BUDDING historian James Smith had no idea what he would unearth when he began a long and arduous search for one of his ancestors.
In an area behind the fish tanks at Paisley Museum, with the welcome assistance of curator David Roberts, James and wife Janet began poring over census returns and old parochial records ... and ended up in a world so different from the 21st century.
The records took the Foxbar couple back many generations to his great, great, great, great grandfather, Gilbert Smith, who was born around 1776.
James, who worked at the Ciba plant in Hawkhead Road for 40 years, said: “We discovered that Gilbert was married in November 1797 at the High Church, Paisley, to a local lass, Helen Murdoch. They had six children and all were baptised at the same church.
“We were then amazed to discover that Gilbert was the town’s first librarian.
“Apparently the Paisley Subscription Library opened in 1803 and Buddies could join at a cost of £3 and 13 shillings, which was for maintenance of the institution. It contained 3,000 volumes and had 200 subscribers.”
James, 69, was given access to an old book – Notes from Paisley’s Town’s House, Public Inn, or Saracen’s Head Inn.
It was written by David Semple in 1870 and mentioned that an inn had been erected in 1750 at 101 High Street – and afterwards bore the name of The Town’s House.
The council allowed the inn the use of a room free of rent for three months, to be used as a coffee house and it continued in the Saracen’s Inn till 1798. The room was furnished with many newspapers from London, Dublin and Edinburgh.
The coffee room was refurbished in 1809 and the opening co-incided with the jubilee of King George III.
It was celebrated in Paisley by a procession of local dignitaries to the High Church, for a sermon by the Rev Mr Finlay.
On their return to the Cross, the health of His Majesty and Royal Family was toasted on the Tolbooth Stair.
A grand subscription dinner was served in the elegant new coffee room, where 140 gentlemen assembled.
The new room was opened to subscribers in March 1810 and Gilbert Smith, librarian, Moss Street, was appointed keeper.
The building proper fronts High Street and the Cross, and its design of Ionic architecture is stunning.
James continued: “A search for the death of Gilbert unfortunately turned up very little, until fate intervened.
“Mentioning my interest in family history to friends, it was revealed that Castlehead Church had a collection of old records. We were given access to the grave-diggers books and discovered that Gilbert was indeed buried in the graveyard.
“I was amazed to find out that Gilbert had been a Burgess of Paisley (Freeman of the Burgh).
“He was just 47 when he died and records revealed that 45 people were interned in the same grave.
“There were 13 adults, nine children (aged four to 13 years), 17 children (aged from one week to two years) and six stillbirths.”
James added: “Since I learned where my ancestor was buried. I have returned many times over the years, in an attempt to locate his grave, each time in vain.
“Perseverance paid off though and on Doors Open Day 2009, after visiting the church, I couldn’t resist one last trip to the graveyard.
“I took my metal-tipped walking-stick with me and repeatedly pierced the tip into the grass around the area where I thought the grave would be.
“After about ten minutes, and a number of false alarms, I encountered my Eureka moment.
“Lying before me was a corner marker stone with ‘316’ engraved on its surface.
“There and then I decided that 182 years in an unmarked grave was long enough.
“I had a monumental stone erected and Liz McFarlan, Locum Preacher of Castlehead, kindly agreed to conduct a ceremony at Gilbert’s graveside.”
A matter of yards from Gilbert’s grave is a monument to the Paisley poet Robert Tannahill.
He was buried in the graveyard on May 21, 1810 after taking his own life.
Gilbert is in good company and his short, but fulfilled life, has finally been recognised.