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Broadside entitled 'Executions In Paisley'



With some of its observations on the infrequency of
these occurrences here the Glasgow Chronicle took oc-
casion to favour us last week. For the pains it takes in
gathering these scraps of local history, we would feel the
more grateful, were its information and accuracy in any
sort of proportion to its inclination to do us service. On
the subject of the eccentricities of our townsmen, and
the taste they may evince for these painful sights, the
journal in question may speculate at any length it likes,
and not be one whit nearer the truth than it often is on
subjects of more importance. But even on this point,
we scarcely think the inhabitants of Paisley shew a keen-
er relish than their neighbours. Judging from the num-
bers of draggle tailed sluts and dirty linened fellows who
crowded our streets on Thursday, it required no prophet
to tell us, that the City of St. Mungo had its thousands
tainted with this appetite for ghastly enjoyment, in quite
as perfect a degree as any living wight within the balidome
of St. Mirren could pretend to. Proud of its inadequate
knowledge, the Chronicle of Friday week thus repeats the
imperfect information it had communicated in a preceding
number:-"It may here be not uninteresting again to re-
capitulate the executions that have taken place in Paisley
since 1697. On the 15th June, in that year, 4 men and
3 women were burned on the Gallowgreen, for witch-
craft. In 68 years after, viz., on the 7th Nov. 1765, a
Glasgow fast day, a murderer of the name of Provan,
was executed on the same spot, and his right hand cut
off. On the 17th Aug. 1797, a period of 32 years after
the former, a man of the name of Potts, convicted of rob-
bery at Gryffe Castle, was executed at the market Cross;
and from that time to the present date, other 32 years
have elapsed."

The very little information the writer had on this sub-
ject, will be apparent by and by. A good natured
friend, with the view of supplying the deficiencies of this
statement in the Chronicle of Monday last, under the
designation of "an Inhabitant of Paisley," tells us that
" In 1685, during the tyrannical reign of James, it is
well known to all who are versant in the history of that
bloody period, that James Edgar and John Park suffered
at the Cross of Paisley for their firm adherence to the
sacred cause of civil and religious liberty.

"With regard to criminal cases, I have also to mention,
that sometime before the middle of the last century, a
man of the name of Robert Lyle, was executed at Pais-
ley for theft, and being habit and repute; and that a
few years afterwards, a man of the name of Love, who
resided and had property in the High Street, was exe-
cuted for the murder of his son, whom he stabbed with
a knife, in a fit of passion, when sitting with his family
at dinner."-Even the " inhabitant of Paisley" has
fallen into an error, by substituting Edgar for Algie, and
his notice respecting Lyle and Love is exceedingly vague,
inasmuch as it does not give the precise date when
these individuals were respectively gibbeted on the gal-
low green.

For the antiquarian lucubrations of the Chronicle and
its correspondents we have as much respect as they de-
serve, but the value of such pursuits depends so much
upon accuracy, that whenever we detect the slightest
departure from historical fidelity, or an unbecoming lack
of information, we may be excused for treating them
with something like contempt, more especially, when by
a little research, more facts, and greater accuracy, could
easily have been obtained.

Since on this subject our townsmen have evinced some
curiosity, we shall put them in possession of a few slight
notices, which have occurred to us in the course of our
enquiries. We may premise, that deficiencies in our Lo-
cal Registers, and in the Books of Adjournal, prevent us
from carrying these back to any thing approaching a
remote date.

From the declaration of W. Sutherland, contained in
the Appendix to Wodrow's History, Vol. I. it appears
that that individual was necessitated to officiate at the
execution of a witch in this town, in the year 1661.

In the year following, the parish of Innerkip was over-
run with a breed of witches, and their pranks became so
notorious, that a commission was issued (7th May 1622)
to certain noblemen and gentlemen of the county, to try
Mary Lamond, Katrine Scot, Janet Hynman, Margret
Leitch, Margret Rankine, Jean King, and Margaret
Duff, for " the horrid cryme of witchcraft, by committing
of malefices, or entering into pactiouns with the divell,
renuncing their baptisme or otherwayes, &c." Most of
these infatuated creatures pled guilty to the crimes of
which they were charged, and were convicted on their
own confessions, and doomed to death. Where they
suffered, does not appear; but as these courts, for the triai
of Witchcraft in this county, were usually held in Paisley,
it is likely they were, according to the received mode of
dispatching condemned witches and sorcerers, "worryit,
(that is strangled) at a stake and brint" on the Gallow-

The Jail about that time was seldom without a witch
or warlock tenant, and as there was not then so much Jail
philanthropy abroad as in our day, many of these poor
and aged wretches died in the loathsome cells where they
were confined, some literally devoured by vermin, others
the victims of disease or of brutal usage. A witch dying
in prison here gives occasion for this curious entry in the
Records of the Town Council.

" 1667 Oct. 17. Whilk day the Baillies and Councill
having taken to their consideration the incivility and
indiscreit carriage of Mr Hugh Montgomerie, Sheriff
Depute of Renfrew, in permittiug the corpse of ane Janet
Finnie, ane suspect witch imprisoned be him in their Jail
and deceased therein, to be unhurried these fyve days by-
gone or thereby, and refusing absolutely to cause bury her
notwithstanding both his duty and their requiring of him,
so that they are necessitated to cause bury her, have
therefore determined that he shall be deprived of certain
favours he has from them, especially that he and his sons
shall have no liberty from henceforth to sit in any of the
Tounes Seats in the Churches, and for these reasons have
ordained their officers to hold them out of both their seats."

Though there is some uncertainty regarding the precise
number or the place of execution of the Innerkip witches,
none exists regarding those who suffered for bewitching
Sir George Maxwell of Pollok, and by devilish sorceries
tormenting him until he died.

Accordingly on the 20th Feb. 1677, we find that four
witches and a warlock were burnt at the Gallowgreen of

Paisley for this horrid crime. This case has been amply
enough detailed in various publications, and we will not
dwell longer on it than merely to mention the names of the
unfortunate creatures whose lives were sacrificed on the
gloomy altar of popular superstition. They were Janet
Mathie, Bessie Weir, Margaret Jackson, John Stewart,
Marjory Craig, and Annabel Stewart. " Annabel, the
maid witch among them, about the age of 14, albeit
penitent and confessing yet throw pitty was throw order
of the secret council reprieved from burning."

Of this execution, Mr Robert Law, minister of Kil-
patrick, in his Memorials, furnishes us with these details:-
" The four witches and warlock foresaid, that were burnt
at Paisley on the 20th February (for the young one was
reprieved for a tyme because of her age) dyed obduredly,
except the man, who appeared penitent, whose mother,
Jonat Mathie, was first hanged without any confession of
her guilt, and the effigies both of wax and clay being put
in a napkine and dashed in pieces, were thrown in the
fire with her. Her son and daughter confessed that when
the Devil appeared first to them in her house, that she
(their mother) called him a gentleman to them, and a good
man that would not hear the Lord's name mentioned, for
fear it should be taken in vain. There was also one Bessie
Weir hanged up, the last of the four (one that had been
taken before in Ireland, and was condemned to the fyre
for malefice before, and when the hangman there was about
to cast her over the gallows, the devill takes her away from
them out of their sight; her dittay was sent over here to
Scotland) who, at this tyme, when she was cast off the
gallows, there appears a raven, and approaches the hang-
man within an ell of him, and flyes away again. All the
people observed it and cried out at the sight of it!"

Feb. 3, 1685, James Algie and John Park were exe-
cuted for refusing to take the oath of abjuration. Betwixt
their sentence and its execution, only a few hours inter-
vened, for the inscription on their tombstone tells us, that
they were
        " At ten condemned, at two to die."
The tombstone lies on the ground, laid off for a church-
yard in Broomlands.

In 1687, we had another witch trial here; but whether
there were any convictions we have not had the means of

We now come to the famous Bargarran case in which
some four and twenty individuals, male and female, were
implicated. One of these, Jean Fulton, an aged woman,
appears to have died in jail, and another, John Reid,
Smith in Inchinnan, succeeded in strangling himself in
the prison of Rentrew, and a third, Alexander Anderson,
also died in prison. On the 10th of June, 1697, three
men and four women were burned on the Gallowgreen,
for bewitching Christian Shaw, and being habit and repute
witches. The Chronicle, with its usual accuracy tells us
this was on the 15th of the month, and that there were
four men and three women. To obviate error, we may
mention that the men were John Lindsay in Barloch, alias
Bishop James Lindsay, alias Curate; both these had been
delatit witches in 1687, but got off through their in-
genuity ; and another man whose name has escaped our
memory. The women executed, were Margaret Lnng,
Katherine Campbell, Agnes Naismith, and Margaret
Fulton. It appears that the dress of the Sheriff of Ren-
frewshire was remarkably gay. On his visit to Christian
Shaw, he is described as wearing brown coloured clothes,
red plush breeches with black stripes, flowered muslin
cravat, and an embroidered sword belt.

In 1694 John, William, and Robert Jamieson, wea-
vers in Broomhead, were tried before the Sheriff for
sheep-stealing, housebreaking, theft, &c., two of them
assoilzied and one found guilty, who, in all likelihood
suffered a capital punishment, but the record from
which this notice is taken is unfortunately defective. On
the 28 Nov. 1700 James Laird, turner in Gorbals, was
hanged on the Gallowgreen of Paisley, by sentence of
Robert Sempill of Fullwood, Bailie-Depute of the Re-
gality. He was tried for stouthrieff, theft, &c.

28th March, 1717, Robert Lang, in Langbank, was
executed between the hours of two and four afternoon, on
the Gallowgreen of Paisley, for the theft of a gray horse,
which he had twice stolen, and was twice taken, as it is
technically styled, " with the fang." His Judge was
Robert Sempill, Sheriff-Depute.

September 2d, 1743, Robert Love, Messenger, was
hanged here for the murder of his own son.

27th December, 1753 Robert Lyle, in Culliochant,
parish of Kilbarchan, was hanged at the Gallowgreen be-
tween the hours of 10 and 3. He was tried before the
Sheriff for housebreaking and theft. He was familiarly
styled Rabbie Lyle. His executioner was a fellow pri-
soner, whose punishment, it is said, was remitted if he
would undertake that disagreeable office. To obtain
his liberty the fellow agreed, but did the thing so bung-
lingly, that it provoked the wrath of some native Satyrist,
who, in his rhymes, alleged that in turning off Lyle the
Hangman broke his head in the first place, and his neck

The next who suffered on the Gallowgreen was the
detestable ruffian, Alexander Provan, for the murder of
his wife. The circumstances attending this murder are
shocking, and cannot be related. He was hanged on
the 7th Nov, 1765, his right hand having been previously
smitten off. According to tradition, the hangman,
through trepidation, severed his hand by the palm in-
stead of at the wrist, and Provan, with a dreadful
shriek, cried out " the tow, the tow, the tow." The
rope was immediately brought, and a termination put to
his sufferings. The axe used to back off his hand was
long kept as a relic, and shown as Provan's axe to those
curious in these matters.

Thomas Potts, an Irishman, was tried before the High
Court of Justiciary for housebreaking and robbery at
Gryffecastle, found guilty, and sentenced to be exe-
cuted at Paisley, on the 17th August 1797. A crane
was erected at the corner of the Tolbooth-the bats
which supported it are still to be seen in the walls of the
steeple-and on this he was suspended from half past
three till a quarter past four. Potts wrote a number of
letters, which were published after his death, and in
which he asserted his innocence of the crime for which he
was tried, but admitted the commission of others equally
bad. The same declaration he made on the scaffold.

These annals of the stake and gibber in Paisley, close
with the execution of Brown and Craig, in front of the
County Buildings, on Thursday the 29th ult.

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Probable date published: 1828-   shelfmark: APS.3.98.9
Broadside entitled 'Executions In Paisley'
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