A JOHNSTONE mum is helping to shed light on the dark past of two of the town’s best-known families.

Gail Reid delved deep into the history of family businesses run by James Milliken and William Macdowall for her dissertation at the University of Strathclyde, which she graduated from as a mature student.

The two men were both directly involved with the slave trade, having been plantation owners.

Through her studies, mum-of-three Gail found that both amassed great fortunes overseeing and owning well over 100 slaves between them.

And both purchased large estates in Renfrewshire on their return to Scotland.

Milliken owned land which is now known as Milliken Park.

Macdowall also made his mark on Johnstone, with Macdowall Street named after one of his descendants.

Gail’s dissertation, entitled Colonial Commerce and the West of Scotland Economy in the Eighteenth Century: A Case Study of the Macdowall and Milliken Family Businesses, is available for anyone to read at Renfrewshire Council’s heritage hub.

She said: “I enjoyed researching this topic because it allowed me to indulge in two of my favourite subjects – the transatlantic slave trade and local history.

“It was my interest in local history which led me to the Renfrewshire Local History Forum, where I found some articles on the activities of James Milliken and William Macdowall in the Caribbean, by Stuart Nisbet.

“I decided I’d like to further investigate these families and their economic impact on the area.

“I was surprised at the level of Scottish merchant involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. Macdowall and Milliken were directly involved with this trade for their entire lives, even after their return to Scotland in the 1720s.

“They were incredibly rich on their arrival and they used that to purchase land and redevelop already established estates.”

Gail found that the descendants of Macdowall and Milliken had changed the local landscape.

For example, the Skiff Woods that dominate the skyline above Spateston were planted by a member of the Macdowall family so he could sell the timber.

Meanwhile, the Milliken family improved links between Johnstone and Kilbarchan, using their own money to build roads and bridges over the River Cart.

The council’s heritage hub is based in the reference library next to Paisley Museum.