Derived from the old English for “field of elder trees”, the town known today as Elderslie is perhaps best known as the birthplace of one of Scottish history’s most cherished heroes.
Born to Malcolm Wallace, laird of Elderslie, and Lady Margaret Crawford in 1270, William grew up in the area during its mediaeval period and would be educated by the monks of nearby Paisley Abbey. On account of its father’s position as a minor noble, it was expected that the young Wallace may go into the priesthood. However, as we now know, the legendary figure would embark on a much different path.
From the beginning of the uprisings in 1297 to his capture and execution in 1305, William Wallace grew into not only Scotland’s fiercest defender and Elderslie’s finest son, but would become a figure of mythical proportions. Eight centuries on from his days of patriotic valour, he has remained a national hero and from 1912, his hometown has played host to a monument to Wallace. Designed by John CT Murray courtesy of funds raised by the London Renfrewshire Society, this local landmark is one of the focal points of the town and serves as the final destination for the area’s annual Wallace Day celebrations.
Intertwined with Scotland’s rebellious past as it may be, there is much more to Elderslie than its most famous resident.
From the late 18th century, Elderslie joined other nearby settlements by getting involved in thread manufacture. In 1791, John Clark of Paisley set out his intention to build a large mill for cotton spinning. Three years on he would build a dam in order to harness the power of the nearby Old Patrick Water, or as it’s more commonly referred to by locals today, the ‘Brandy Burn.’ By 1823, production had accelerated to such a degree that its 9,400 mule spindles were fuelled by a water wheel and steam engine working in tandem.
After the year of 1815, the cotton mill would have to share its power supply with a variety of other large-scale operations including Vallance and Lamb’s paper mill, which, over time, would morph into Patrickbank print works.
In 1833, the area’s economy was granted another boost courtesy of the inception of Glenpatrick Distillery. Opened in 1833 by Alexander Speirs, laird of Elderslie Estate, it gradually became took on the name of “Gleniffer” and would stand tall for six decades before its eventual closure in 1894.
While these industries experienced ebbs and flows, one Elderslie-based operation would stand strong for over 100 years.
Just ten short years after Speirs launched his distillery, a Massachusetts-born silk merchant was looking for a new start across the Atlantic. After initially landing in Glasgow and finding little direction, Arthur Francis Stoddard would make his way to Elderslie in 1853 and nine years on, he would purchase the Patrickbank site, which had since diversified into tapestry carpets after the demand for Paisley shawls declined, from the Ronald Brothers.
Courtesy of his stateside ties, the newly rechristened Stoddard’s carpet factory would soon dwarf the success of its previous owners and find global renown. In fact, just five years after his takeover of the company, the factory was exporting 75% of its production to the US.
Courtesy of a fruitful working relationship with the nearby John Brown & Co shipyards, Stoddard Carpets would adorn the floors of Cunard liners including the RMS Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mary and the QE2. In addition to this high profile contract, Stoddards also provided carpeting for the most famous ship of all in the RMS Titanic as well as Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding, the palace of Holyrood House and the famed Epsom racecourse.
During the height of its success and profitability, Stoddards employed over 1700 people.
The Elderslie plant has been forever immortalised in art as John Byrne’s formative years working in the factory would serve as the basis for John Byrne’s critically acclaimed Slab Boys trilogy of plays.