Paisley Philosophical Institution

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Paisley Library and Museum
Paisley Library and Museum

Founded on the 13th October, 1808, Paisley Philosophical Institution has included many educated and professional people of the Paisley area, including doctors, ministers, lawyers and businessmen. Their aim was to continue to educate themselves, and other people of the town, by lectures, the collection of scientific books and by forming a museum collection. Their first lectures covered scientific subjects such as botany, anatomy and physiology and electricity. Over time the range of lecture subjects became more diverse with speakers coming from all backgrounds. More recent lectures have included ‘Fabulous Fakes and Forgeries’, ‘Scots in the Caribbean’ and ‘Shakespeare on his own stage’.

The institution’s first meetings were held in a hall in Old Sneddon, in Paisley. They have also used various other meeting places in Paisley including the Abbey buildings, and the School of Design.

The institution’s work has traditionally been well respected and its activities viewed as adding value to local life. This was officially acknowledged when members applied to the Magistrates and Town Council to be incorporated by charter, which was duly granted in September 28, 1812. In 1831, Dr Kerr, a respected Paisley doctor and surgeon and a member of the institution, presented a paper on a scheme to supply Paisley with piped water; this was of great interest to the Town Council. A cholera epidemic the following year focused attention on the matter of supplying Paisley with fresh water. As a result the Paisley Waterworks Company was established by Act of Parliament in 1835 and supply started in 1838.

“The attendance on the lectures is a recurring excitement; the attention is drawn to many interesting subjects – the mind gets occupied with matters calculated to improve and to gratify it – listless ennui and occasional adjournment to the tavern is abandoned for cheaper and more rational mode of enjoyment – consequently the individual becomes a better and more useful member of the community” (1)
The society did have some periods when it was inactive for example in 1832 during the Cholera epidemic. It also had a period of rest from 1849 to 1857, due to ‘Disruption of the Church’ and the town’s bankruptcy.

As the institution’s collections and activities grew, and public interest in their exhibitions increased, it became clear that they needed a museum and library building to house it all. The institution played a vital role as an advocate for the establishment of the Free Library and Museum in Paisley. The money for the building of the Free Library and Museum was donated by Peter Coats, the successful thread manufacturer of J & P Coats. The Library opened in 1871 and the institution’s book collection formed the nucleus of the library collection. They also helped raise money to buy new books. The institution was later entrusted to manage Coats Observatory, in Paisley, which was built by Thomas Coats in 1882. The Library, Museum and Observatory, now Local Authority responsibilities, are still in use today.

The Paisley Philosophical Institution is still active and continues to deliver lectures on a wide range of subjects.

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