Goodfellow (b.1937), dramatist John Byrne (b.1940), actor Tom Conti (b.1941), singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty (1947 - 2011), journalist Andrew Neil (b.1949), Deacon Blue musician Graeme Kelling (1957 - 2004), banker Fred Goodwin (b.1958), Olympic curling champion Fiona MacDonald (b.1974) and singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini (b.1987).
Other notable buildings include the Paisley Town Hall (1879-82), Paisley Museum and Art Gallery, the Coats Observatory (1883), the John Neilson Institute (1849-52), Stanley Castle (15th century, in the Stanley Reservoir to the south of the town), the Sma' Shot Cottages, and St Mirin's Roman Catholic Cathedral. Ferguslie Mills (1826) were built by James Coats for threadmaking; also remaining are the Anchor Mills and the No. 1 Spinning Mill (1887, now abandoned). All of the thread-mills had closed by 1993, although the companies which ran them still operate elsewhere.