Renaissance man and radical, John Fraser, who lived from 1794-1879, was famed for his involvement in the Radical Rising of 1820.


During the unrest John, along with a number of other ‘radicals’, was tried for treason, following a week of strikes and protests throughout Scotland.

Following his release from prison, John returned to teaching for the next 16 years. His curriculum was widely admired throughout the West of Scotland.

He later moved his family to Edinburgh, where, in 1839, he invested his life savings in launching the radical Chartist newspaper, ‘The True Scotsman.’ The paper went on to become the best-selling newspaper in the country at the time.

He also had a long career as a weaver, educator, writer, poet, musician, public speaker and was a leading light in the development of the Johnstone Cooperative Movement.

For his musical talents John enjoyed great success touring the UK and later the US and Canada with his family performing some of the work of Burns that he’d adapted to music, where the performances secured rave reviews.

John Fraser’s impact

The Renfrewshire radical has now been honoured with a plaque which has been installed at Johnstone Town Hall in recognition of his importance to the town.

Tannahill Makar, Shaun Moore, has been inspired by Renfrewshire’s radicals in his own poetry and writings.

He said: “I believe it’s right for people to know about figures like John Fraser, as they strove to build a fairer society for us. They are important figures who dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others, which was a kind of heroism. That’s worth not only commemorating but being thankful for too.

“As an artist, a writer, I believe that creativity and rebellion have always gone hand in hand. This is sometimes because our artists instinctively seek new ways of seeing or doing things, but more often because historically their role has been to advocate change or champion the voiceless and invisible people.

“Learning of the real sacrifices made by people like John Fraser has given me courage to stick my neck out, as a writer. Learning of the Weaver poets before him and of the songwriters, playwrights, and visual artists who came after, gives me a sense of duty to carry on the tradition of challenging.”

Paisley’s Gaelic connections are far-reaching and have significantly shaped the town’s cultural heritage from poetry and song, to weaving and thread making, education, philanthropy and religious worship. 

Our most iconic building – Paisley Abbey – has direct links to Gaeldom dating back to 1164 when Somerled MacGillebride, King of Argyll, was killed in battle in Renfrew.

Soon after, the Monastery of Renfrew was moved to a new site in Paisley, heavily funded – annually, a silver penny for each house in his lands which make smoke – by Somerled’s son Reginald, progenitor of Clan Donald and the Lord of the Isles. In return, he was declared a true brother of the Monastery and links between Paisley Abbey and the Lords of the Isles continued for 400 years until the Reformation.

The anniversary of the battle was commemorated in 2014 and included a performance by Renfrewshire Schools’ Ceilidh Band, led by Morag Currie. The group composed an original piece of music based on 12th century plainchant, rhythms and texts.


Textile production

In the late 18th century, textile production in Paisley had created a wealthy artisan weaving community, coinciding with The Highland Clearances and extreme poverty in Gaelic speaking areas. Highlanders were drawn to Paisley by well-paid work and a substantial Gaelic community was established in the town.

In 1794, a Gaelic chapel, seating 1,090, was opened and Gaelic Sunday schools were established. Poverty in the Highlands resulted in vast parishes and few ministries, to alleviate this, a Gaelic Missionary Society was established in Paisley in 1817.

Every year, up to six Gaelic Ministries, funded by Paisley, travelled the Highlands and Islands, preaching and distributing Gaelic bibles.

Iain Camshron, Bàrd Phàislig, was born on the Isle of Man in 1865 and moved to Ballachulish as the age of two before Paisley became his home as a young boy.

Camshron wrote a number of Gaelic songs including ‘Air Fail il o Iriag’, ‘Taobh Loch Eite’, ‘Gaol nan Cruinneag’ and ‘Gleann Bhaile Chaoil’ – the latter widely regarded as one of the most famous Ceilidh songs.

Harris Tweed can be said to have its origins in Paisley, stretching back to the 1840s when two islanders came south to be trained by local Paisley weavers – the cloth produced with the techniques they learned was of such quality their local landowner saw a chance to market it as a high-end product.

From there, Harris Tweed as we know it was born. To this day, a plaque dedicated to ‘the Paisley sisters’ sits on the site of their former cottage on the now-uninhabited island of Pabbay.

In the late 19th century, Paisley mills, owned by the Coats family, dominated world production of sewing thread. By 1900, several family members were millionaires and their philanthropy was far-reaching.

James Coats was the third generation of the family in the company and had a passion for establishing libraries in schools and remote rural communities. Between 1903 and 1912, he provided books for 4,000 libraries, mainly in the north and west of Scotland. He was particular about supplying Gaelic language books and, where not available, he had Gaelic translations published and printed by Alexander Gardener of Paisley.


Dòmhnall Ruadh Phàislig

One of Paisley’s most famous links to the Mòd comes from the Bàrd, Dòmhnall Ruadh Phàislig. Dòmhnall Ruadh was the Mòd Bàrd from 1938-39 and is recognised for his contribution to Gaelic poetry and song. His collected works were published as ‘Sporan Dhòmhnaill’, which contain a translation of Tam O’Shanter into Gaelic.

He was also the author of the famous song Òran na Cloiche – the story of the stealing of the Stone of Destiny. He is buried in Hawkhead Cemetery in Paisley, where a new gravestone was erected to commemorate him in 2001. His relatives still live in the town.

Scotland's premier celebration of Gaelic culture, hosted by Paisley

Did you know Paisley’s Coats Observatory has a rich history of weather recording?

In this blog, John Pressly, science curator at Coats Observatory, tells us all about this fascinating tradition.

“Everyone likes to talk about the weather, whether it be good, bad or unexpected. On 23 March each year World Meteorology Day commemorates the work done in recording weather globally. Raising awareness of how the weather and climate affects everyone and everything on our planet.

“Paisley has a long tradition of weather recording, dating back to 1858. That year a scientific meteorology station was set up in the grounds of Ferguslie House, the home of local thread manufacturer Thomas Coats.

“In 1883 Thomas gifted Coats Observatory to the town and the responsibility for collecting local weather data shifted to this newly opened scientific institution. Equipment was set up in the observatory garden and daily readings of rainfall, sunshine, temperature and wind speed were taken. These were written down and kept in large ledgers which are now safely stored at the ‘Secret Collection’ on Paisley High Street.

The Sunshine Recorder in Paisley Museum collection - a glass sphere attached to curved metal stand with curved metal holder for paper sunshine card. The Sunshine Recorder is just one of the many objects that will feature in the weather story display once the museum reopens.

The Sunshine Recorder is just one of the many objects that will feature in the weather story display once the museum reopens.

“These records reveal some of the weather extremes Paisley has experienced over the years. Such as the coldest day, recorded on February 10, 1895, when the thermometer dropped down to minus 15.1oC. And the hottest (so far) on June 28, 2018, when the mercury hit 32.4oC. As well as the wettest, December 10, 1994, when 89mm of rain fell in one single day. This led to widespread flooding, especially in Ferguslie Park.

Coats Observatory Weather Book. Almost 130 years-worth of weather data is recorded in these large log books which are now kept in the museum store

Coats Observatory Weather Book. Almost 130 years-worth of weather data is recorded in these large log books. They are now kept in the museum store.

“The weather story will be just one of several being told in Paisley Museum when the building reopens in 2024.”

Discover more for yourself

The museum is currently undergoing a £42m transformation into a leading European museum. It will tell the stories of Paisley’s people and Pattern, and be home to internationally-significant collections.

If, like us, you want to stay up to date with the progress of the project, check out the Paisley Museum Reimagined campaign.

Paisley Harbour was once bustling with thousands of tonnes of cargo being landed every month.

Located on the White Cart river just off the town’s Harbour Road, the harbour dates back to the 1600s.

At first too shallow for large vessels, the river was deepened and straightened in 1835 with a harbour built at Carlile Quay.

A further harbour followed at Laighpark by 1880, supporting three nearby shipyards.

Paisley Harbour

Paisley’s shipyards received many orders during WW1 and, in 1917, King George V spent a day in the town during a visit to the Clydeside.

The threat of war in 1938 brought more naval contracts and the riverbed deepened again, with up to 7,000 tonnes of cargo being landed monthly by early 1945.

Trade declined post war and with it the need for a harbour dissipated.

But the story doesn’t end there…

In 2021, Renfrewshire Council completed the refurbishment and re-opened a footbridge at Abercorn Street which had been closed for 25 years.

And now further transport links are set to be introduced, including a road bridge at the former Paisley Harbour.

New road bridge at Paisley Harbour

Planning consent has just been granted for the bridge and further routes along the river from Paisley town centre right out to the developing manufacturing district AMIDS next to Glasgow Airport.

It’s all about improving the connections for people either side of the river to AMIDS and to their work, studies and leisure activities.

Cutting congestion, enhancing the environment along the river and encouraging walking and cycling, the improved transport links will also help local business growth by improving access for customers and suppliers.

In fact, the completed works could attract an additional £136million into the local economy and cut carbon emissions by more than 4,200 tonnes.

It is expected to be in place in 2025 and is being funded through the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund.


Did you know the Erskine Bridge celebrated it’s 50th birthday in July?

The iconic crossing over the Clyde opened on the 2 July 1971, becoming the first fixed link between West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire. The cable-stayed steel box girder bridge was designed by Freeman Fox and Partners.

Discussions on the need for a bridge began in the 1930s, though it was the early 1960s before significant progress was made. As proposals for the network of motorways and dual carriageways in Central and West Scotland matured, it became clear that a bridge at this location would be an important piece of the jigsaw.

It was an ambitious and technically challenging project. The completion led to significant reductions in journey times, particularly during the busy tourist season when traffic reaches its peak.

Today, the bridge carries over 35,000 vehicles every day. A notably slender design adds to the unique and recognisable appearance of what was not just the first large-scale cable stayed bridge in Scotland but, for a time, the bridge with the longest cable-stayed span in the world. The project cost £10.5 million, the equivalent of almost £150 million today.

The Erskine Bridge was also awarded Category A status by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) in November 2018.

Take a closer at this amazing structure with the video above!

Now that you’ve read all about the history of Renfrew’s Bascule Bridge with this first blog, find out some things you didn’t know about the Grade A listed structure.


  1. The Scherzer style Bascule Bridge in Renfrew is one of few surviving rolling lift bridges in Scotland.
  2. ‘Bascule’ is French for a seesaw. This type of bridge provides roadway while allowing a ship to pass through when needed. Tower Bridge in London is one of the best known examples of a Bascule bridge.
  3. When the bridge opens, it reaches skyward almost 120 feet above the ground.
  4. The Bascule Bridge became Category A listed in December 1994.
  5. Construction for the new bridge broadened the White Cart’s channel at the bridges from 48 to 90 feet. Previously, the narrow river had limited the size of craft that could be constructed in local shipbuilding yards.
  6. The Bascule Bridge was designed and built by Sir William Arrol & Co., who also built some other famous bridges around the UK including the Forth and Tay rail bridges, and Tower Bridge in London. The founder, Sir William Arrol, was born in Houston in 1839 and his father was a cotton spinner.
  7. In the 1830s, while steam navigation was still in its early days, a passenger steamer called ‘The Cupid’ travelled down the Cart and Clyde as far as Rothesay, taking 12 hours there and back. It was nicknamed ‘The Stupid’, on account of its tendency to run into sandbanks.
  8. In November 1880, a horse and wagon load of straw were completely blown off a previous bridge into the river. The driver escaped just in time and received damages of £105.
  9. In the 1980s, it was reported that an eccentric American oil tycoon wanted to buy the Bascule Bridge and even visited the structure in an 18-foot black limousine.
  10. When the bridge opened, it cost two shillings and sixpence for vessels to pass under the bridge between 6am and 6pm, and this was to be paid both inwards and outwards.

Read more about the amazing Bascule Bridge

The Bascule Bridge is a major feature on the main approach to Renfrew town centre from the airport. To this day, people gather to watch the grade A listed structure rise into the sky.

But do you know how the bridge came to be? Find out with this blog by Rachael Morris.

Looking back

Before the affectionately known “tin bridge” was constructed, there were several other structures which stood in its place and the local landscape sustained some significant changes too. In fact, records suggest that there were three swing bridges across the canalised part of the White Cart at Inchinnan Bridge between around 1792 and 1920.

Up until 1759, a ford or ferry helped people to cross the joined mouth of the Black and White Cart. But as the 18th century progressed, it became more obvious a road bridge was needed to improve travel between the growing city of Glasgow and Renfrewshire. So in 1759, an arched stone bridge was constructed on the site of the former fording place. This ran in a straight line across the mouth of the Black and White Cart rivers, connecting with the Abbotsinch Paisley Road. However, there were lots of shallows close by and small vessels couldn’t always get their masts underneath. This bridge eventually collapsed due to floodtides in the early 19th century and two separate bridges, which are still in use today, were built to replace it.

Around 1790, to improve navigation of the White Cart water to Paisley, a half mile long canal was cut at Blythswood, to ease the river’s problems for the few craft which used it, forming the stretch of water which the current bridge raises itself skyward over.

The first bridge to cross this new canal seemingly lasted until 1835. The Clyde to Paisley River Improvement led to its replacement. In 1876 the bridge was replaced again, before this structure finally became completely outmoded in 1920, as both road users complained about the condition of the road and Paisley Shipbuilders complained about the bridge’s waterway obstructing capabilities.

Timeline of the Bascule Bridge, Renfrew

Building the Bascule Bridge

In 1920, power was granted to the burgh of Paisley to improve the navigation channel at Inchinnan and replace the old swing bridge with a more modern structure. The following year, Sir William Arrol & Co. received the contract for the new bridge.

Construction for the new bridge broadened the White Cart’s channel at the bridges from 48 to 90 feet so that much larger boats could now pass down, answering the complaints of Paisley shipbuilders, who found the narrowness of the river had previously limited the size of craft that could be erected in their yards. During the construction, a light railway was even laid to haul excavated materials upstream in trucks.

The new structure featured a clear opening span of 90 feet, with a 20-foot roadway and two footways for pedestrians. When open, it reaches a height of almost 120 feet above ground. And while the previous structure was a hand operated cast iron bridge, with a capacity limited to a three-ton vehicle, the new bridge is electrically operated and offered a much improved capacity of 30 tons.

The project cost around £62,000 to complete, costs which were shared between Paisley Town Council, Local Authorities and the shipbuilders on the Cart.


The Grand Opening

Approximately three years after receiving the contract, the inauguration of the bridge took place on Wednesday 21 March 1923. A 6,000 strong crowd came to watch Provost Lang formally declare the new Scherzer style bridge open. The Provost’s remarks were short and to the point, “I now declare the bridge open and may it have a longer and a much more useful life than its predecessor.” After the bridge was lowered and the crowd had lined up across the footway for a photograph, the invited guests hopped into waiting cars and travelled over the new bridge to Paisley, where tea was served with Provost Lang presiding. A week later, on Wednesday 28 March, the bridge officially opened for use.

Historic image of The Bascule Bridge

The Bascule Bridge – The Heritage Centre, Renfrewshire Leisure


Meeting road and water demands

The new bridge formed a very important link in road communication between Glasgow and the lower reaches of the Clyde, greatly increasing traffic facilities on the roads between Glasgow and Greenock, and giving access to Ayrshire and the South of Scotland. However, the structure also provided a vital water gateway which improved access from Paisley Harbour to the Clyde and sea.

In 1936 it was reported that the bridge was raised 20 times a week to allow shipping to proceed to and from Paisley Harbour. However, since the closure of Paisley Harbour in the late 1960s, it is now almost an event to witness the bridge being raised.

Later, Babcock and Wilson in Renfrew relied on the bridge for transferring heavy structures on barges. While it was reported in 1975 that the bridge had only opened for two vessels in the last three years, Babcock and Wilcox said the bridge was vital to the future of their factory.

Lindsay McKillop, from Renfrew Community Council, said:

“The “tin bridge” has been part of Renfrew’s history for many years and it is really important to take a moment to recognise its significance as the only remaining rolling lift bridge in the entire country. The bridge is a historical working exhibition of engineering and, to this day, it is held in high regard in the engineering world.

“Lots of people travel far and wide to see the bridge opening. And for those of us who live locally, I think we are quite spoiled to have such a marvel of engineering on our doorstep and to see the bridge lit up in all its splendour.

“For nearly 100 years, the Bascule Bridge has been part of our history and stands proud as it says welcome to or goodbye from Renfrew.”

Protecting the future

Since the bridge was built, a number of repair and restoration works have been undertaken to help safeguard the future of the structure.

Between 2001 and 2004, Renfrewshire Council undertook major restoration work on the bridge to save the important road link from imminent closure, whilst also removing a long standing weight restriction and re-establishing the opening facility to secure the use of the water for freight and pleasure craft.

Due to the complexity and historical significance of the bridge, the restoration was carried out in several stages and required careful planning and coordination. A major new architectural lighting system was also installed in complementary tones to highlight this unusual structure. The restoration work cost in excess of £1 million and was awarded a commendation from the Saltire Society for Civil Engineering.

In more recent years, it is a rare occasion to see the giant iron arm of the bridge lifting skyward over the Cart, but it is an impressive sight none-the-less. And to this day, people still gather to watch the only surviving bridge of its kind in Scotland roll back on its special track and lift into the sky above the White Cart water.

Find out more fascinating facts about the Bascule Bridge

Today marks International Museum Day – what better way to celebrate than to showcase some of your fabulous #ShowUsYourPaisley submissions.

This year’s theme is The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine which perfectly compliments  Paisley Museum’s £42million transformation project and the vision for what the venue will become when it reopens in 2023.

This year’s International Museum Day embraces co-creation so in that sprit we wanted to show off some of the fantastic items you’ve shared as part of the #ShowUsYourPaisley public call-out.



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The call-out encourages the public to share any objects they have incorporating the famous pattern, with the museum considering the most intriguing and unusual submissions for inclusion in a new display being created as part of the museum’s redevelopment.

There’s still time to share your Paisley Pattern items with the museum team. The deadline is Sunday 30 May 2021 to submit your item suggestions for consideration. They should be emailed to paisleymuseum@renfrewshire.gov.uk, or shared on social media using #ShowUsYourPaisley and tagging @paisleymuseum and include a photograph, description and story behind the object.


“The Paisley pattern has had a lasting impact on the world and has been endlessly reinterpreted and reinvented. The most interesting will be considered for display alongside a piece from my 2020 couture show, where I created the Paisley Poodle print incorporating my life-long love of the iconic Paisley design. As a child I was fascinated with the museum’s collection and can't wait for its expansion.”

Dr Pam Hogg
Paisley-born designer and Patron of Paisley Museum

Do you have any cool and quirky Paisley pattern objects that you’d like to share? If you do then the Paisley Museum team want to hear from you.

Fashion designer Pam Hogg is leading a call-out for Paisley-patterned items you might have at home – from clothing to cookware – to mark the 150th anniversary of Paisley Museum.

The #ShowUsYourPaisley call-out will encourage the public to share any objects they have incorporating the famous pattern, with the museum considering the most intriguing and unusual submissions for inclusion in a new display being created as part of the museum’s £42million redevelopment. Items can be historic or contemporary, high-fashion or functional, but all need to feature the iconic teardrop motif.

Paisley’s Free Public Library and Museum opened on 11 April 1871, aiming to provide local people with the means of self-improvement inspired by the ideals of the Scottish enlightenment. In 1905, the museum held its first exhibition of Paisley shawls in recognition of the impact the textiles had had on the town’s fortunes. Many gifted these shawls to the museum permanently when the exhibition concluded, and over 115 years later the museum are asking the public to continue this tradition.

Kashmir shawls began to arrive in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, brought back by travellers and via trade routes, including with the East India Company and the Mughal Empire. Many featured the ‘boteh’, a motif in the shape of a curved droplet. By the 1800s they had become extremely fashionable and European textile centres began producing ‘imitation Indian’ shawls. Manufacturers in Paisley quickly adopted new weaving techniques and technologies including jacquard looms, allowing them to mass produce these items and become the market leaders by the 1830s. This sparked the start of the trend for referring to these shawls as ‘Paisleys’.

Although the fashion for the shawls that made the town’s fortune dwindled by the 1870s, the ‘Paisley pattern’ continued to appear in garments and in the 1960s had a dramatic revival with the likes of rock legends The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix wearing the designs. The pattern has continued to be a source of inspiration for leading fashion designers, including the Italian fashion house ETRO.

The public has until Sunday 30 May 2021 to submit their Paisley pattern item suggestions for consideration. They should be emailed to paisleymuseum@renfrewshire.gov.uk, or shared on social media using #ShowUsYourPaisley and tagging @paisleymuseum and include a photograph, description and story behind the object.




“The Paisley pattern has had a lasting impact on the world and has been endlessly reinterpreted and reinvented. The most interesting will be considered for display alongside a piece from my 2020 couture show, where I created the Paisley Poodle print incorporating my life-long love of the iconic Paisley design. As a child I was fascinated with the museum’s collection and can't wait for its expansion.”

Dr Pam Hogg
Paisley-born designer and Patron of Paisley Museum

The Burns Caup, presented to the Paisley Burns Club in 1814, is one of several ‘relics’ to remain in Paisley Museum’s store this year as the Club moves its traditional celebrations online.

The caup or cup, was originally presented to the Club by James Armour brother-in-law to Robert Burns and was frequently used by the poet for celebratory toasts. It is on permanent loan by the Paisley Burns Club to the museum, on the understanding that each year the caup, the original gavel used to call the proceedings, and the Club’s snuff box can be used at their annual dinner, and then returned to the museum for safekeeping and display.

Unfortunately COVID-19 restrictions have limited access to the museum’s collections this year, and in a break with tradition, the Club’s ‘relics’ will remain in the museum’s Secret Collection and will not be used.

Gavel, held by Renfrewshire Leisure on behalf of Paisley Burns Club. Image copyright of Renfrewshire Leisure

Gavel, held by Renfrewshire Leisure on behalf of Paisley Burns Club. Image copyright of Renfrewshire Leisure

As well as local enthusiasm for his poems and songs, Burns is tied to Paisley through his wife Jean Armour who lived there for two months in 1786. She had been removed to the town by her father to avoid scandal as she was pregnant with Burns’ child and the couple only had an informal marriage agreement in place. Her brother James was admitted as an honorary member of the Paisley Burns Club in 1818 in ‘respect of his kindness’ in gifting the caup.

Paisley Burns Club was originally founded on 29 January 1805 at the behest of weaver-poet Robert Tannahill and is reputed to be the oldest club in the world. Having lapsed in members after 1836, it wasn’t until 1874 that it was fully revived. When the Club met again in 1875, almost 40 years later, it wasn’t weavers and friends of Tannahill who ran the proceedings, it was eminent townsmen including thread manufacturer Sir Peter Coats, historian David Semple, and artist James Elder Christie who was passionate about Burns and often attended as a guest.

Paisley Museum holds the largest collection of works by artist and Burns’ enthusiast James Elder Christie (1847-1914) in the world. He attended the meeting of the Paisley Burns Club when it was revived in 1875, and was a central figure in Burns’ celebrations in London in the 1870s. Christie was originally born in Fife and went to art school in Paisley. He was gregarious and moved in elite art circles, a founding member of Chelsea Arts Club and a member of the New English Art Club. He also founded the Paisley-Renfrewshire Society in London which was a celebration of all things Paisley (and by extension, of Scottish national heroes). Christie was by all accounts hugely passionate about the work of Robert Burns, and the immense power he showed in recitals of Tam O’Shanter and the Address to a Haggis awarded him the title of ‘brilliant interpreter’ and illustrator of Burns’ work.

Tam O'Shanter, James Elder Christie (1847–1914), Paisley Art Institute Collection held by Paisley Museum, Renfrewshire Leisure

Tam O’Shanter, James Elder Christie (1847–1914), Paisley Art Institute Collection held by Paisley Museum, Renfrewshire Leisure

Paisley Museum is part of the town’s radical regeneration plan, and the redesign of the campus is led by an international team including architects AL_A and exhibition designers Opera Amsterdam. When it reopens it is expected to attract over 125,000 visits each year and provide a £79 million economic boost to the area over the next 30 years.

Paisley Museum Reimagined is supported by Renfrewshire Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Capital Grant Fund. The museum’s final phase of fundraising is now under way, with the museum website reimagined.paisleymuseum.org showcasing the project’s ambitious vision.

Christie’s passion for Burns is well documented and during his time in Paisley he attended many meetings of the Club where he would recite the works of Burns with immense enthusiasm. His artworks depicting scenes from Burns’ poems are held in our collections today and show the depth to which he understood and admired the poet.

Dr Victoria Irvine
Curator of Art at Renfrewshire Leisure