Wednesday, 27 February 2013

10km Run Around Renfrew's History

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about a convoluted jog that I ran tracing the history of Partick Thistle Football Club, which is at risk of becoming part of an occasional series on my blog here (eg 13 miles around all Glasgow's major football venues ). As I've said before, I started jogging a couple of years ago, and to break the monotony of doing the same old training routes I sometimes try to think up a wee route that lets me look at places that you don't often get to visit. Usually I'll tag on some football related theme, as for over a century grassroots football in Scotland has been linked inexorably to an area's social history.
Renfrew Town Hall
I decided to do a wee 10km run around Renfrew and was blown away by some of the stuff that I found on a wee bit of preliminary research. I parked behind the Co-op superstore and started at the recently renovated Renfrew Town Hall, which has a good local history museum in it if you are passing this way. From here I headed back around the building westwards onto Fulbar Street to catch sight of what goes wrong to a town when big money gets involved in football, or when big money footballers get involved in buying a pub.
Mark Hateley managed to keep it going for only 18 months, but made a loss and had to close it. This report highlights that it is an unsustainable model to rely on just old firm fixtures to generate a financially viable business. A lesson for us all there. Over 4 years later nobody has decided to take it on, despite the beautiful decor.

I then headed down Bell Street and turned right, away from the Victory Baths, a shipbuilder's gift to the town in 1921. I've never been allowed to go here for a swim as my mum got banned in the 60s as a teenager for wearing a bikini. Apparently it's haunted too (though not by my mum).

The next high spot you'll pass is Western Park, home of Renfrew Football Club, who've played here in the Junior leagues since 1912.

Previously Renfrew Victoria had played at the ground and when they were wound up Renfrew FC took over. I first came across the Renfrew Ferry to see a match here when my big cousin won some cup here with Milngavie Wanderers about 30 years ago.

Carry on along Inchinnan Road and you'll come to the Normandy Hotel. Go through the wee arch thing on the side of the pavement and you'll follow a very short path to large stones in an overgrown railed enclosure. One is St Conval's Chariot, which either floated him across the Irish Sea, or was the first rock he stood upon in Inchinnan when he arrived to set up a community of monks here in the sixth century, whilst St Mirin was doing the same up the road in Paisley. One of them got a football team named after him, the other had centuries of sick people hoping to get healed by the water gathering in the hollows of his stone. The other stone, the Argyll Stone, is said to have red streaks in it from the blood of the Earl of Argyll who was captured here in 1685.

Next you'll pass over the Inchinnan Bascule Bridge, built in 1923 to allow boats to pass up the White Cart Water to Paisley without lowering their masts. This seesaw bridge still actually works, though I don't imagine many people take their yachts to Paisley these days.

When you start to see the end of the runway at Glasgow Airport ahead, turn right and cross the bridge over the Black Cart Water. Enjoy a quiet run through the fields for 1km (unless you get buzzed by an Emirates jumbo jet landing). I'd suggest it is worth veering right next, briefly into Inchinnan, onto Old Greenock Road, until you see the modern tower of St Conval's Kirk. St Conval's monastery stood where the bridges over the Cart now are, around 600AD. Subsequent churches were built here by Knights Templars and others, until the last church there was flattened in 1965 as it was too near the proposed new airport runway. Thirteen old stones from these churches are kept in the new church and you can peer through some railings at three of them, old 10th century grave slabs with nice carvings, at the church.

I turned around here and went back to Inchinnan Road and ran on a wee bit further to the art deco India of Inchinnan building. The site here was previously used by William Beardmore's to build airships. They closed in 1922 and in 1930 the India Tyre company built their swanky modern office block on the main road and made tyres here until 1981. Aircraft came early to Renfrewshire with Beardmore’s testing their planes built over in Dalmuir here at Inchinnan and Renfrew. They also built the famous R34 airship at Inchinnan,which made the first return trip across the Atlantic in 1919, only 2 weeks after the first trans-Atlantic aeroplane flight by Alcock and Brown. It left from East Fortune airfield near Edinburgh , arriving at Long Island, and then landing in Norfolk on the return trip. This photo below is of the plaque at East Fortune airfield from where it took off, now the home of the National Museum of Flight.

Okay, back up now and return to Renfrew. After re-crossing the Bascule Bridge I then zig-zagged through the streets on the right to come out at the bottom of Robertson Park and turned right onto Paisley Road to seek out the next part in Renfrew's aeronautical history.

Turning left along Newmains Road you reach a cairn on Sandy Road. It is dedicated to the men and women of the Scottish Air Ambulance Service who worked from Renfrew Airport (roughly where Tesco is now on Newmains Road). The Scottish Air AmbulanceService is the oldest in the world. It operated in Renfrew Airport from 1933 and was transferred to Abbotsinch/ Glasgow Airport when Renfrew Airport closed on 30th April, 1966. The plinth on Sandy Road features silhouettes of the de Havilland Rapide aircraft on 2 sides, which was used by the Air Ambulance Service for many years. These planes flew to Barra, Campbeltown, Benbecula, Harris and stones from many of these places are at the foot of the plinth. It wasn’t just an occasional flight, for example in 1954 they flew 311 patients on 258 flights to and fromRenfrew.

The other side of the memorial to the Air Ambulance Service marks a darker episode in their history. On 28 Sept 1957, a BEA Heron G-AOFY plane called “Sir Charles Bell” came down on approach to Islay's Glenegedale Airport in terrible weather. Capt Paddy Calderwood, Radio Officer Hugh McGinlay and Sister Jean Kennedy, a native of the Isle of Coll were all on board trying to retrieve a woman seriously ill with diabetes. None of them survived the crash. Despite the weather another air ambulance was called out to Islay, but the patient died on the flight down to Renfrew. After this several procedures were changed to try to prevent a recurrence.

If you carry on along Newmains Road to the end from here you'll come to where the Renfrew Airport terminal building used to lie. There had been an airfield at Renfrew since 1916, both as a military and civilian facility. By the 1960s as there was no space to extend the runway for the new jet aircraft, a new civilian airport was proposed by converting the military airfield at Abbotsinch. The elegant terminal building of Renfrew Airport was eventually knocked down, so nothing now remains of the sight that greeted Sammy Davis Jnr, The Beatles and Cassius Clay when they stepped off planes here except old photos of the building.

A memorial to Renfrew Airport stands just outside Tesco, in front of what was once the old, swanky terminal building. Unfortunately the memorial has seen better days and looks like it has lost a tail fin. The old runway lies just south of here along where  a straight strip of the M8 motorway now is.
Wipe a tear away from your eye at the sad sight of "progress" and turn back along Broadloan, and up Sandy Road to the Town Hall again and, depending upon how many detours you took, I think you'll find that's about 10 or 11 Km and 1,400 years of local history.

(route on
(photos on

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