Paisley Cross 1868 by James Elder Christie
Social historian Lil Brookes reveals her thoughts on the painting, Paisley Cross 1868.
This painting is one I’ve known and loved for many years and was prominently displayed until Paisley Museum & Art Galleries closed for refurbishment. I find it fascinating as it seeks I think to tell many stories about Paisley.
The setting of the painting is significant too, the Cross – the heart of the old town, a meeting place from the very beginning of Paisley. The people in the painting who look out at us are almost saying “look at us, we are Paisley in 1868, look at our liberal, prosperous and progressive town…!” Why do I think that…? The 2nd Great Reform Bill had been passed in 1867 and the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act came into force in 1868.
This Act extended the right to vote to a wider range of men (the property ownership qualification was widened and meant more men gained the right to vote for the first time…!) I think the group of men shown in this painting celebrates Paisley as a Liberal town with all the values and beliefs upheld in the town burgh.
If you look at who makes up the group it is members of the Coats and Clark family as well as representatives of the Burgh council like the Provost and several Baillies, the Town Clerk, police and prison representatives and also included is the MP and a variety of doctors, clergy, teachers and several lawyers.
Most importantly also included are small businessmen like painters, joiners, engineers all men who 1868 meant that they had the right to vote for the first time so Paisley was a truly representative liberal town.
There is one woman seen in the painting, she is called Jane Arthur. Why is she in the painting? I believe she is there for the very reason I’ve outlined, this painting is about the new won right of more men to vote, when Jane Arthur as a woman cannot vote simply because she is female! Jane Arthur was prominent in the town for her charitable work BUT she was also an advocate of the women’s suffrage movement seeking to gain the right to vote for all women!
There are layers and layers of meaning contained in this painting and this is just the briefest outline. I look forward to seeing the painting again when the new Paisley Museum & Art Galleries reopen to explore more stories.