Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal

(Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Glasgow and South-Western Railway, a railway in Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, and Dumfriesshire, with connections into Wigtownshire, etc. The system is an amalgamation of various lines constructed at various times, and as it now embraces the first railway made in Scotland under an Act of Parliament, the line may claim to be the oldest railway enterprise in the country. This line, connecting the Duke of Portland's coal-fields near Kilmarnock with the port of Troon, was authorised by an Act passed in 1808, with a share capital of £55,000 and loans £10,500, and was long worked by horse haulage, while a passenger car conveyed the inhabitants of the inland weaving town to the 'saut watter,' this being at one time a favourite trip from Kilmarnock. Aiton, in his survey of the agriculture of Ayrshire, speaks of this railway as 'of magnitude unequalled in Scotland,' it being in course of formation when he wrote. The total length of this early railway was about 9½ miles, or, with branches subsequently made, 12 miles 1 furlong. The construction of this line was of cast-iron rails resting on stone blocks, a method of laying the line which subsisted down to and after the making of the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway, but was discarded in favour of wooden sleepers laid under both rails, and steadied by 'ballast.'

As early as 1835 the scheme of connecting Glasgow with Carlisle through Nithsdale was advocated in the Ayr Advertiser and the Dumfries Courier, and some years previously there had been proposals made for a railway between Glasgow and Paisley. The first proposal in the latter direction was to convert the Glasgow, Paisley, and Johnston Canal into a railway, and what was proposed in 1830 was not sanctioned for fifty years thereafter, and is only now (1883) in process of being carried into effect. In April 1836 a meeting was held in Glasgow to promote the construction of the Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock, and Ayr railway, a line which, it may be remarked, only came within 5 miles of Kilmarnock, although bearing that name in its title, the prospectus stating that 'the high ridge which lies to the S of Glasgow' rendered a more direct line impossible. Thirty years later, however, when the art of making and working railways had advanced, a direct line to Kilmarnock was constructed, being the joint property of the Glasgow and South-Western and the Caledonian Companies.

The first act for the construction of part of the system, eventually combined under the general title of Glasgow and South-Western, received the royal assent on 15 July 1837, the capital being fixed at £625,000, with borrowing powers £208,300. The first section of the line, that between Ayr and Irvine, was opened on 5 Aug. 1837, and on 11 Aug. 1840 the line was opened through between Glasgow and Ayr, amidst great rejoicing. In 1844-the intervening period being occupied by the directors in consolidating the line, constructing branches to Irvine, Ardrossan, etc., acquiring and strengthening the Kilmarnock and Troon line, and other works-a movement was made towards the construction of the Dumfries and Carlisle connection. Although promoted as a separate undertaking, the Glasgow, Dumfries, and Carlisle was supported by the Ayrshire company and its board, and in 1850 the lines were amalgamated. The Act was obtained, after much opposition, in 1846 ; and on 16 July 1847 the foundation-stone of the bridge over the Nith at Martinton was made the occasion of a great public demonstration at Dumfries. The line was opened on 28 Oct. 1850, when the two systems became one, the first meeting as the 'Glasgow and South-Western railway' being held in March 1851.

By a series of constructions and amalgamations, the system at the end of July 1882 consisted of 300¼ miles wholly the property of the company, 31½ partly owned (the Kilmarnock joint line, etc.), 17 leased or rented, and 25 worked by the company. Of the lines maintained by the company there were 233¼ miles of double and 96½ of single line. At the same date the authorised capital of the company was £9,727,770 in stock and £10,340,998, 14s. 8d. was given as the capital sum expended in the construction and equipment of the railway, including subscriptions to allied or subsidiary railways. As with other companies it is difficult now to say what amount in actual cash was expended in making the line, as a certain amount of nominal stock is comprised in the above totals, including a sum of £987,770 added on the consolidation on an equal dividend basis of certain guaranteed stocks, and an amount of £442,250 created as 'deferred' stock, to carry certain contingent dibidends that were payable to stock of equal amount, neither of those sums representing actual outlay on the line. Of the share capital, £4,927,920 stood as consolidated ordinary stock, £748,360 as 'guaranteed' stock (increased to £935,450 on equalisation as above described), and £1,949,299 as 'preference' stock at 4, 4¼, and 5 per cent. In the half-year last reported upon the company carried 354,701 first class, 238,344 second class, and 3,463, 284 third class passengers, besides issuing 3191 season tickets, making a total of 4,059,520 passengers, yielding a revenue of £191,906. For parcels, horses, and mails, the company received £221,963, and the goods traffic (merchandise 495,843 tons, minerals 2,022,103 tons) yielded a revenue of £313,861. With some miscellaneous items of receipt the revenue for the half-year was £546,915. To carry this traffic the company owned 280 locomotives, 871 passenger vehicles (including horse-boxes, carriage trucks, post office vans, etc.), and 11,592 waggons, 7051 of the latter being mineral waggons, and 184 brake-vans for goods trains.

In the half-year those vehicles traversed 1,042,340 miles in the passenger, and 1,125,556 in the goods department. The gross revenue per train mile was 59-32d., and of this the passenger traffic yielded an average of 51-11d., and the goods traffic an average of 66-92 per train mile. The affairs of the company are controlled by a board consisting of chairman, deputy-chairman, and 8 directors, who received an honorarium of £1000 in the half.-year.

As constructed up to the end of 1882, the Glasgow and South-Western railway served a district admirably described by its title, and having for its termini Glasgow, Greenock, Dumfries, Girvan, Castle-Douglas, and Kirkcudbright, with a vast network of intercommunication between the various parts of the district comprised within those limits. The parent line, that from Glasgow to Ayr, passes from Glasgow through a level country sprinkled with villas, villages, towns, and manufactories. Paisley, the first station of importance, is approached by a bridge over the White Cart, with the castellated buildings of the jail prominent in the foreground, and a glimpse is got of the venerable remains of the abbey, 'the cradle of the Empire', for to the birth of the son of Marjory Bruce, the Queen Blearie of the ringing aisle, the present reigning house traces its right to the British throne. At Paisley the branch to Renfrew diverges. Before reaching Johnstone, the line to Bridge of Weir and Greenock branches off, the section to Bridge of Weir, 3¾ miles, having been sanctioned in 1862, and the Greenock and Ayrshire, 15 miles, in 1865. The former was absorbed in 1865, and the latter in 1872. By the construction of this line, the Glasgow and South-Western obtained an independent access to Greenock, running their passenger trains to Princes Pier, at the W end of the port, where steamers call regularly. The Anchor Line passengers for America are conveyed by special train from Glasgow to Princes Pier, starting some hours after the vessel has left the harbour of Glasgow. From Johnstone the main line proceeds through a fine verdant district, passing Loch Semple, with a station for Lochwinnoch, and immediately entering Ayrshire, where it skirts Kilbirnie Loch, and passes through a picturesque country, with its beauties marred, as so many scenes in the W of Scotland are marred, by the mineral operations which bring the railway and the county their wealth. At Dalry there is a separation of the lines, that to the right proceeding to Kilwinning, from which a branch runs to Saltcoats (with a branch to the harbour) and Ardrossan. Extensions of the latter branch were opened to West Kilbride in 1878 and to Fairlie in 1882, and in the latter year powers were obtained to continue the railway to Largs, further N on the Ayrshire coast. A direct line from Dalry to Fairlie was at one time projected, but owing to the magnitude of the works involved, the powers to make this line were abandoned, and the circumbendibus route to the favourite watering place of Largs has been, after some delays, carried into effect. Leaving out of view some mineral lines in this part of the county, we next on the main line reach the town and harbour of Irvine, from beyond which a cross line by Dreghorn connects, for the first time, the two principal parts of the system, forming a short route between Kilmarnock and Ardrossan. This line skirts the coast, affording a fine view of the lower waters of the Clyde estuary, with Holy Island and the bold hills of Arran to fill up the background, and Ailsa Craig visible in the far distance. On approaching Troon, the old line to Kilmarnock, already spoken of, is met, and a branch strikes off, or rather, the original Troon line, strengthened to suit later requirements, strikes off to the town and harbour. Approaching Ayr, the village of Prestwick is passed, the links round which have been rendered accessible by the railway, and have been adopted as a favourite golfing ground.

S of Ayr we encounter a very interesting chapter of railway history. In the great railway promotion of nearly forty years ago, when the through routes of the county were elaborately reported upon by the Board of Trade, and the merits of various routes were keenly canvassed, an Act was passed in 1846 for the formation of the Glasgow and Belfast Union railway. Although promoted with this comprehensive title, and originally intended as the nucleus of a short route to Ireland via Stranraer, the line was only 22¼ miles in length, reaching to Girvan with a branch to Maybole. The capital was £440, 000 in shares and loans. In 1847, an Act for the construction of the 'Ayrshire and Galloway' railway was obtained, this line reaching to Dalmellington, and being intended to inaugurate a southern route through the Glenkens into Galloway. Although last promoted the Dalmellington line was first constructed. An Act passed in 1853 authorised the formation of this line, 13 miles in length, 4 miles of this being available for the proposed line to Girvan and Maybole should the latter be proceeded with. In 1854 the Ayr and Maybole Junction was promoted, 5¼ miles in length, and the two lines were opened in 1856. In 1858 the Dalmellington railway was amalgamated with the parent line. The Ayr and Maybole Company to this day preserves its autonomy, being worked by the Glasgow and South-Western railway under a perpetual lease agreed to in 1871, at an annual rent of 7 per cent. on the capital, with a lien on the revenue (see Ayr and Maybole Railway). The extension to Girvan, 12½ miles was promoted by a company in 1856 : capital £90, 600, eventually (owing to the works proving more expensive than had been estimated) increased to £145, 600. The line was opened in 1860, and amalgamated with the parent line in 1865, the Maybole section, as already mentioned, standing as a separate property between the two parts of the line then amalgamated. In 1865 powers were obtained to construct several important junctions in Ayrshire, embracing a cross line from Mauchline to Ayr -to bring Ayr into nearer connection with the S-a cross line from the Dalmellington branch to Cumnock, and a transverse railway connecting these two lines through the parishes of Ochiltree and Coylton. Those connections were opened in 1872. For the more southerly connection of the company beyond Girvan see Girvan and Portpatrick Railway and Portpatrick Railway.

Returning to Dalry, the point of divergence noticed m an earlier paragraph, we proceed to Kilmarnock, an important centre. After many negotiations and struggles, the Glasgow, Barrhead, and Kilmarnock joint line was sanctioned, and it is held in equal shares by the Caledonian and the Glasgow and South-Western Railway Companies. This was a compromise, on the abandonment of the Kilmarnock direct, and comprised the Barrhead and Neilston railway, and the Crofthead and Kilmarnock, with junctions and extensions, making a through line, which was opened in 1873. The line from Dalry to Kilmarnock (still an important passenger route, although the expresses take the direct line) was opened in 1843. It was followed by the extensions to Mauchline and Auchinleck, opened in Aug. 1848, and to New Cumnock, opened in May 1850. Meantime, as part of the Glasgow, Dumfries, and Carlisle railway, the line had been opened from Dumfries to Gretna, 24½ miles, in Aug. 1848, and from Dumfries to Closeburn, 11¾ miles, in Oct. 1849. The completing line between Closeburn and New Cumnock, 25¼ miles, was opened as already stated in Oct. 1850, and at the end of that month the original Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock, and Ayr, and Glasgow, Dumfries, and Carlisle companies were, under agreements previously made, amalgamated under the title at the head of this article. A branch from Auchinleck to Muirkirk, 10¼ miles, was opened in Aug. 1848, and a line from the neighbourhood of Kilmarnock to Galston and Newmilns was opened in May 1850. There are various mineral lines in this district that need not be particularised. By the Caledonian extension from Douglas to Muirkirk, authorised in 1865, a short route from Edinburgh to Ayr, viậ Carstairs and Lanark, was established, using the lines of the Glasgow and South-Western from Muirkirk by Cumnock. From Dumfries the Glasgow and South-Western company runs to Castle-Douglas and Kirkcudbright. To the former town a railway, 19½ miles in length, was sanctioned by an Act passed in 1856, and the Kirkcudbright railway, 10¼ miles in length, was sanctioned in 1861. Both were amalgamated with the Glasgow and South-Western in 1865.

While the engineering works on the system present no feature of world-wide fame, there is throughout an average amount of difficult and costly works in tunnels, bridges, etc. There is a long tunnel at Drumlanrig, rendered necessary by the line being carried along the side of the hill so as to preserve the amenity of Drumlanrig Castle. Between Dumfries and Annan the unstable character of the Lochar Moss gave considerable trouble. But as a rule the line was comparatively easy to construct, its gradients being generally moderate, while its course, laid out in the earlier days of railway construction, formed detours rather than short cuts. The reason given for omitting Kilmarnock in the route of the railway has already been quoted, and in the prospectus it was stated that the summit-level of the line between Glasgow and Ayr, at Kilbirnie Loch, is only 95 feet above sea-level.

The principal station of the railway, at St Enoch's Square in Glasgow, was opened by the Prince of Wales in Oct. 1876, but the works of the station, and the hotel fronting it, were not completed till 1879, when the hotel was opened. Previous to the erection of the new station, the company had its headquarters and principal terminus in Bridge Street, at the S end of Glasgow Bridge. This station, in which the Caledonian holds running powers and partial ownership, has been completely recast, and at present (1883) is of little importance ; its principal terminal traffic being the trains to Wemyss Bay (See Wemyss Bay Railway) and to Johnstone, with the numerous through trains passing to the central station of the Caledonian. The Bridge Street station, although little used, is held by the Glasgow and South-Western in anticipation of any change in traffic that may render it busier, and the company has successfully resisted the endeavours of the Caledonian to obtain a larger share in the property.

The hotel and station at St Enoch's Square take rank with the largest works of the kind in the kingdom. The hotel front to the square presents a splendid façade in Early English Gothic, 240 feet long, with a total height from the street level of 130 feet. The plat form level is approached by a sloping carriage-way, and is 20 feet above street level, the lower front of the terrace thus formed being used as shops. At the NW corner, under a lofty tower, is the entrance to the hotel, and in the centre, under an iron and glass roof, are the entrances to the booking-hall, a fine apartment 90 by 60 feet. The usual luggage-rooms, waiting-rooms, etc., are on this floor, and bounding the N side of the station is a wing 600 feet long, occupied as the headquarters of the company. In the angle subtended by the hotel and this wing is found the station, covered in a one-arched span of iron and glass, presenting a vast airy aspect, and fully accommodating the large traffic brought into the station. The main ribs of this splendid roof, built up in eleven sections, weigh 54 tons each. The hotel, the business of which is retained in the hands of the company, is only exceeded in size by two hotels in the kingdom. In the basement is a spacious kitchen, 85 by 32 feet in size, and with a roof 20 feet high, and the remaining appointments of the hotel are in keeping with this enlarged view of the needs of a first-class modern hotel. Electric-bells, speaking-tubes, and a hoist to carry visitors to the higher floors, are amongst the facilities offered by this finely equipped hotel.

The goods station of the company in College Street, adjoining the College (passenger) station of the North British railway, takes its name from having been built on the site of Glasgow University, of which building part of the front to High Street still remains, being used as railway offices. This district, once crowded with mean streets and narrow closes running down to Molendinar Burn, was levelled up for railway purposes at great expense. The College and St Enoch stations and the lines connecting them were constructed by, and are the property of, the City of Glasgow Union railway, a company incorporated in 1864, and the shares of which are held in equal proportions by the Glasgow and South-Western and -the North British railway companies. The works of this quasi company, extending to little more than 6 miles, have entailed a capital expenditure of two and a half millions of money. In the half-year last reported upon, the Glasgow and South-Western Company paid £28,743 for the rent of the two stations, and received £6500 as dividend upon its shares in the City of Glasgow Union. At Kilmarnock, Ayr, and Dumfries the company has excellent station buildings, and commodious goods yards, engine sheds, etc. The locomotive works at Kilmarnock are extensive, employing 1500 persons, and performing all work necessary in building and repairing engines, carriages, waggons, etc. At Irvine the company maintains an establishment connected with the maintenance of permanent way. Here signal posts and all the apparatus for the conduct and protection of the traffic are cared for, as well as the rails, sleepers, fish-plates, bolts, etc., required for the line itself.

It remains to notice that one of the features of the Glasgow and South-Western railway is, that it holds complete possession, so to speak, of the 'land of Burns.' To Ayr, his birthplace, to Dumfries, where he died, to Kilmarnock, Mauchline, Tarbolton (near which is Lochlee), Dalrymple (where the poet attended school), to Ellisland, to Lugar, to nearly every place that can be named in association with Burns, the railway forms the access, and in consequence it presents many attractions to the tourist and to the pilgrim to Burns' shrines. The line presents besides many other points of interest, affording access to such places of historic interest as Caerlaverock Castle, Sweet Heart and Lincluden Abbeys, St Mary's Isle at Kirkcudbright - the 'Selcraig Ha' of Paul Jones' well-known exploit - Drumlanrig Castle and the valley of the Nith, the many fine castles on the Ayrshire coast, many places associated with Wallace and Bruce, the island of Arran by steamer from Ardrossan, etc. , etc. See Glasgow and South-Western Railway, its History, Progress, and Present Position, by William M'llwraith (Glasg. 1880), and Guide to Glasgow and South-Western Railway.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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