Paisley’s Bid for the 2021 UK City of Culture
Reasons to Visit Paisley
I have to hold my hands up here. As a traveller, I’ve never given Paisley the time it deserves. I based my opinion on childhood memories of an under-loved commuter town on the outskirts of Glasgow. Bad travel blogger.
Paisley’s bid for the UK City of Culture 2021 has presented me with the perfect opportunity to right the wrong. As excitement, anticipation and pride grow for the town, an upturn in its self-confidence is apparent and it is a place very much on the rise.
Reasons to Visit Paisley – The Highlights
There’s only one place to start and it’s this fabulous 12th Century structure in the very heart of town. A magnificent and moody Gothic masterpiece, it has endured a tumultuous story or two in its time. Going back to the Wars of Independence, the High Steward of Scotland supported the Scots’ cause and in retribution the English torched Paisley Abbey in 1307. Indeed, William Wallace was himself educated by the resident monks here before his death. It was soon rebuilt and there have been numerous restorations in the centuries since, with what remains an interesting mix of the various historical time periods.
For today’s visitors the Abbey is a serene and fascinating escape. Bursting with local knowledge, the guides will point out the endless number of subtle secrets that the building holds. From beautifully intricate and resplendent stained glass windows to atmospheric cloisters and tombs, this has to rank as one of our most intriguing historical buildings. It is known that Marjory Bruce (daughter of Robert), the wives of Robert II and Robert III himself are all buried here – with the exact spots unknown. The mysterious nature of the place has deepened further in complexity since the recent discovery of a medieval drain outside. Part of a tunnel network, it’s not yet clear what the purpose(s) of this subterranean historical goldmine were but it’s one to get the imagination going.
Central to the bid is the extensive restoration work in the pipeline for the town museum. A bit of a mini-Kelvingrove based on the range of artwork and collections on offer, it does have a major focus on Paisley’s contribution to the textile industry.
Paisley’s weaving past and the famous ‘Paisley Pattern’ have put the town on the world cultural map. The distinctive, Persian style mark has been popularised over the centuries by the likes of Queen Victoria and The Beatles. Witness the incredibly precise process in action and marvel at the ingenuity of the operation of very manual machines to deliver striking results.
Times have changed significantly of course and the digital age has seen the creation of the Paisley Pearls exhibit. A ‘digital reinvention of the Paisley pattern’, this is a creative and animated spin on an iconic image that merges the pattern with the endangered pearl mussel. Read more about the exhibition here.
A Walk Around Town
A very walkable town centre makes Paisley ideal for a day trip change of scenery from Glasgow. Retaining many of the vibes I get from my own nook of the world in the west end, the architecture in particular is just magnificent. The Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church is my own favourite in this department and is of a scale that I was not at all expecting. A member of the Gothic Revival clan it was built in the late 19th Century as a tribute to the work of local philanthropist Thomas Coats. With an entrance I’d expect to see at a Parisian or Spanish cathedral and the familiar crown steeple to top it off, it is nothing short of an architectural treasure. In a town that sees creeping influences of Mackintosh and Thomson amongst others, it very much extends the structural beauty of Glasgow to its neighbour to the west.
Almost as impressive is the Town Hall. Be sure to scope out all angles of the building as it sits on the banks of White Cart Water, part of the River Cart that is a tributary to the mighty Clyde. In the streets surrounding the Town Hall you’ll encounter the largest number of listed buildings in Scotland, outside of Edinburgh. Fabulous stonework and detailing can be seen on every street in the town centre. So remember, look up.
These streets have been home turf to many a famous face as well let’s not forget. Paulo Nutini, Gerard Butler, Steven Moffat and David Tennant are amongst those born and/or raised in the town. With a population around 76,000 it is never a quiet place and with the university (UWS) now a source of a youthful bustle, Paisley has a big personality. Expect chatty locals eager for a gab on the street and local business owners with a real desire to see Paisley find a new level of confidence. Achieving the status of City of Culture (due to be announced in December 2017) would do wonders for the place.
Of course, Paisley has a long way to go on its journey. The feeling from speaking with the team working on the bid is that it is very much the first wave of work that will see it become a cultural hub in the years to come. You can join in with the bid’s progress by following the hashtags #WeArePaisley and #Paisley2021 on social media.
What is without doubt is that there are a growing number of reasons to visit Paisley and see for yourself if it merits the top prize. With significant development underway, almost immediate access to Glasgow Airport and the enduring support of some west of Scotland passion and drive, I’ve a sneaky feeling that good times are coming.
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