Renfrewshire (historic)

Renfrewshire or the County of Renfrew is a registration county, Lieutenancy area, and one of the counties of Scotland used for local government until 1975. As a county, Renfrewshire occupied the West-Central Lowlands of Scotland, south of the River Clyde, opposite Dunbartonshire and divided from Argyllshire by the Firth of Clyde.

Renfrewshire's early history is marked by ancient British and Roman occupation. Renfrewshire can trace its origin to Walter Fitzalan, the first High Steward of Scotland who was granted Strathgryfe. Robert III of Scotland, a descendant of Fitzalan, established the shire of Renfrew based out of the Royal burgh of Renfrew in Strathgryfe, the site of the House of Stuart's castle and Renfrewshire's county town.

Renfrewshire emerged as an industrial region following the Industrial Revolution. In point of commercial and manfacturing importance, Renfrewshire was second only in Scotland to neighbouring Lanarkshire. The goods produced were chiefly cottons, calicos and silks, though ship building, distilleries and printworks also contributed to the economy. Paisley was the largest urban and commercial centre in the county by some margin. This distinction meant that local government in Renfrewshire was based in Paisley, rather than the county town of Renfrew; a practice which continues for the smaller Renfrewshire unitary council area which succeeded the county.

Parts of the county, such as Govan and Nitshill were incorporated into Glasgow during the early 20th century as the city expanded. Renfrewshire was superseded by the Strathclyde local government region in 1975, until its abolition in 1996. Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire and Inverclyde are the unitary council areas that occupy the County of Renfrewshire's territory.


Renfrewshire's origins lie in the religious authority over the Strathgryfe area granted to Paisley Abbey by Walter Fitzalan. However it's history goes back further, with ancient Roman and Brythonic heritage.

The earliest evidence of human activity in the area is traces of an Iron Age fort in the Busby area and a pre-Roman settlement in Overlee. When the Romans advanced in the year 80 from the Solway Firth, the territory that would later become Renfrewshire was occupied by the Damnonii, a British tribe. The principal Roman stronghold in the area was at Vanduara (Paisley). Following Roman departure from Britain in 410, the Cumbrian Britons, with their capital at Dumbarton, retained a hold on all the territory west of the Lothian — the Kingdom of Strathclyde. During the High Middle Ages, Strathcylde was conquered by the Kingdom of Alba, which in turn developed into the Kingdom of Scotland.

In the 12th century, during the reign of David I of Scotland, Walter Fitzalan fled the English county of Shropshire due to "The Anarchy" between Empress Matilda and Stephen. Walter rallied to the support of the Empress, but when her cause was lost, Walter befriended David I, King of Scots who was an uncle of Matilda, and became, David's Dapifer or Steward. Accompanied by his brother Simon, Walter came to Scotland about 1136 and fought for Scotland at the Battle of the Standard at Northallerton in 1138 under the command of David I's son, Prince Henry.

Fitzalan settled in Scotland and was appointed by King David I as the first High Steward of Scotland and was granted the lands of Strathgryfe - what would eventually become Renfrewshire. In 1163 Walter founded, first at Renfrew but shortly afterwards at Paisley, a house of monks of the Cluniac order drawn from from the priory of Much Wenlock, in his native county of Shropshire. The monastery steadily grew and by 1219 became Paisley Abbey.

Fitzalan's descendants would eventually become the powerful House of Stuart. As the influence of the Stewarts of Renfrew - the family holding the High Stewardship - grew, the status of the area was gradually increased. In 1371, Robert Stewart was crowned King of Scotland and in 1402 his son, Robert III established the shire of Renfrew crafted from territory previously within the shire of Lanark and based out of the town of Renfrew, the site of the Stewart's castle. From this point onwards, the county has been closely tied to the monarchy and the heir apparent to the British monarch, currently His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, holds the title of Baron of Renfrew.

From 1890, the county was used alongside the other counties of Scotland as a unit of local government with its elected county council. In 1975 Renfrewshire was incorporated for local government purposes into the region of Strathclyde, composed of districts of which Renfrewshire was divided into three: Renfrew, Eastwood and Inverclyde.

In 1996, local government was again reorganised in Scotland to create the present system of unitary local council areas. For these purposes, the districts which made up the county were largely kept and became the council areas of Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire and Inverclyde respectively.

In 2002, the charity Plantlife organised a UK-wide competition to categorise county flowers, of which Renfrewshire's is unofficially the Bogbean.


The role of Renfrewshire County Council was formalised by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929. The County Councils took responsibility for education, valuation and electoral registration. The towns and smaller settlements that made up Renfrewshire continued to play a large part in the administration of the county:

  • the large towns of Paisley, Greenock and Port Glasgow continued to be responsible for most local services such as roads, water and housing
  • the small towns of Renfrew, Johnstone, Barrhead and Gourock were responsible for services such as housing, parks and cleansing
  • the remaining smaller settlements, known as "landward" areas, e.g. Bishopton and Clarkston, had responsibility for parks and recreation only.

Renfrewshire County Council took responsibility for all other services in the small towns.

The Renfrewshire lieutenancy operates out of the headquarters of East Renfrewshire Council in Giffnock. Renfrewshire as a registration county includes several areas annexed to and subsequently enveloped by neighbouring Glasgow in the 1920s. The county is still often used in postal addresses.


Renfrewshire encompassed several settlements:


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