The Textile Industry

Up until the first half of the 18th century the lands, which now make up East Renfrewshire had an economy based on agriculture.

However, the arrival of the Industrial Revolution had a huge impact on the area as the textile industry exploded in places like Neilston and Busby and the effects of the dramatic growth in population radiated out to the other areas.

The area was ideal for the development of textile and other industries, due to the good quality and motive power of the water in rivers such as the Levern and the Cart.


Although there were small mills already in existence such as the waulk, meal and lint mills to be found on either side of the River Cart at Busby, the new technologies of the time meant that huge mills could be established. At Busby, William Ferguson built what was only the 3rd cotton-spinning mill in Scotland on the Renfrewshire side of the Cart in 1780. This was known as the Upper Mill. In 1790, came a second mill, Busby Lower Mill, established by James Doxon. In 1796, Busby Printworks opened to produce printed calico amongst other printed goods.


Neilston had a similar story to Busby. By 1832, a multitude of cotton mills, bleachfields and printworks had developed in the area.

In total, 7 mills stood on the Levern including the only one still standing today, Crofthead Mill.


Thornliebank, which didn't exist as a village until the beginning of the 18th century, also had a huge printworks with a mill and bleachfields. These were taken over and improved by the Crum family and made a huge contribution to the history of Thornliebank.

Thornliebank Printworks Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window


The pure and abundant water of the Cart made paper-making an early and important industry. The first of four paper mills in the parish was established at Newlands in 1682 by a Frenchman, Nicholas Deschamp, an experienced paper-maker who had previously worked in Edinburgh. His son-in-law, James Hall, son of the meal miller, began a second paper mill upriver from Cathcart at Netherlee. Both mills were replaced in 1730 by a new paper mill at Millholm which survived for almost two centuries. (from http:\\

A growing popuation

The population grew at a fast pace with people coming from as far away as Ireland and the Highlands to gain employment in the mills and printworks in the area. The peak of this industry came in the middle of the 19th century; this is evident in the population of Busby, which grew from 902 in 1841 to 2,155 in 1881. The mill and printwork owners built accommodation for the workers, first of all 2-storey terraces called 'Lands' and later, tenement buildings.

Life for the workers was hard. They worked 6-day weeks with only 2 days holiday per year and their working day was usually about 14 hours a day, sometimes more. Conditions were dangerous. The atmosphere in the mills had to be kept hot and damp and diseases such as bronchitis, pneumonia and tuberculosis were rife.


Children from the age of 7 were also put to work in the mills. In fact, in the early 1800s they outnumbered the adult workers considerably.

For example, the Statistical Accounts of 1791-9 show the number and age of people working in the mills in Busby as

Males under 15 - 100

Females under 15 - 110

Males over 15 - 60

Females over 15 - 90

Children endured the same dangerous conditions and long working hours as the adults. In 1805, the government passed the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act, which limited a child's working day to 12 hours, the last 2 of which were to be spent in the instruction of reading, writing and arithmetic. This had limited impact but in 1872 another Education Act made education compulsory from the ages of 5-13.

Decline of the Textile Industry

At the close of the 19th century, the textile industry began to decline. The mills and printworks gradually began to close down and for a while the population began to decrease. However, as transport lines began to improve between the area and the city of Glasgow, what now makes up East Renfrewshire began to become attractive as residential suburbs and the population started to grow once more.