Port-Glasgow, pp.554-556.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   PORT-GLASGOW, a parish in Renfrewshire, bounded on the north by the frith of Clyde; on the east and south by Kilmalcolm; and on the west by Greenock. It is of small extent, being only about a mile square, or containing an area of 844 English acres. The land is partly flat and partly hilly. The level tract along the coast, except that on which the town stands, is occupied as garden-ground, which furnishes an abundant supply of excellent vegetables and fruit. Behind there is a steep range of hills, about 400 feet in height, which, being covered with wood and verdure, present a fine appearance when seen from the river. This hilly portion is in tillage and pasture. The landward part of the parish belongs to Lady Shaw Stewart, daughter of the late Robert Farquhar, Esq., the transference of the barony of Newark to whom, has been mentioned at page 120 of this volume. – Newark-castle, a ruinous square building, with round turrets and battlements, stands on a point of land projecting into the river, and commands a splendid view of the surrounding scenery. On the west side, over the main door, are the arms of the Maxwells, the former proprietors, with this inscription underneath: “The Blissinge of God be Heirin, Anno 1597.” On one of the windows is the date 1599, and over others are the letters “P. M.” (Patrick Maxwell). Other parts appear to be older than the period indicated by these dates. This fabric ceased to be the habitation of its owners in the beginning of the 18th century, but some of the apartments are still occupied by tradesmen.1 – The population of the parish, in 1801, was 3,865; in 1831, 5,192. The number of houses, in 1821, was 1,382; in 1831, the number was returned as 401; but that enumeration was made upon an erroneous principle, the number given being that of separate buildings, many of them comprehending several distinct houses. Assessed property, in 1815, £14,707. – The parish is in the presbytery of Paisley, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patrons, the town-council of Glasgow. The church was built in 1823, at an expense of £3,000, upwards of £1,200 of which was subscribed by the inhabitants. Sittings 1,200. Stipend, as fixed in 1823, £280, including an allowance of £30 yearly for a house and garden. Within the quoad civilia bounds of Port-Glasgow is included the quoad sacra parish of Newark, which was constituted in February 1838, by authority of the General Assembly. What now forms the church of Newark was built as a chapel-of-ease in 1774. It cost about £1,350, which was raised by subscription. Sittings 1,600. Stipend £100, with an allowance of £16 13s. 4d. for communion elements. A United Secession congregation was established in 1790, and in the following year a church was built, the cost of which is unknown, but it could not now be erected under £1,200. Sittings 752. Stipend £130. – By census taken by the minister and elders in the beginning of 1838, there were in the quoad sacra parish of Port-Glasgow 1,939 persons belonging to the Established church, 698 belonging to other denominations, and 18 not known to belong to any; total, 2,655. In the parish of Newark there were, at the same time, belonging to the Establishment, 2,187; to other denominations, 1,189; total, 3,376. – There are eight schools, with one teacher in each. One of these is parochial. Salary £20 per annum, with from £40 to £50 school-fees. Another is a charitable institution, called Beaton’s school, from its founder David Beaton, who, in 1814, bequeathed £1,400 for building and endowing a seminary for the education of poor orphan children. 

   PORT-GLASGOW, a parliamentary burgh and sea-port in the above parish, is situated on the south side of the frith of Clyde, 2 miles east of Greenock, and 20 miles north-west of Glasgow, by the shortest turnpike road. It occupies a level tract on the shore, and is so much overshaded by the heights behind, that the rays of the sun do not reach it for nearly six weeks in winter. As the name indicates, this place was originally intended as the sea-port of Glasgow, of which it was long regarded as a mere dependency. Soon after the Restoration, the magistrates of that city, experiencing great inconvenience from the shallowness of the Clyde, (the deepening of which was not, till long afterwards, thought of,) they resolved to erect a harbour nearer the mouth of the river. They first pitched upon Dumbarton, but after much discussion, the civic rulers of that place rejected the proposal, fearing, with the short-sighted policy of the times, that the concourse of mariners would “raise the price of provisions to the inhabitants.” The Glasgow magistrates next turned their attention to Troon, but there also they were, for a similar reason, repulsed. At length, in 1668, as their records show, and not in 1662, as is represented in several works of authority, they succeeded in purchasing from Sir Patrick (often erroneously called Robert) Maxwell of Newark, about 22 English acres of ground, on the bay of Newark, with the right of forming a harbour there. Immediately afterwards, they obtained from the Crown a charter of confirmation, erecting the ground and the harbour, which was authorized to be formed into a free port, with power to build a prison, to appoint bailies and other officers, to exercise jurisdiction, civil and criminal, competent to a baron, and to levy customs, tolls, and anchorage dues. A harbour was accordingly constructed, and streets were laid off. The name of New-Port-Glasgow was given to the place; but now that the port is no longer a novelty, the prefix ‘New’ has become obsolete. In 1695, the town, and a small adjacent district, were, by the competent authority, disjoined from the parish of Kilmalcolm, and erected into a distinct parish, under the name of New-Port-Glasgow. Two years afterwards, the Rev. Robert Millar, author of the ‘History of the Propagation of Christianity,’ and other works, was ordained minister of the new parish, but he did not continue long, having, in 1709, been appointed one of the ministers of Paisley. A church was not built till 1718, public worship having, in the interval, been conducted in a house which was appropriated for the purpose.2 In 1710, Port-Glasgow was constituted the principal custom-house port of the Clyde, and for a time it took the lead of Greenock. The narrow limits originally proposed became too confined for the town, which extended itself over the adjacent village of Newark, then belonging as a burgh-of-barony to Hamilton of Wishaw. The town thus comprehended two burghs-of-barony, subject to two different superiors. In order to remedy this inconvenience, and at the same time to improve the place, there was passed, in 1775, an act of parliament, which gave it a municipality consisting of 13 councillors, therein called trustees, including 2 bailies, and which, at the same time, made provision for supplying the town with fresh water, for paving, cleaning, and watching the streets, for erecting public markets, and for repairing the quays. These powers were enlarged by a statute passed in 1803, which also provided for the erection of a new court-house, a jail, and other public buildings. By the Burgh reform act of 1833, the number of the council was reduced to 9, consisting of a provost, 2 bailies, and 6 ordinary members. The jurisdiction is exercised by the magistrates directly; and in civil cases it is unlimited, in point of extent, as the burgh, being one of barony, dependent upon a royal burgh, the jurisdiction was not affected by the stat. 20° Geo. II. There are no burgesses nor incorporations, nor any persons entitled to exclusive privileges. It farther appears from the Commissioners’ report, that in 1833 the property of the burgh, heritable and moveable, amounted to £31,841 1s. 8d., and that the debts due by it were £26,925 10s. 1d.; while the expenditure was £2,520 0s. 4d., and the revenue only £1,889 8s. 5½d. Since that time the revenue has gradually increased, having, in 1841, amounted to £2,917 19s. 11d. The town was, by the Reform act of 1832, elevated to the rank of a parliamentary burgh, and united with Kilmarnock, Rutherglen, Dumbarton, and Renfrew, in electing a member of the legislature. Constituency of Port-Glasgow, in 1841-2, 200. According to the census of 1841, the population within the parliamentary boundaries was 6,938; inhabited houses 1,384; uninhabited 51; building 3. Although these boundaries comprehend only about the half of the parish, they contain nearly the whole of the population, the district not included being the hilly part on the north, which is very thinly inhabited. 

   The town presents an aspect of great neatness and regularity. The streets are straight, and for the most part cross each other at right angles; while the houses, pretty nearly equal in size, and generally white-washed, give to the whole a light and uniform appearance. The town-house is of plain workmanship, ornamented in front with a portico, resting on four massy fluted pillars, and surmounted with a handsome spire, rising from the centre. The only other modern building worthy of notice is the church, built in 1823; it is square in form, and plain in outward appearance, but is deservedly admired for the simple elegance of its internal construction. In the vicinity of the town there are some elegant villas with pleasure-grounds Attached to the port are two capacious harbours, substantially built, and completely sheltered from the storm. They are furnished with ample quay and shed room, together with a graving-dock, the oldest in Scotland, (having been built in 1762,) but lately improved at a great expense. East of these, the bay of Newark, which is naturally adapted to the purpose, has been converted into a spacious wet-dock, where vessels of the largest class may lie securely afloat in every state of the tide. It was commenced in 1834, extends over a space of 12 acres, and has cost about £40,000. Much delay and expense arose from a portion of the outer wall having given way during the progress of the work. Formerly the trade of this place was almost entirely carried on in ships belonging to merchants resident in Glasgow. Of late years, however, the people of Port-Glasgow have themselves become ship-owners, and at present about one-fourth part of the tonnage belonging to the place is owned by persons resident here. For several years back the tonnage belonging to the port, engaged in foreign trade, has ranged from 21 to 32,000 tons. The customs’ revenue has very materially decreased, in consequence of a large proportion of the goods formerly warehoused here being now carried direct to Glasgow. More than half the trade of the port is with the British North American possessions; about a fourth is with the West Indies; and the remainder with the United States, the Mediterranean, and the East Indies. This is the principal place on the Clyde for the importation of North American timber, the quantity varying from 16,000 to 30,000 tons annually. Port-Glasgow had once an extensive coasting trade, but in consequence of the improvements on the river, nearly the whole of it has been transferred to Glasgow. Ship-building is carried on here to a considerable extent, and ropes and sail-cloth are manufactured. There are two sugar-refining houses. The town supports four branch banks, and a provident bank. There is a public library, instituted in 1798. The numerous steam-boats navigating the Clyde touch here; and the railway from Glasgow and Paisley to Greenock passes close on the west of the town.

1  “It was the opinion of the learned Mr. David Buchanan,” says Sir Robert Sibbald, “that there was a Roman camp on the Clyde, where New-Glasgow (or New-Port-Glasgow, the original name) stands, and where appear the vestiges of a tower.” The author of Caledonia justly remarks that no such camp has appeared to more accurate eyes, and that the tower, idly mistaken for a Roman post, was probably either the castle of Newark, or that of Easter Greenock. 

2  The original bell of this church was some years ago sold to the proprietors of a Clyde steam-boat, where we have seen it in daily use, bearing the no longer applicable inscription of “Soli Deo Gloria.” The community would do well in repurchasing and preserving so interesting a memorial of the early days of “the Port.” 

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