Myths and Legends

Witchcraft

In the 17th century the hysteria about witchcraft was at its peak and the people of East Renfrewshire did not escape the persecution that came with the fears and suspicions surrounding the subject.  

In 1650 a number of people from Inverkip, Linwood, Neilston and Kilallan were accused of witchcraft. Luckily for them they passed certain tests, which would disprove them to be witches.

However in 1697, seven others were less fortunate. Christina Shaw from Erskine claimed she was bewitched and accused John Lindsay, James Lindsay, John Reid, Catherine Campbell, Margaret Lang, Margaret Fulton and Agnes Naismith. Amongst her symptoms was the disgorging of "a considerable quantity of hair, folded up straw, unclean hay, wild foule feathers...divers kinds of bones...together with a number of coal cinders, burning hot candle grease, gravel stones, etc.,"*

Although, geographically this was slightly outside our area of interest, some notable people from this area were involved in the affair. The Laird of Glanderston was a member of the communion whose find was that the accused were witches and that further enquiries should be made. The seven poor souls were found guilty and condemned to death. The Rev D Brown, minister of Neilston, was appointed to deal with them. On the day before the execution, at Paisley Prison, he preached a sermon on the sins of witchcraft to the condemned. Next day, all but one who died (probably by his own hand) in prison, were executed on Gallow Green of Paisley. After having been hung for a few minutes and then cut down, they were put into a fire prepared for them, into which a barrel of tar had been added, to consume them more quickly.

Another accusation of witchcraft centred on the Maxwell family who were long connected with Mearns and Eastwood. A young dumb girl called Janet Douglas accused Janet Matthie of bewitching Sir George Maxwell of Pollock in 1667. Sir George was very sick with a pain in his right side. A waxen effigy with pins stuck in the sides was found in Matthie's house. Janet was imprisoned and Sir George was said to have recovered but later fell sick again. On Janet Douglas's advice another search of the house took place and a second effigy was found. Janet's son John Stewart was accused along with his fourteen-year-old sister Annabil and his mother's friends Bessie Weir, Margerey Craig and Margaret Jackson. All the accused were searched for 'insensible marks' of which many were found. Confessions of meeting in secret and consorting with the devil were obtained and trials took place. All were condemned to burn apart from Annabil who because of her young age was spared her life and instead imprisoned.

* Metcalfe, W M, A History of the County of Renfrew from the Earliest Times, Alexander Gardner, 1905

Knights Templar

The Knights Templar were formed after the First Crusade in 1096. Their full name was 'The Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon' and their original purpose was to protect the large numbers of European pilgrims who travelled to Jerusalem after its conquest.

They were both soldiers and monks and as well as protecting pilgrims their order's infrastructure developed many financial techniques, which would become the basis of modern banking. They grew in power and influence but it was their wealth that became their downfall. In order to obtain it, Philip IV of France 'Philip the Fair' tortured members of the order in France and burned them at the stake. Finally, he influenced Pope Clement V to disband the order in the early 1300s. The knights had gained lands in countries all over Europe and upon their demise, many of these lands were handed over to the Knights Hospitillars.

The Knights Templar were first given lands in Scotland by King David I but it is possible that some fled here when Philip the Fair began his persecutions. At that time Scotland was in the throes of the Wars of Independence and had been excommunicated, which possibly created a safe haven for the knights. There are stories of the knights fighting on the Scottish side at Bannockburn in 1314 but these should be viewed with scepticism.

What is known is that the Knights Templar held lands in East Renfrewshire, probably at Blackhouse, Broom, Capelrig, Craigton, Guildacre, Pollockhouse, Southfield and Templebank. Capelrig may have taken its name from a Knights Templar 'chapel' and a 'rig' or strip of ground that may have belonged to the chapel.

Not much more is known but mention of the Knights survive in stories and local legends. There is a mysterious gravestone in Mearnskirk, which is inscribed with a cross and a sword. Could this be the stone of a crusading knight, maybe even a Templar?  Another local legend is that the Knights buried treasure in the Deil's Wood in Eaglesham and then spread stories among the local people of ghosts and ghouls inhabiting the spot to put off would be treasure hunters. Their plan didn't quite work as the laird's son tried to dig for treasure at the turn of the century.

More information on the Knights Templar can be found on the following websites:

A Canadian based magazine called Templar History Magazine

Website of the Rosslyn Templars

BBC web pages on local legends