A commemorative plaque has been installed at Johnstone Town Hall in honour of an educator, political activist and lifelong radical who hailed from the town.

John Fraser, who lived from 1794-1879, was famed for his involvement in the Radical Rising of 1820, where he, along with a number of other ‘radicals’, was tried for treason, following a week of strikes and unrest throughout Scotland.

Fraser went on to have a long career as an educator, weaver, poet, musician and political activist and a leading light in the development of the Johnstone Cooperative Movement.

The tribute erected at Johnstone Town Hall was a result of a council motion in 2020 from Independent Councillor Andy Doig.

This is the latest in a series of commemorative plaques that have been installed throughout Renfrewshire by the council in recognition of some of the area’s important and influential figures, including Kilbarchan piper, Habbie Simpson and Lochwinnoch businessman and Scottish nationalist politician, Roland E. Muirhead.

Renfrewshire Provost, Lorraine Cameron, said: “It’s important that we continue to tell the stories of the individuals who helped build and shape our towns and villages throughout Renfrewshire.

“John Fraser was one of the figures who contributed to Renfrewshire’s radical roots that still characterise the place to this day. I hope through this commemorative plaque more people will be able to learn about the important role he played in shaping the town.”

Tannahill Makar, Shaun Moore, has been inspired by Renfrewshire’s radicals in his own poetry and writings.

He said: “I believe it’s right for people to know about figures like John Fraser, as they strove to build a fairer society for us. They are important figures who dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others, which was a kind of heroism. That’s worth not only commemorating but being thankful for too.

“As an artist, a writer, I believe that creativity and rebellion have always gone hand in hand. This is sometimes because our artists instinctively seek new ways of seeing or doing things, but more often because historically their role has been to advocate change or champion the voiceless and invisible people.

“Learning of the real sacrifices made by people like John Fraser has given me courage to stick my neck out, as a writer. Learning of the Weaver poets before him and of the songwriters, playwrights, and visual artists who came after, gives me a sense of duty to carry on the tradition of challenging.”

Photo: John Fraser of Newfield, Johnstone

Photo: Old plan of Johnstone Town c. 1800

Photo: An account of The Battle of Bonnymuir

By Ricky Kelly

Main writer for Renfrewshire News

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