Paisley Museum is a 3 star visitor attraction located in the heart of Paisley. It is a stunning Victorian museum that is home to a whole host of treasures from the Shawl Collection, to one of the best ceramics collections in the country. Paisley is, of course, famous for the world-renowned Paisley Pattern and the Paisley Shawl collection is a Recognised Collection of National Significance to Scotland. In 2014 a Loom Gallery was created to showcase original hand looms that were used to produce the cloth. The Paisley Museum collection contains a wealth of interesting artefacts, including The Arbuthnott Missal, a rare medieval manuscript and one of only a few that survived the Reformation in Scotland to reminders of Paisleys industrial past and natural heritage and not forgetting their much loved ‘Buddy’ the lion!
Originating in Asia, the ‘teardrop’ design known now as the Paisley Pattern became popular in Europe in the 19th century, where the town of Paisley became the production centre of the Paisley Pattern Shawl, producing more shawls here than anywhere else in the world. Although the exotically patterned, delicate woollen shawls went out of fashion in the 1870s, there has been a recent re-surgence in the Paisley Pattern, with fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood including the teardrop pattern in her collection. Hand loom weaving was a traditional industry in Renfrewshire throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and examples of original hand looms are housed in their Loom Gallery.
The natural history collections at Paisley Museum consist of an estimated 70,000 specimens, ranging from fossils dating back 545 million years to butterflies and moths, tropical shells and British birds. They show the diversity of life both past and present, from the local area of Renfrewshire and further afield. The collection is divided into three main categories: Vertebrate Zoology consisting of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians and invertebrate zoology including corals, molluscs and insects, in particular butterflies and moths. Botany which consists of flowering plants, ferns, mosses and lichens. Geology which covers rocks, fossils and minerals. The Paisley Natural History Society host talks at Paisley Museum throughout the year.
The local history collection at Paisley Museum gives a fascinating insight into the social and industrial heritage of the town. From the story of the textile industry in Paisley, to the history of the old jail in County Square, and the devastating effects of both world wars, reminders of Paisley’s social and industrial past are represented here. One of the most poignant sections of this collection is the memorabilia relating to the Glen Cinema disaster, where 71 children died in a fire in 1929. Artefacts such as a projector reel, a pair of shoes and telegrams from all over the world are displayed here in a reminder of the tragedy.
Paisley Museum holds an extensive archaeological collection of local objects from prehistoric through to Roman and medieval artefacts. They also have objects from farther afield, including South America and Ancient Egypt. Artefacts on display include their Bronze Age log boat found near Kilbirnie and a carving of the ancient Babylonian god Nisroch which is over 3000 years old.
Paisley Museum is accessible to wheelchair users or to those that have restricted mobility. Coats Observatory is only accessible through Paisley Museum (during Viewing nights, the observatory is accessed through the Oakshaw Street entrance). As the observatory is a listed building, there are restrictions on any modifications which can be made. Level access to the observatory is available via Oakshaw Street, however the rest of the building is accessible only using stairs and is unsuitable for visitors with mobility problems. Blue Badge holders are advised to phone the Museum in advance of their visit and staff will try to accommodate a space if possible. On-street parking is available nearby. Assistance dogs are welcome.
The idea to create an observatory in Paisley came from the annual general meeting of the Paisley Philosophical Institution (PPI) held in 1880. The PPI was founded on 13 October 1808, having its origins among the educated and professional gentlemen of the burgh, such as ministers, doctors, lawyers and bankers. These ‘noble pioneers of philosophy’ banded together with a view to improving themselves and their fellow towns-people through lectures, the collection of scientific books and by the formation of a museum, an idea first mooted in 1858 which eventually reached fruition in 1871 with the opening of the first phase of Paisley Museum. At the 1880 AGM of the PPI a proposal was made that a telescope should be purchased, to be housed in a tower which was to be built in the new extension to the museum currently under construction. This decision came about as several lectures with an astronomical theme had been given to the PPI in 1878 and 1879, including four by Robert Grant, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow and one by Reverend John Crouch entitled ‘The Telescope in Relation to Astronomical Observation’. The council of the institution agreed to purchase a telescope and Thomas Coats, a member of the world-famous thread manufacturing family and also of the PPI council, offered to meet the costs involved. He also proposed the creation of a purpose-built observatory to be located in Oakshaw Street, to the rear of the museum complex. This street is one of the highest points in the local townscape giving an uninterrupted 360o view over the town. The architect chosen for the project was John Honeyman. He had been responsible for the design of many houses, churches and other buildings throughout the country, including Paisley Museum, Art Galleries and Library, and he had carried out alteration work to the now-demolished University of Glasgow’s observatory in 1862 and 1871, so was familiar with the design issues needed to create a fully functional observatory.
Honeyman’s design incorporates a number of interesting architectural features. The building consists of a three-storey tower, reaching a height of almost 20 metres, and topped by a copper-plated domed roof, within which the telescope is housed. The dome is reached via a short flight of stairs at the beginning and end and a ramped walkway between, designed this way to limit the number of steps required to reach the top of the building and to facilitate the easier passage of equipment throughout. The entrance foyer features a large stained-glass window dedicated to the late 18th century astronomer William Herschel plus further depictions in stained glass of earlier astronomers Johannes Kepler and Galileo. The building was designed to incorporate the use of borrowed light at every opportunity. Large windows in the exterior of the building at first floor level feed into the room at that height. The exterior of the floor above is edged with round port-hole style windows. These widen on the inside, thus projecting the light from outside into the room, taking as much advantage of natural light as possible. Stone carving work throughout the building was carried out by Glasgow sculptor James Young and decorative ironwork was made by MacFarlanes at their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. MacFarlanes were responsible for a great deal of the surviving 19th Century wrought ironworks throughout the city and even further afield – for example their work adorns the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The total cost of building Coats Observatory was £3097, 17 shillings and sixpence.
The original telescope installed in 1883 was a 5-inch refractor made by Thomas Cooke of York. In 1898 a second, larger telescope was installed to operate alongside the original Cooke one. This was a 10-inch Equatorial built by Howard Grubb of Dublin. Both telescopes are still operational and used during the winter viewing nights. A planetarium projector was installed in 1994, providing a view of the night sky as it would appear above Paisley on a clear night. The constellations and the position of the planets could be projected on to the roof, giving the illusion of being outdoors observing the movement of the stars. This projector was replaced in 2012 with a digital one which projects the night sky in even greater detail.
Coats Observatory was furnished with a wide range of scientific apparatus for observing the night sky and making meteorological records. In 1900 seismic monitoring equipment was installed for recording earthquakes. Coats Observatory was one of the stations across the world which recorded the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Apart from the two original telescopes the rest of the equipment now makes up the science collections held by Paisley Museum. The collection includes equipment from the leading manufacturers of the day such as telescopes by Troughton & Simms, microscopes by R & J Beck, spectroscopes by Adam Hilger and Howard Grubb and seismometers by R.W. Munro. Thomas Coats had meticulously recorded the weather at his home of Ferguslie House in Paisley since 1858 and gifted the observatory a barometer and thermometer prior to its opening. Additional equipment was added to keep weather records, which were regularly sent to the Met Office in Edinburgh. Weather recording is one function which has carried on at Coats Observatory uninterrupted since 1884 and all the weather logs are stored at the observatory and can be viewed on request. In 2011 an automated weather station was introduced, which takes observations every thirty minutes as opposed to once a day as was previously done.
If you are interested to hear about the history of Coats Observatory and learn more about the stars and planets, then go along to their free tours followed by a short film in the planetarium. Note: If you will be visiting the Observatory in a large group, please call Paisley Museum ahead of your visit to ensure there are spaces available for your desired tour/film slot. The tours, followed 30 minutes later by the planetarium show, are as follows: Tuesday to Saturday, 11:30, 13:30, 14:30; Sunday 14:30, 15:30. Winter Viewing Nights operate every year from November to end of December, allowing visitors the opportunity to view the wonders of the night sky up close through powerful telescopes housed in the building. These events are free, with no booking required (unless you are visiting as part of a group of 10 or more, in which case please call Paisley Museum ahead of your visit). Sessions are from 18:30 to 21:00. Telescope viewings need clear skies and low wind. If a scheduled telescope viewing can’t go ahead for some reason, alternatives like planetarium shows will be arranged. Wheelchair accessible. Assistance dogs are welcome. Access to Coats Observatory is via Paisley Museum (High Street, Paisley, PA1 2BA). Access to Coats Observatory during the Winter Viewing Season is via 49 Oakshaw Street West, Paisley, PA1 2DR
Location : Paisley Museum and Coats Observatory, High Street, Paisley, PA1 2BA
Transport: Paisley Gilmour St. (ScotRail) then 11 minutes. Bus Routes : 3, 7, 20, 38, 60, 64 and 904 stop outside
Opening Times : Tuesday to Saturday 11:00 to 16:00; Sunday 14:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Free
Tel : 0300 300 1210