I know a dear, a lovely spot,
A scene of Sunshine and of flowers,
And gladly would I mix my lot
Amidst its smiling lawns and bowers;
There rippling waters softly play,
Telling to blossom’d banks their tale,
And music’s notes and pleasure’s lay
Glide gaily through that joyous vale.
THERE are few more agreeable places of summer resort upon the Clyde, than Gourock. Its situation on the western shore of a beautiful and capacious bay, about two miles west of Greenock, is peculiarly fine. The walks along the shore present an enchanting variety of marine and mountain scenery; while the views, from various points among the hills behind, are extensive and magnificent. It is enlivened with the almost hourly arrival or departure of steam boats, crowded with passengers; so that here the visitor may either live in retirement, or amid the bustle of a crowd, as his taste or fancy may incline. The air is usually bland and mild, though at the same time bracing and invigorating; and therefore is well adapted for invalids, or those who have for a time fled from the pent-up air of a large city, to ‘breathe the smell of field and grove.”
The village chiefly consists of a long line of white houses which stretch round the margin of the bay. From the water, their white fronts present a cheerful and happy aspect; and the inequality of their height gives interest and variety to the scene. Sailing down the river, therefore, or entering the fine bay of Gourock, this pleasant village forms an object of attraction to all strangers; and many a toil-worn mariner, who has visited distant climes, and beheld the beauties of lands spread out beneath sunnier skies, feels his bosom glow, and his heart beat high, when with swelling sail his gallant ship sweeps round the point of Kempoch, and Gourock and its splendid bay is presented at once to his view.
The accommodation for summer visitors is in general good. The vicinity of the village to Greenock, and the constant intercourse with Glasgow by the steam boats, prevent any scarcity of either the luxuries or the necessities of the table. And though the worthy citizens who yearly visit it, cannot conveniently carry with them all the comforts of their homes, the out-door pleasures during the leafy month of June, amply compensate for all the little inconveniences which may be felt within. Upon the whole, therefore, Gourock may be said to form a pleasant place of summer resort, and one which has for a long period been a decidedly favourite retirement with a large portion of the population of the west. The inhabitants are computed at nearly 1000, many of whom are usefully employed in the herring and white fishery, and others in the manufacture of ropes and cordage, and in the neighbouring stone quarries.
The bay of Gourock forms an excellent natural harbour, and is admitted to be one of the best anchoring grounds on the Clyde. Previous to the introduction of steam boat navigation, it was often resorted to by the largest vessels, when wind-bound in the Frith. The facility, however, which steam now affords of towing out large vessels, prevents this so often occurring; but still the bay of Gourock is sometimes visited by outward bound ships. Near the west end of the town, there is a small Pier, at which the steam boats land their passengers when the tide admits, and where small coasting vessels discharge or receive their loading. This Pier is now considerably decayed; but though it might with no great difficulty be repaired, it would undoubtedly be much better to erect a new and larger one, than to do so. We are glad to learn that the present liberal minded proprietor, who has not long been in possession of the estate, intends to erect a new one of greater extent, so that vessels of considerable size may approach it at all states of the tide.
The estate or barony of Gourock, formerly called the barony of Finnart-Stewart, was in ancient times part of the patrimony of the noble family of Douglas. Upon the forfeiture of the Earl of Douglas in 1445, it was gifted by King James II to Archibald Stewart of Castlemilk, descended from William Stewart, a younger son of Sir John Stewart of Darnley, in the reign of Robert II. John Stewart of Castlemilk, the immediate progenitor of Archibald, who acquired the estate of Gourock, was killed at the battle of Vernoil in France in 1424. The whole lands of Gourock were in 1694 incorporated into a free barony, to be called the barony of Gourock, and the village erected into a burgh of barony by charter from King William and Queen Mary, under the great seal of Scotland, in favour of Sir William Stewart of Castlemilk, then the proprietor. This charter was ratified by Parliament in 1695. The whole barony was purchased from the Stewarts of Castlemilk, in the year 1784-5, by the late Duncan Darroch, Esq. on his return from Jamaica, where, as a merchant, he had acquired a considerable fortune. It is now entailed on his son, the present proprietor Lieutenant-General Duncan Darroch, and his issue.
By the charter of 1694, full power was given to the proprietor to build and enlarge the town and burgh of barony, and to make and create burgesses therein. Power was also given to the inhabitants present and future, who were or might be admitted burgesses, to buy and sell all kinds of legal merchandize; and to the proprietor to admit and receive within the burgh all manner of merchants, handicraftsmen, and mechanics, to whom it should be lawful to use their proper arts freely, fully, and quietly in every respect, as any other merchants, workmen, or mechanics, or others of the same station could exercise. The proprietor was likewise empowered to appoint baillies, serjeants, and all other officers necessary to govern the burgh, yearly, in all time coming; and, if necessary, to have and hold a tolbooth, court, harbour, and port within the burgh; to hold a court and market weekly upon Tuesday, and two fairs yearly, the one upon the 12th of June, O. S., to be called the summer fair of Gourock, to continue three days, the other upon the 10th November, O. S., to be called St. Martin’s fair of Gourock. Notwithstanding the privileges thus granted, no use whatever has been made of them; and Gourock is yet without either market or court, magistrate or officer, although, considering the great resort of strangers, the presence of the latter might sometimes be useful.
The only manufacture of any consequence in Gourock is that of ropes and cordage. This was begun here about the year 1772, by a company of merchants from Greenock, and is still carried on with advantage. The rope walk is above 200 fathoms long, 100 fathoms of which is covered, forming, we are rather inclined to think, the longest in Scotland. In 1792, this work furnished employment for forty-nine persons, and annually wrought up about 165 tons of hemp. The first red herrings ever cured in Great Britain, were cured here by Provost Gibson of Glasgow, who has been justly styled the father of trade and commerce on the west coast of Scotland. The pier which has been already mentioned, was erected by him, for the purpose of shipping his herrings; and the buildings erected for the purpose of carrying on his business, which appear to have been extensive, are still in existence, near the west end of the village. This branch of trade, which might have proved so useful to the place, has now been long given up, and the buildings appropriated to other purposes. About the year 1698, salt pans were erected, and salt prepared at Gourock, but this likewise has long since been abandoned. A copper mine was worked, about half a mile from the town, previous to 1780, and the ore found is said to have been of good quality. Since that period, however, the working has not been continued, although there is evident intimation of the presence of this mineral in many places in the neighbourood. Some offers, we believe, have been made to the present proprietor again to open up the mines; but no arrangement has yet been entered into.
Gourock is well supplied with good spring water, a requisite essentially necessary to its success as a watering-place. One of the springs, the Bore Well as it is called, which affords this supply, deserves notice. About the year 1766, while some persons were employed boring for coal, when they had reached the depth of thirty fathoms, black dirty water made its appearance, which continued to run till it became clear, when it was ascertained to be fine pure spring water. It is collected in a cistern, and still continues to run the same, summer and winter, unaffected either by the droughts of the one season, or the rains of the other.
As the village is at a distance of several miles from the parish church, the want of a place of worship had been long sensibly felt. In 1769, therefore, the inhabitants procured a minister, the Rev. Mr. Turner, to preach in the town. Three years afterwards a small chapel of ease was erected in the burying-ground at the east end of the town. This ground is held in feu from the superior of the barony, by the feuars and inhabitants of the burgh, for the purpose to which it has been devoted, and to be applied to no other. The minister is elected by the heads of families having seats in the church; and his salary is paid from the rents of the seats.
The old castle of Gourock, or Finnart-Stewart, the manorial residence of the ancient superior, stood at the distance of about half a mile south-east from the village. No part of its ruins, however, now remain. They were taken down, and entirely removed about the year 1747: when the present house of Gourock, which is seen to the right of the engraving, was erected near its site. A handsome bridge, across a small rivulet, has been recently erected almost at the spot where the old Castle stood. On either side of this bridge is seen a waterfall, which, with the glen through which the brook here flows, produce a romantic and picturesque effect. A short way up this glen above the bridge and waterfall, a handsome mausoleum was erected by the late proprietor, in which his remains are interred.
At the western extremity of the village, on the height above the point of Kempoch, and not far from the shore, stands a rude memorial stone, obviously of great antiquity. It is highly probable this was raised in remembrance of some battle fought here at a very early period, most likely beyond the time to which the authentic histories of this country reach. The name which this point of land still retains confirms this supposition. The word Kemp, under varieties in spelling, signifying a battle in all the northern languages which are of Gothic derivation. The word is still preserved in the Scottish language, though now having a more peaceful signification. Kemping is yet a common word for the striving of reapers on the harvest-field.