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Greenock, Renfrewshire

Historical Description

GREENOCK, a sea-port, burgh and market-town, in the Lower ward of the county of Renfrew, 17 miles (W. N. W.) from Renfrew, 22 (W. N. W.) from Glasgow, and 65 (W.) from Edinburgh; comprising the parishes of East, Middle, and West Greenock; and containing, according to the census of 1841, 36,936 inhabitants. This place is said by some to have derived its name, in the Gaelic language Grian-chnoc, from the site of its ancient baronial castle on a hill unsheltered by any intervening object from the rays of the sun. Others derive its name from Grianaig, "a sunny bay"; which is the present Gaelic name of the town. It originally consisted partly of the lands of Easter Greenock, in which is the suburb of Cartsdyke, or, as it is also called, Crawfurdsdyke, so named from the erection of a small quay by its proprietor, Thomas Crawfurd, Esq.; and partly of the small village of Greenock, belonging to Sir John Shaw, owner of the barony of Wester Greenock, who in 1669 purchased from Margaret Crawfurd, lady of Kilberny, the barony of Easter Greenock, with the exception of the lands of Crawfurdsdyke, which are now the property of William Crawfurd, Esq. On the decease of Sir J. Shaw, the last of that name, in 1752, John Shaw Stewart, Esq., afterwards (on his father's death) Sir John Shaw Stewart, Bart., succeeded to the lands of Easter and Wester Greenock, in right of his mother; and on his death in 1812, they passed to his nephew, Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, from whom they descended to Sir Michael Robert Shaw Stewart, the present proprietor.

The villages both of Wester Greenock and Crawfurdsdyke at first consisted only of a few thatched huts, stretching along the bay, and inhabited by fishermen. But they gradually increased; and in 1670, Sir John, son of the former Sir John Shaw, obtained from Charles II. a charter annexing the lands of Finnart, of which he had become proprietor, to the barony of Wester Greenock, and erecting both into one barony, under the designation of the barony of Greenock. The inhabitants appear to have pursued the fishery with success; they had some shipping, and carried on a considerable coasting, and a small foreign, trade, chiefly in herrings, of which in 1674 they sent 20,000 barrels to Rochelle, exclusively of other quantities to Sweden and the Baltic. The two places had each a harbour capable of receiving vessels of large burthen; and from that of Crawfurdsdyke, a part of the expedition to Darien was fitted out, in 1697. The union of the two kingdoms opened to the inhabitants new channels of commerce; and in 1719, they fitted out the first vessel employed in the American trade, which they afterwards prosecuted with singular success, bringing home great quantities of tobacco, which they exported for the supply of the continent. Indeed the rapidly-increasing importance of Greenock was such that it excited the jealousy of the ports of London, Bristol, and Liverpool: but the breaking out of the American war greatly obstructed its chief source of prosperity, and the loss of the American trade for some time impeded the commercial interests of the port. It was, however, soon counterbalanced by an enlarged traffic with South America, and the East and West India colonies; the trade of the port revived; and it has continued to prosper till the present time, the place now ranking as one of the principal sea-ports of the country. This was the first port to petition for the opening of the trade to the East Indies, in 1812. Greenock, extending in every direction for the accommodation of its growing population, has become the residence of numerous merchants and shipowners; the seat of various thriving manufactures, which put it nearly on a par with the most flourishing commercial and manufacturing towns in the kingdom; and more recently a parliamentary borough. In 1835, forty persons were drowned by the bursting of the Whin Hill Dam.

The TOWN is beautifully situated on the south shore of the Firth of Clyde, which is here four miles and a half broad; and extends for almost a mile along the margin of the united bays of Greenock and Crawfurdsdyke. The buildings occupy a narrow site of level land, bounded on the south by a ridge of hills which rises abruptly to an elevation of nearly 600 feet immediately above the town, commanding a richly-diversified view of the Firth and the coast of Dumbarton, on the north, and much variety of interesting scenery on the east and west. Greenock is for the most part very irregularly built, consisting in the older portion of various narrow and ill-formed streets, and in that of more modern date of several spacious and handsome streets, with numerous pleasant villas, especially towards the west, in which direction chiefly the houses are increasing. It is paved, lighted with gas, and amply supplied with water from the vicinity, passed through filters previously to its being distributed through the town, the necessary works having been constructed by a company incorporated by act of parliament in 1825, by the name of the Shaw's Water Joint-Stock Company, chiefly for providing water-power for giving motion to the machinery of mills and factories. For this latter purpose, an enterprise of vast magnitude was completed under the direction of Mr. Thom, civil engineer, and proprietor of the Rothesay cotton-works, at the suggestion of the late Sir Michael Shaw Stewart. The water-works, which are mostly situated at a distance of about three miles, on the south-west side of the ridge of hills that overlooks the town, consist partly of a spacious reservoir formed by strong embankments, inclosing an area of 295 acres, and containing 284,678,550 cubic feet of water, conveyed by an aqueduct six miles in length from numerous streams. There is also a compensation reservoir of forty acres, containing 14,465,898 cubic feet, and now called Loch Thom in compliment to the engineer. From the principal reservoir, which has an elevation of 500 feet above the town, the water descends by a gradual declivity, and in its course towards Greenock forms at convenient intervals many falls of greater or less height, from which it is diverted to the several factories that have been erected near it, supplying to each 1200 cubic feet per minute for twelve hours daily. The aggregate power of the different falls, which vary in depth according to the wants of each factory, has been estimated as equivalent to that of 1782 horses. This important undertaking was successfully completed in 1829, at an expense of £51,000, including the purchase of the ground. In 1845 an act was passed to enable the company to increase the supply of water beyond what is above stated.

The Public Library, established in the year 1783, now contains about 10,000 volumes. For several years the books were kept in the Freemasons' Hall, in Hamilton-street, till they were removed into a building in Union-street, towards the erection of which James Watt, Esq., of Ashton Hall, Warwickshire, contributed £3000, as a suitable place for the reception of a marble statue by Chantrey, in honour of his father, James Watt, the celebrated improver of the steam-engine, which statue had been voted at a public meeting of the inhabitants of Greenock, the native place of Watt. This distinguished person was born on the 19th of January, 1736, and died at Heathfield, in Staffordshire, on the 25th of August, 1821. The foundation stone of the new building was laid by the late Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, M.P. for the county of Renfrew, and provincial grand master mason of the district, on the 25th of August, 1835, the anniversary of Mr. Watt's death. The building is in the early English style of architecture, and consists of a centre, containing the library, and two wings, one of which forms a reading-room, and the other a house for the librarian. The Public Library is supported by annual subscriptions of thirteen shillings paid by proprietors, and twenty-one shillings paid by general readers. A mechanics' institution was established in 1836; and a handsome building has been erected for its use at an expense of more than £1300, raised by subscription. The ground-floor contains a library of 2000 volumes, a reading-room, and an apartment for mechanical and philosophical apparatus; above which is a hall sixty-two feet long, and thirty-nine feet wide, for the delivery of lectures on chemistry, mechanics, and other subjects. There is also a mechanics' library at Cartsdyke, or Crawfurdsdyke, containing nearly 1500 volumes; and three circulating libraries have collections varying from 500 to 1500 volumes. Two public newsrooms are likewise supported, in one of which, in Cathcart-square, is a portrait of Sir John Shaw, who is justly regarded as the founder of the commercial prosperity of the town. Assemblies are held in the Exchange buildings, in which are elegant rooms; and a theatre, erected by Stephen Kemble, is opened occasionally. The Tontine hotel, in the principal street, is a spacious building, erected at an expense of £10,000, and contains some handsome apartments, and every requisite accommodation.

Manufactures of various kinds are carried on here to a very considerable extent; and there are numerous large establishments for refining sugar, some breweries, distilleries, tanneries, foundries, and forges. The manufacture of woollen cloth and yarn is pursued in two factories, in one of which 25,000 stones of wool are annually consumed in the production of tartans, twilled cloths, and yarn; and the other, of recent establishment, is still more extensive. A very large cotton-work has lately been opened, the machinery of which is propelled by the Shaw's water: the building is of stone, 263 feet in length, sixty feet in breadth, and three stories in height. In those parts where the process carried on is most in danger of fire, the building is fire-proof; and in case of need, the pipes by which it is heated with steam can be rendered available with the same effect as a fire-engine. The water-wheel that drives the machinery is seventy feet in diameter, and wholly of iron, weighing about 180 tons. The number of people employed is generally 400, the greater part of whom are females. There are eleven large establishments for the refining of sugar, affording occupation to 350 persons; one of these is wholly engaged in refining for exportation, and the aggregate quantity is about 14,000 tons annually. Three breweries employ about forty-five persons, doing business to the amount of £30,000 per annum; and there is a distillery producing whisky annually to the amount of £50,000, and paying duties to the excise of £21,000. Connected with the distillery is a dairy of fifty cows. The manufacture of sail-cloth gives employment to nearly 300 persons, and consumes annually about 600 tons of raw material: attached to the premises is an extensive rope-walk, in which large quantities of cordage are made, averaging annually 700 tons. There are also three other rope-walks, in the aggregate affording employment to eighty persons. Four tanneries employ together about fifty hands, and do business to the amount of £18,000 annually; while two potteries, in which 200 people are constantly engaged, make on the average 100,000 dozens of white and printed earthenware. The paper manufacture provides occupation to about forty persons, of whom a considerable number are females, and produces yearly 300 tons of packing and coloured papers. There are also some extensive cooperages, together employing about 500 men and boys. The straw-plat manufacture of Greenock occupies generally about seventy persons on the premises, and affords employment to 150 who work at their own dwellings in the town, and to 1500 in the islands of Orkney. There are three extensive iron-foundries and forges for all kinds of castings, and for the manufacture of steam-engines and boilers, and various sorts of machinery, together affording employment to more than 1000 persons. In these establishments, steam-engines of the aggregate power of nearly 3000 horses are annually manufactured; and numerous English-built steamers, as well for government as for private individuals, have been supplied with engines and machinery from the works. Two manufactories for chain-cables and anchors, also, employ above 110 persons; and there is a work for the making of bar-iron, in which a considerable number are engaged. Four large mills for grinding grain, yield upwards of 50,000 bolls a year: one of them was also supplied with machinery for freeing rice imported into this country from the husk, but this was found to be attended without any of the expected benefit, and has been discontinued.

The trade of the port, which, after it had recovered from the depression it suffered during the American war, greatly increased, has recently sustained some diminution from the deepening of the Clyde and the introduction of steam towing-boats, by which ships that previously landed their cargoes here are now enabled to reach Glasgow. The exports are chiefly cotton, yarn, &c.; linen, woollen, and silk manufactures; hardware, earthenware, glass, refined sugar, iron and machinery, copper, and lead. The imports are cotton-wool, sugar, molasses, coffee, cocoa, pepper, tobacco, corn, wine, oil, spirits, timber, deals, mahogany, dye-woods, brimstone, and numerous other goods. In a recent year, before the establishment of the cotton-work above described, the quantity of cotton-wool imported was 11,597,653 lb., and the quantity of cotton, yarn, &c. exported was valued at upwards of £1,000,000. The number of ships and vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards to foreign ports with cargoes, in the same year, was, 225 British, of 65,864 tons, and twelve foreign, of 3095 tons, inwards; and 235 British, of 63,582 tons, and nine foreign, of 3411 tons, outwards. The number of vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards, coastwise, was, 911 vessels, of 99,430 tons, inwards; and 1222 vessels, of 128,017 tons, outwards: this latter number of vessels, however, includes vessels with part of cargoes previously cleared outwards at Glasgow. In 1848 the amount of duty paid at the custom-house was £436,985. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port is 432, of 79,779 tons' aggregate burthen; and the number of seamen is upwards of 3000.

The HARBOUR was commenced in 1707, by the inhabitants, to whom the lord of the manor, Sir John Shaw, conveyed the ground on which it was formed, together with his right, as superior of the barony, to levy anchorage dues. In order to raise funds for its completion, they voluntarily imposed an assessment of 1s. 4d. on every sack of malt brewed into ale within the burgh. The harbour thus formed being found, however, totally inadequate to the rapid increase of the trade, an extension including the bay of Crawfurdsdyke was carried into effect, at an expense of £20,000; and the subsequent erection of dry-docks and other works requisite to render it complete, comprising warehouses, bonding-yards for timber, and other accommodations, has increased the amount to £119,000. The outer harbour, which is accessible to the largest vessels, has sufficient depth of water, and good anchorage; but the roadstead is contracted by a considerable sand-bank, extending from Port-Glasgow towards Dumbarton. The entrance to the inner harbour is 105 feet wide, and the depth great enough to allow vessels of any burthen to approach the quays. The Custom-house quay is 1035 feet in length, the East quay 531, and the West quay 425 feet, forming together a line of very nearly 2000 feet, replete with every facility for the loading and landing of cargoes, with spacious warehouses and stores. Ship-building is carried on to a great extent, for which purpose there are seven dockyards belonging to different companies, affording employment to 1200 men, with dry-docks, and three patent-slips for repairing vessels, one of which is capable of receiving ships of 400 tons. The number of vessels annually launched averages about twenty, of the aggregate burthen of from 6000 to 7000 tons. Boat-building is also carried on, by companies confined to that object, who employ about forty workmen, and launch annually about 800 tons of all descriptions.

The custom-house, which is situated in the central portion of the quay, is a spacious and elegant building in the Grecian style, with a stately portico in front, the whole erected in 1818, at an expense of £30,000. A chamber of commerce and manufactures was incorporated by royal charter in 1813, and is under the management of twelve directors, of whom three annually go out of office by rotation. The Exchange buildings, erected in 1814, at a cost of £7000, afford every accommodation for the meeting of merchants and shipowners, and for the transaction of commercial affairs; they contain also two spacious assembly-rooms, in which concerts and card and dancing assemblies are held during the season. The post-office has a good delivery; and in addition to the Greenock Bank, there are branches of the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Glasgow Union Banking Company, the Western Bank of Scotland, and the Clydesdale Bank. The market, which is on Friday, is abundantly supplied with grain and with provisions of all kinds; and fairs are held on the first Thursday in July and the fourth Thursday in November. Facility of communication is afforded by excellent roads, of which eight miles of turnpike-road pass through the parish, and by steamers. The Glasgow, Paisley, and Greenock Railway was commenced under an act passed in 1837, and was opened throughout in 1841. The length is twenty-two miles and a half, of which seven form part also of the Glasgow and Ayr railway, whence the Greenock line diverges at Paisley, crossing the rivers Black Cart and Gryfe, and reaching its summit level on the Bishopton ridge. Thence it is continued by an embankment, running nearly parallel with the river Clyde, to Port-Glasgow, from which taking a curvilinear direction, it terminates at Greenock, where is a short branch leading to the docks. There are two tunnels at Bishopton ridge, cut through hard rock for above a mile in length, and thirty-seven feet in depth; the embankment near the Clyde is more than a mile long, and twenty-eight feet in height, and there is also one crossing Fulwood moss, four miles long, but averaging only ten feet in height. The railway was completed in March 1841, at an expense of £498,142, including one-half the cost of the portion between Glasgow and Paisley, of which the other half was defrayed by the Glasgow and Ayr Railway Company. An act was passed in 1846, authorizing the formation of a branch of 352 yards extending from the Glasgow, Paisley, and Greenock railway, to the Clyde at Greenock; and also the construction of a pier or wharf in connexion with it. In 1847 an act was obtained, to amalgamate the railway with the great Caledonian railway.

The town was erected into a burgh of barony by charter of Charles I., granted to Sir John Shaw, its proprietor, in 1635, and confirmed by Charles II. in 167O. In 1741, the then Sir John Shaw, by a charter which was renewed in 1751, conferred upon his tenants in the burgh the privilege of electing two bailies, a treasurer, and six councillors, with power to hold courts for the admission of burgesses, the good government of the town, and the trial and punishment of delinquents. This charter continued in force till the passing of the Municipal Reform act of the 3rd and 4th of William IV. A provost, four bailies, a treasurer, and ten councillors, are now elected agreeably with the provisions of that measure; and their jurisdiction extends over the whole of the municipal and parliamentary boundaries of the burgh, which includes the suburb of Cartsdyke. The magistrates hold courts daily for the trial of criminal causes not extending beyond petty thefts and misdemeanors, all higher matters being referred to the sheriff of the county, who holds a court here for those cases to which the jurisdiction of the magistrates does not extend. Under the provisions of the general Reform act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., the burgh returns one member to the imperial parliament: the right of election is vested in the £10 householders, who also form the municipal constituency, and of whom the number is 1188. The town-hall was erected in 1765, after a design by the father of the distinguished Watt; it is a neat structure containing the several court-rooms, and other apartments for the transaction of the public business of the magistrates. The town gaol or bridewell, a handsome building in the castellated style, contains thirty-five cells for criminals. The sheriff's court-house, erected in 1834 by subscription, consists of a spacious hall for the courts, with apartments for the sheriff and his clerk, and rooms for jurymen and witnesses.

The PARISH originally formed part of that of Innerkip, from which it was separated by act of parliament, in 1592: the lands of Easter Greenock and Crawfurdsburn were annexed to it in 1618, and a considerable portion of the parish of Houston in 1650. At later periods the parish was subdivided into smaller parishes. It extends along the Clyde for nearly five miles, and is bounded on the south by the parish of Houston; on the south-east, by the parishes of Port-Glasgow and Kilmalcolm; and on the west, by Innerkip. The surface is hilly, rising towards the south, by elevated ridges, to a height of 600 feet. The coast is flat and sandy, and is not distinguished by any peculiarity of features, the hill of Binnans, the highest in the ridge, forming the only landmark of importance: from this eminence is obtained a beautiful view of the Firth. On the shore the soil is chiefly clay, intermixed with sea-shells and gravel; and in the higher grounds, a rich loam, alternated with peatmoss: there are some quarries of sandstone, but of very inferior quality. The estimated number of acres is 8000, of which nearly 3000 are arable, 1150 meadow and pasture, about fifty woodland and plantations, and the remainder moor. The scenery is beautifully diversified, and on the acclivities of the hills are numerous scattered villas, overlooking the Clyde. The mansion-house of Greenock is finely situated on an eminence above the town; the greater portion of it is ancient, but several additions have been made of more modern character. There are some trees of considerable girth near this mansion, and also near that of Crawfurdsburn or Cartsburn House, which is likewise an ancient building. The annual value of real property in Greenock is £111,493.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes this place is in the presbytery of Greenock, synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The original parish, which, since the New or Middle parish was disjoined from it in 1741, has been designated the Old or West parish, is about three miles and a half in length and two and three-quarters in breadth. The minister's income is £718, arising from a stipend of £287, from an annuity of £25 from the corporation, and the rents of the glebe, amounting to £406; with a manse: patron, Sir Michael Robert Shaw Stewart. The old church, a cruciform structure built in 1590, being inconveniently situated, and greatly dilapidated, has been abandoned, and a new church built on a more commodious site; the present structure, which is of elegant design, contains 1400 sittings. The Middle parish, created by the Court of Teinds, is about onethird of a mile in length and a quarter of a mile in breadth, and wholly within the town. The minister's stipend is £200, with £20 for communion elements, and a manse; patrons, the Magistrates and Town Council, the Kirk Session, and the Feuars in the parish. The church, erected in 1747 at an expense of £2388, by subscription, aided by a grant from the corporation, is a handsome structure in the Grecian style, with a portico of the Ionic order and an elegant spire 145 feet in height, and contains 1497 sittings. A chapel has been erected in the parish by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, for the use of the mariners frequenting the port; it contains 350 sittings, and divine service is performed on Sunday by a missionary, who has a salary of £26 per annum. The East parish was divided from the original parish, by the Court of Teinds, in 1809; it is about three miles and a half in length, and two and a half in breadth. The minister's stipend is £200, with £20 for communion elements, and a manse; patrons, the Magistrates and Council, and a committee of the Seat-proprietors. The church was erected in 1774 as a chapel of ease, and contains 976 sittings. The former quoad sacra North parish was separated from the West parish under act of the General Assembly in 1834, and was about half a mile in length and less than a quarter of a mile in breadth; patrons, the Communicants. The church, at first a chapel of ease, was built in 1823, at an expense of £600, and contains 1165 sittings. The South quoad sacra parish comprised a small district within the town; patrons, the Proprietors of the church, which was built as a Gaelic chapel of ease, in 1791, at a cost of £1300, raised in shares, and is a neat structure with 1300 sittings. The late quoad sacra parish of St. Andrew was also separated from the West parish; patrons, the Trustees. The church was built by subscription, aided by grant from the Church-extension fund, at a cost of £2600; it is a handsome structure in the later English style of architecture, and contains 945 sittings. The late parish of St. Thomas was ecclesiastically separated in 1839, from the Old parish and the Middle parish: the church was built by private subscription, aided by a grant from the extension fund. That part of the burgh which is called Cartsdyke (which see) was ecclesiastically separated from the East parish, in 1839, but, like the four preceding districts, afterwards ceased to be a quoad sacra parish. There are places of worship in the burgh for members of the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Church, Baptists, Independents, Reformed Presbyterians, and Wesleyans; an episcopal, and a Roman Catholic chapel. The members of the Free Church have altogether six places of worship in the burgh, and the United Presbyterian Church four.

The old parochial school has been superseded by the establishment of two burgh schools, in one of which the Latin, Greek, and French languages are taught; and in the other, arithmetic, the mathematics, geography, and drawing. They are under the management of two masters, appointed by the corporation, and who have each a salary of £30, with the fees and an allowance of £25 a year in lieu of house and schoolroom. The Highlanders' Academy was built in 1837, partly by subscription, and partly by grant from government, on a site given by the late Sir Michael Shaw Stewart; it is a handsome building, containing two schoolrooms, and apartments for the masters of an infant and juvenile school, with a large inclosed play-ground. There are also two schools for orphans, built by the corporation, one for the gratuitous instruction of children in the elementary branches of education, and the other for teaching girls to sew and knit, and qualifying them for service; they are both supported by subscription, and partly by the proceeds of the children's work. The Greenock Hospital and Infirmary was established in 1809, when a building was erected at an expense of £1815, on a site of land given by Sir John Shaw Stewart. It is maintained by subscription, and the number of patients averages about 585 annually received into the house, and 200 out-patients. Two wings have been added to the building, which is now adapted for the reception of 100 patients. The institution is under the superintendence of four physicians, two surgeons, and a resident apothecary; and the annual expenditure is about £1000. There are numerous friendly and benefit societies; and a savings' bank has been some time established, in which are deposits to the amount of about £63,000. It may be mentioned that Mr. Gait the novelist resided at Greenock, where he died in 1839. The town gives the inferior title of Baron to the family of Cathcart, a dignity created in 1807, in the person of the late Earl Cathcart, upon his return from Copenhagen, where he had served as commander-in-chief of the military force employed in the expedition to that place.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis