22 May 2024
  • 22 May 2024

Thomas Barbour: Paisley Popular Poet

on 21 April 2024 0

Brian Hannan, local author and manager of Abbey Books in Paisley, takes a look at the work of Paisley’s Thomas Barbour

Thomas Barbour achieved local fame in unusual fashion. His poems were exclusively published during his lifetime by the Paisley Daily Express. And he wasn’t living in Paisley at the time, so his works went out under the bye-line of “Paisley’s Exile Poet”.

His subject matter, however, appealed. He would write about going to the dancing or sitting by the fire or Robert Burns and many poems concerned familiar places, like the old Paisley theatre, or sounds such as the town’s bells. So Poems of a Paisley Exile, long out-of-print and virtually impossible to find, captures a past that is long gone in reality but not in memory.

Barbour was born in Laighpark in Paisley in 1895 and grew up at 1 Williamsburgh (now Glasgow Road) and attended Williamsburgh School. He joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during World War I but after the conclusion of that conflagration and due to the post-war slump and lack of jobs he emigrated to New Jersey in the United States.

So, many of his memories and poems concern the first 25 years of life and reflect a Paisley world of more than a century ago. Occasionally, his rhymes would “stray” to towns further away such as Ayr, Alloway and Rothesay or to the Isle of Arran, but primarily he focused on his home town.

His poems recall activities and experiences as much as places and he brings to life a world long lost, that pre-war and post-war era not particularly recalled in literature except perhaps in the historical fiction of Evelyn Hood. But her worlds were based on research, his on lived-in reality.

He fondly remembers singing the songs of the two Roberts, Tannahill and Burns, and the old Scottish tunes lamenting loss and love. Dancing, too, was exhilarating, not just “waltz, quadrilles, reels or lancers” but the aftermath as “we’d take the longest short cut hame, our heart’s alight with Cupid’s flame”.

He recalls attending plays at the town’s “auld theatre” in Smithhills, “there we payed oor money and we climbed the golden stairs” to watch plays about Burke and Hare or Napoleon or Bunty Pulls the Strings.

He wrote a poem about meeting his wife Kate, “the lass wi’ the golden hair”, and about childhood games, playing football with a ball made out of paper, building castles out of stones, putting on stage shows at the back door, making a dragon out of twigs and string or a bogie out of pram wheels.

He’d sit on Dooslan’ Stane in Brodie Park and muse on the town’s past when “monks were busy planting wheat” and “the witches hanged on Gallows Green”.

At home he recalls washing his feet in the “jabbox”, his grandmother sitting on a “muckle pile o’ stanes tae watch the weans”. There were detailed walks past “Dunn Square’s bonnie blooms”, the Abbey, the Auld High Kirk, Stoney Brae, County Square, the jail.

He writes about mill girls, the Abbey, Hogmanay, midges, his father bowling, inheriting his father’s breeks, Crookston Castle, and condemns the jail as “a hapless heap o’ stane”. One poem was inspired after a cutting from the Paisley Daily Express was found on the New Jersey shore.

Take a poetic walk down memory lane with this book of poems by Thomas Barbour, of which we happen to have a copy.

Abbey Books, 21 Wellmeadow Street, Paisley PA1 2EF. Contact Brian via in**@ab***************.uk">email or visit the website.

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