NS4864 : Oakshaw Trinity Church

taken 6 years ago, near to Paisley, Renfrewshire, Great Britain

This is 1 of 5 images, with title Oakshaw Trinity Church in this square
Oakshaw Trinity Church
Oakshaw Trinity Church
The church was originally known as the High Kirk because of its elevated location on Church Hill, in contrast with the Laigh Kirk on New Street.

Much of what follows is based on Robert Brown's "History of the High Church, Paisley" (1880), cited at the end of this item. I have had to make certain corrections in the dates connected with the building of the steeple, for reasons that are explained below.

At the close of the seventeenth century, the population of Paisley was something like 2200. By 1732, it was around 3000-4000. However, up until 1738, Paisley Abbey itself was the only place of worship in the district (the aforementioned Low Church was completed in 1736, but was without the services of a regular minister until 1738).

In light of the growing population, the Town Council purchased from the Earl of Dundonald for £1000 merks Scots money (£55 11s 1½d) the right of patronage, thereby obtaining the right "to the erection and planting of new churches within the territory of the Burgh of Paisley".

As noted above, what later came to be called the Low Church was completed by 1736. The first mention in Council records of the High Kirk, the building shown in the present picture, is from 24th March 1749, when it was agreed that the church was to be erected upon "a piece of ground to be purchased from the representatives of Elizabeth Hill, wife of Matthew Spreul, maltman in Paisley; and the adjoining tenement and yard of Henry Whyte, and some portions of the yard adjoining, to be purchased from the respective proprietors".

On the 8th December 1749 there was laid before the Council a Scroll of Contract to be executed between the Bailies and Council and contributors, towards a new church to be erected within the Burgh. This was read and approved. Also presented was a plan of the church, drawn up by John Whyte, a member of the Council; this was likewise approved. William Caldwell, James Storey, John Hart (these three had been Bailies) and John Whyte were appointed to negotiate with masons about the building work. John Whyte (his surname is elsewhere sometimes given as White) would later draw up the plans for the High Kirk Steeple and the Cross Steeple.

The expenditure, aside from that for land, was £1588 12s 10d, of which only £173 9s 9d was advanced by the Town Council (the above-mentioned "contributors" made up the rest of the money; some received certain privileges when the church was complete).

The church was complete by June 1754, and "on the 14th of that month, the seats were let by public roup until Whitsunday following".

Click on the end-note title for related images, including views of some of the individual memorials in the kirkyard. Their inscriptions are recorded, in abbreviated format, in volume 2 of the published Renfrewshire pre-1855 MI (Monumental Inscriptions) records (J F & S Mitchell, 1992, for The Scottish Genealogy Society). Those who have no ready access to that work may find an independent online transcription of the inscriptions useful: LinkExternal link (at Happy Haggis).

[In the course of my own researches on the kirkyard's memorials, I was able to consult an original manuscript, written c.1850 by the young Mary Ann Semple (daughter of the respected local historian David Semple), in which she recorded the inscriptions of many of the gravestones in the Paisley area, providing a very useful record for future generations. My thanks to the staff of Paisley's Central Library for their generous assistance.]

The first minister of the High Church was James Baine, born in 1710, the eldest son of James Baine, minister of Bonhill. He had been educated at Dumbarton's Grammar School and at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. After being licensed by the Presbytery of Dunbarton on the 19th of October 1731, being presented by James, Duke of Montrose, and ordained to Killearn on the 26th of May 1732, he was translated to Paisley's High Kirk and admitted on the 22nd of April 1756.

He was succeeded in 1766 by George Mure/Muir of Old Cumnock. It was during his time as minister that the steeple of the High Kirk was added, again from plans drawn up by Bailie Whyte. Mure suffered problems with one of his feet, and for a while had to be carried to church, where he delivered his sermons sitting down; as a last resort, the foot was amputated, but Mure seems to have recovered well. One of his publications, "Christ's Cross and Crown: An Essay", was said to be the first book printed in Paisley.

The church's steeple was added during Mr Mure's ministry. On the 29th August 1767(?) (Brown has "1776", but see the end of this item), the Council had under consideration a second plan for the steeple, drawn up by Bailie White/Whyte (who had designed the church itself), and they approved this plan. On the 16th of December following, a committee was appointed to treat with William Hart and John Hamilton to have the steeple built. Brown says that we have no further notice of the steeple in Council records for the next eight years, but he adds that William Semple, on page 307 of his "History of Renfrewshire", said that it was three years in the building, though Semple gave no date for the beginning or end of that work.

We have no notice of when the steeple building began, but Brown notes that if the work had been started in the summer following the December meeting, it would have been finished in 1771.

We next have notice of the steeple when, according to the dates given by Brown, on 13th October 1775, the Council agreed "to purchase a bell of one thousand pounds weight at least". On 11th October (supposedly of the following year, but see the next paragraph), they "agreed to purchase a clock for the High Church Steeple, and appoint Bailie Charles Maxwell, Bailie James Wilson, and Patrick Cross, as a Committee to take information thereanent, and provide the same, and make dyal plates".

However, Brown then cites William Semple to show that the clock was set going in June 1771; whatever the nature of the problem, Brown seems not to have noticed the inconsistency, since he gives this set of dates not only in his 1880 "History of the High Church, Paisley", but also in the second volume of his 1886 "History of Paisley" (volume 2).

As for the first bell, Brown says that it arrived on 26 April 1776, and that it was put into place on the 2nd of May of the same year. It weighed 1050lb, and cost £75. The bell was found to have cracked after being rung on 29th January 1820, on the accession of George IV to the throne. There have been several replacement bells since then.

The ringing of the bell itself became a matter of controversy, leading to a court case in 1834. That topic would provide enough material for an article in its own right, but it is too much of a digression to discuss here.

The High Kirk Parish was disjoined from that of the Abbey of Paisley on the 20th of February 1782 by the Commissioners for the Plantation of Kirks.

For other contributors' pictures of the church, see: NS4864 : High Church / NS4864 : Oakshaw Trinity Church Hall / NS4864 : Oakshaw Trinity Church, Paisley / NS4864 : Oakshaw Trinity Church.


▪ Robert Brown, "History of the High Church, Paisley" (1880).

▪ Robert Brown, "History of Paisley" (1886), volume 2, page 30.

▪ Fasti Ecclesiĉ Scoticanĉ (1920), volume 3, pages 171-174, for the succession of ministers.

▪ Robert Brown, "Paisley Poets" (1889), volume 1, page 284 (on the installation and replacement of the first bell in the steeple).

- - • - -

Brown's account of the building of the steeple is problematic, and I have had to make corrections to the dates which he gives. I do not make such corrections lightly, so I have outlined the reasoning behind them below for the benefit of future researchers. What follows is intended for such researchers, and will probably be of limited interest to other readers:

The first of Brown's works that I consulted when researching this item was the second volume of his "History of Paisley" (1886), where he states that the steeple was built in 1776, but that the clock that was later installed there was started in 1771. This clearly makes no sense. I had hoped to clear up the problem by consulting the same author's "History of the High Church, Paisley" (1880), which I subsequently used to expand the present item.

I was able to consult his 1880 "History of the High Church" at Paisley's Central Library, and found that it contains the very same set of inconsistent dates; this shows that the error in the 1886 book was not simply a typographical error, but that it is an inconsistency that the author himself had not noticed (it seems odd that no reader would have noticed it and brought it to the author's attention in the interval between the publication of the two books). However, I was able to reconstruct a set of possible and at least consistent dates from parenthetical remarks that Brown makes in his 1880 book.

First of all, he states there that it was in the ministry of Mr Mure that the Council resolved to erect the High Church Steeple, "about 13 years" after the church was opened for public worship. He enlarges on this by saying, a little later, that on 29th August 1776, they had under consideration "a second plan [for a steeple] drawn by Bailie White", which they approved, and that on "16 December following", a committee was formed to treat with Mr Hart and Mr Hamilton to build it.

He later mentions that, according to William Semple (on page 307 of his "History of Renfrewshire"), the steeple was three years in the building, but that Semple does not say when the work began or ended. However, Brown says that "if begun in the summer after the preceding December meeting", then it would be finished sometime in 1771.

From context, the December meeting is the one where "a committee was formed to treat with Mr Hart and Mr Hamilton". If 1771 is three years after the summer following that December meeting, then that meeting took place on 16th December 1767 (not 1776; Brown perhaps made a transposition error).

The church was completed in 1754, so the 29th August meeting, if held in 1767 rather than in 1776, was indeed 13 years after the church opened for business; if it was held in any other year, it is hard to see where Brown could obtain his figure of "about 13 years".

With this correction, the dates for the building of the steeple and the installation and starting of the clock are at least made consistent, although this does not, in itself, mean that they are correct.

(Without access to the Council records that Brown is referring to, there is no way to settle the problem beyond all doubt, but a simple transposition error, from 1767 to 1776, is the most likely explanation for the problematic dates given in both books. Although Robert Brown's works are useful, I have encountered several mistakes in them; see, for example, the comments at NS4864 : Memorial to the teacher James Peddie and at NS4863 : Paisley Abbey: gravestone of Thomas Peter.)
Paisley High Kirk
Though known by 2014 as Oakshaw Trinity Church, it was built as the High Kirk, so called because of its location on Church Hill. It was completed by 1754 (a few years after what came to be called, by contrast, the Laigh Kirk). The High Kirk was built to the plans of Bailie John Whyte. A steeple, also to Whyte's plans, was added later (before 1771), and was given a bell in 1776. The High Kirk Parish was disjoined from that of Paisley Abbey in 1782.
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NS4864, 1144 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Friday, 7 March, 2014   (more nearby)
Sunday, 6 April, 2014
Geographical Context
Religious sites  Burial ground, Crematorium 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4806 6410 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:50.7663N 4:25.6996W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4803 6407
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Northeast (about 45 degrees)
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