2013 Conference Report

RWH1697 started life as a Heritage Lottery funded learning project and this has continued in 2013 with a Young Roots award for young people learning about their local history.

All of this work has been headed up by Stephen Clancy, a freelance archaeologist and Historian who also works part-time at the University of the West of Scotland.

There is now a proposal that we try to establish a progressive research strand of the overall project – feeding into the main project on a regular, year on year basis so that we have the chance to continue to build on the knowledge and understanding about this important aspect of Renfrewshire’s history. All the findings could then be disseminated via the website, the touring exhibition and the annual festival – reaching schools, community organizations and building on the tourism resources we are currently trying to develop with a digital tourist trail application.

The programme.
Hosted by the University of the west of Scotland, with more than 50 delegates (20+ of whom were UWS students on a tourism and regeneration course), the programme for the 2013 conference was as follows:

Stephen Clancy: Paisley’s forgotten Heritage
In his talk, Stephen updated us on some of the most recent findings relating to Christian Shaw – in particular her influence over and impact on the development of the thread industry in Renfrewshire. He also covered some of the fascinating but lesser known histories of the area.
Delegates agreed that not only is Renfrewshire a potential tourist destination for a one day visit, with real focus and development, visitors could spend a week in the area and still leave knowing there is more to explore

Prof. Hugh McLachlan: From Witches to Stitches and Riches
Professor McLachlan has a background with Glasgow’s Caledonian University. His talk looked at the more positive angle of the Christian Shaw story: after all, this young woman was an entrepreneur who kicked started what was to become the key industry in Paisley during the 19th and 20th Centuries.
Hugh asked, not so much whether or not the ìwitchcraftî of the 17th Century existed (clearly there were and are people who practice witchcraft – the question is, if it is used for healing and such like, should it be a criminal offence?).
Hugh’s conclusions about the Bargarran events and the links to the threadmill history were clear about their potential to be used to generate wealth for the region.

Ingrid Shearer: A Case Study – Govan Old Kirk
Ingrid is a partner in the renowned archeology organization, Northlight Heirtage.
Her focus was on a case study where another community in Glasgow is using its heritage to build tourism.
Govan, which Ingrid controversially asserted had almost a bigger claim to being the home of the early textile industry than Paisley) has an early Christian settlement and a collection of Viking Hogback stones in its possession. With a recent ìredisplay projectî allowing much greater access to the stones, there is growing interest in heritage tourism as a way of regenerating a declining, post industrial urban community.

A sandwich lunch and networking gave the impetus to return for the afternoon session where we broke into workshop groups and conducted round table discussions on how we can take ideas forward for Renfrewshire Witch Hunt 1697 (see appendix A).

Are there lessons to be learned from other communities?
What about other towns where ìthemedî festivals attract tourists in their thousands, like Wigtown Book Festival or the Hawick Reivers Festival?
What about other parts of the world where towns have used their dark past stories of Witchcraft to re invent themselves for the future. Salem in the USA is the best example of this, but there are others. As Hugh McLachlan pointed out, our story can turn the negative into positive as the perpetrators go on to bring wealth into the region in the form of the early thread industry.

We looked at the development plan which has been produced for us (and with us) through support from the Scottish Governments Just Enterprise scheme. John Black has prepared the plan with suggestions as to how we could develop RWH1697 as a social enterprise (See appendix B)

Finally, Liz Thomas, adviser to the board of Trustees, presented a trustee recruitment pack and the event finished with a call for interested parties to put themselves forward as potential trustees of the organization.