Greenock, pp.706-714.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   GREENOCK,1 a parish in the north-west of Renfrewshire, bounded by the frith of Clyde on the north; and in other directions by the parishes of Innerkip, Kilmalcolm, and Port-Glasgow. It stretches about 4½ miles along the shore, and extends considerably more up the country to the south. The land is hilly, with the exception of a stripe of level ground by the water-side, varying from less than half-a-mile to a mile in breadth. The soil of this level portion is light, mixed with sand and gravel. It has been rendered very fertile, owing to the great encouragement given to cultivation, from the constant demand for country produce by the numerous population. In the ascent the surface is diversified with patches of loam, clay, and till. Farther up, and towards the summits of the hills, the soil for the most part is thin, in some places mossy; the bare rocks here and there appearing. The land in this quarter is little adapted to any thing but pasturage for black cattle and sheep. On the other side of the heights, except a few cultivated spots in the descent to, and on the banks of, the Gryfe, heath and coarse grass prevail. The greatest elevation attained by the Greenock hills is 800 feet. The views from thence are varied, extensive, and grand, combining water, shipping, the scenery on either bank of the Clyde, and the lofty Highland mountains. The sides of the hills overlooking the town and the river are adorned with villas, and diversified with thriving plantations; so that the defect in the landscape pointed out by the Rev. Archibald Reid, the tasteful and intelligent Statistical reporter of 1793, has been removed. The parish contains 6,365 English acres, nearly 5-6ths of which belong to the family of Shaw Stewart, Bart. In 1818 the land was thus arranged:

 English Acres. 
Arable, 2,315 
Sound dry pasture, 930 
Moorish land of little value, 2,780 
Sites of houses, roads, and rivulets, 300 
Woodlands, mostly natural, 40 
Total, 6,365 

   The earliest name which occurs in connection with this place is that of “Hugh de Grenok,” who is recorded in Ragman Roll as one of the many Scottish barons who, in 1296, came under subjection to Edward I. of England. Crawfurd, the historian of Renfrewshire, does not appear to have been aware of the existence of this person, and in his account of the barony of Greenock goes no farther back than the reign of Robert III., (1390-1406) during which he mentions it was divided between the two daughters and heiresses of Malcolm Galbraith, the proprietor, one of whom married Shaw of Sauchie, and the other married Crawfurd of Kilbirnie. The two divisions were from that time held as separate baronies – Wester Greenock by the Shaws, and Easter Greenock by the Crawfurds – till 1669, when John Shaw purchased the eastern portion, and thus became the proprietor of both. John Shaw Stewart – afterwards of Blackhall, Baronet – succeeded to the conjoined baronies, on the death of his grand-uncle, Sir John Shaw, in 1752, and in this family it has since continued. The castle of Easter Greenock, a square tower, stood at Bridge-end, about a mile east of the town of Greenock. It was ruinous when Crawfurd wrote (1710) and probably was not inhabited after the sale to the Shaws in 1669. An engraving of the ruin, exhibiting only a portion of the north wall with spaces for two small windows, at different heights, was published in the Scots Magazine for October 1810. The castle of Wester Greenock occupied the site of an edifice which stands upon an eminence above the assembly-rooms. This edifice formed the residence of the Shaws, the feudal superiors of the district, and thence received the name of “the Mansion-house,” – a name it still retains, although it has not been occupied by the proprietors since 1754, two years after the accession of Mr. Shaw Stewart to the estate. The older portion of this house appears to have been built in the 17th century. Over a back entrance is the date 1674; a well close by bears the date 1629; and over one of the entrances to the garden is affixed the date 1635. The front and the greater part of the building is of more modern construction: it is still inhabited. Before the houses of the town encroached upon it, this mansion, with its terraces and pleasure-grounds overlooking the river, must have had a very striking aspect. It was thus noticed by Alexander Drummond, when speaking of Vabro in Italy, in the travels he performed in 1744:- “Here the Count de Merci possesses a beautiful house, that stands upon the top of the hill, with fine terraced gardens sloping down to the river side, which yield a delicious prospect to the eye; yet beautiful as this situation is, the house of Greenock would have been infinitely more noble, had it been, according to the original plan, above the terrace with the street opening down to the harbour; indeed, in that case, it would have been the most lordly site in Europe.”2 

   During the papacy, the baronies of Greenock were comprehended in the parish of Innerkip. Being at a great distance from the parish-church, the inhabitants had the benefit of three chapels within their own bounds. One of them, and probably the principal, was dedicated to St. Laurence, from whom the adjacent expanse derived its name of the Bay of St. Laurence. It stood on the site of the house at the west corner of Virginia-street, belonging to the heirs of Mr. Roger Stewart. In digging the foundations of that house, a number of human bones were found, which proves that a burying-ground must have been attached to the chapel. A late writer states that this place of worship “disappeared in the wreck of the Reformation;”3 whereas, in point of fact, it remained in some preservation so recently as the year 1760. On the lands still called Chapelton, on the eastern boundary of the east parish, there stood another chapel, to which also there must have been a cemetery attached; for when these grounds were formed into a kitchen-garden, many grave-stones were found under the surface. A little below Kilblain, there was placed a third religious house, the stones of which the tenant of the ground was permitted to remove for the purpose of enclosing his garden. From the name it is apparent that this was a cell or chapel dedicated to St. Blane. 

   After the Reformation, when the chapels were dissolved, the inhabitants of Greenock had to walk to the parish-church of Innerkip, which was 6 miles distant, to join in the celebration of public worship. To remedy this inconvenience, John Shaw obtained a grant from the king, in 1589, authorizing him to build a church for the accommodation of the people on his lands of Greenock, Finnart, and Spangock, who, it was represented, were “all fishers, and of a reasonable number.” Power was also given to build a manse and form a churchyard. This grant was ratified by parliament in 1592. The arrangement resembled the erection of a chapel-of-ease in our own times. Shaw having, in 1591, built a church and a manse, and assigned a churchyard, an act of parliament was passed, in 1594, whereby his lands above-mentioned, with their tithes and ecclesiastical duties, were disjoined from the parsonage and vicarage of Innerkip, and erected into a distinct parsonage and vicarage, which were assigned to the newly erected parish-church of Greenock; and this was ordained to take effect for the year 1593, and in all time thereafter. The parish of Greenock continued, as thus established, till 1636, when there was obtained from the lords commissioners for the plantation of churches a decree, whereby the baronies of Easter and Wester Greenock, and various other lands which had belonged to the parish of Innerkip, with a small portion of the parish of Houstoun, were erected into a parish to be called Greenock, and the church formerly erected at Greenock was ordained to be the parochial church, of which Shaw was the patron. The limits which were then assigned to the parish of Greenock have continued to the present time; but it has since been sub-divided into parochial districts, which will be described afterwards. 

   Greenock, a burgh-of-barony, and a parliamentary burgh, the principal sea-port in Scotland, and the sixth town in point of population, is situated in the above parish, on the south shore of the frith of Clyde. It stands in 55° 57′ 2″ north latitude, and 4° 45′ 30″ west longitude, and is distant westwards from Paisley 16 miles; from Glasgow 22; and from Edinburgh 65. It occupies the whole of the stripe of level ground already mentioned, and even ascends a considerable way up the ridge of hills which rise abruptly behind; in front is a fine bay. The situation is both beautiful and convenient for commerce. In the beginning of the 17th century, Greenock was a mean fishing village, consisting of a single row of thatched cottages. In 1635, Charles I., as administrator-in-law of his son Charles, then a minor, Prince and Steward of Scotland, granted a charter in favour of John Shaw, proprietor of the barony of Greenock, holding of the Prince, erecting the village of Greenock into a free burgh-of-barony, with the privilege of holding a weekly market on Friday, and two fairs annually. This creation was confirmed and renewed by Charles II., as Prince and Steward, in 1670, and received the ratification of parliament in 1681. In the course of that century it acquired some shipping, and engaged in coasting, and, to some extent, in foreign trade. The herring-fishery was the principal business prosecuted, and in it no less than 900 boats, each having on board 4 men, and 24 nets were, during some seasons, employed. Besides the home consumption, immense quantities of herrings were exported to foreign markets; in particular, in the year 1674, 1700 lasts, equal to 20,000 barrels, were exported to Rochelle, besides what were sent to other ports of France, to Sweden, to Dantzic, and other places on the Baltic. This branch of industry is still prosecuted here. In 1684, a vessel sailed from Greenock with a number of the persecuted religionists of the West of Scotland, who were sentenced to transportation to the American colonies. Next year a party connected with the Earl of Argyle’s invasion landed here; the bay probably affording some facility for such a purpose. In 1699, as appears from Borland’s History, and not in 1697, as is usually represented, part of the Darien expedition was fitted out at Cartsdyke, which at that time was separate from Greenock, and had a quay, while Greenock had none. 

   The baronial family of Shaw took a deep interest in the progress of the town, which indeed may be said to have been formed under their patronage. In 1696, and again in 1700, Sir John Shaw applied to the Scottish parliament for public aid to build a harbour at Greenock; but his applications were unsuccessful. The importance of the measure induced the inhabitants to make a contract with Sir John by which they agreed to an assessment of 1s. 4d. sterling on every sack of malt brewed into ale within the limits of the town; the money so levied to be applied in defraying the expense of forming a pier and harbour. The work was begun in 1707, and was finished in 3 years. Within 2 circular quays – a mid quay or tongue intervening, consisting of above 2,000 feet of stone – were enclosed about 13 imperial acres. This formidable undertaking, the greatest of the kind at that time in Scotland, incurred an expense of about £5,600, the magnitude of which alarmed the good people of Greenock so much, that on Sir John Shaw’s agreeing to take the debt upon himself, they gladly resigned to him the harbour and the assessment. Such, however, was the effect of the harbour in increasing the trade and the population of the town, that by the year 1740 the whole debt was extinguished, and there remained a surplus of £1,500, the foundation of the present town’s funds. In our day it may seem strange that the above tax on malt should have produced so large a sum as £5,600; and Messrs. Chambers, in their Gazetteer, pleasantly remark that the speedy liquidation of the expense affords a proof, either of the great trade carried on, “or of the extreme thirstiness of the inhabitants,” at the time in question; but it is to be recollected that at that time, and for a good while after, ale, not ardent spirits, formed the common drink of the labouring people. 

   Since 1773, several acts of parliament have been passed for regulating the affairs of the port, which are under the management of trustees or commissioners, consisting of the magistrates and town-council, and 6 gentlemen annually elected by the shipowners of the place. Of the original harbour scarcely a vestige remains, successive repairs and new erections having nearly effaced it. More capacious harbours, with dry docks and other appropriate accommodations, have, from time to time, been formed at an immense expense. These works are as commodious and elegant as any in the kingdom. The east quay is 531 feet in extent; entrance to the harbour, 105 feet; custom-house quay, 1,035 feet; entrance to the harbour, 105 feet; west quay, 425 feet; extreme length from east to west, 2,201 feet; breadth of piers, 60 feet. The quays run into deep water, and are approached by steamers at any state of the tide. Vessels of the largest class can be admitted into the harbours. In the outer harbour vessels of any burthen have sufficient depth of water, and good anchorage, but the roadstead is narrowed by a sand-bank of considerable breadth, which renders the navigation to Port-Glasgow difficult, though it serves as a protection to the harbour of Greenock during north-east gales. 

   The prosperity of Greenock began at the auspicious era of the Union with England in 1707, which opened new views to the traders of the Clyde, by giving them a free commerce to America and the West Indies, which they had not before enjoyed; and they soon began to send out goods to the colonies, returning chiefly with tobacco. After the completion of the harbour, Greenock was established a custom-house port, and a branch of Port-Glasgow, by an exchequer commission, dated the 16th of September, 1710. In 1719, the first vessel belonging to Greenock crossed the Atlantic. The growing prosperity of the port excited the jealousy of the traders of London, Bristol, Liverpool, and Whitehaven, who accused those of Greenock and Port-Glasgow of defrauding the revenue; but the charge was triumphantly refuted. The commerce of Greenock continued to increase gradually till about 1760, when the increase became very rapid, and continued its course till it met with a check from the American war. After the peace in 1783, the increase became still more rapid; and during the 7 years from 1784 to 1791, the shipping trade of the place was nearly tripled in amount. About the beginning of the present century, it had increased to a much greater amount than that of any other port in Scotland. The principal intercourse is with North and South America, and the East and West Indies; and here it deserves to be remarked that it was in Greenock, in 1813, that the first movement was made for breaking up the monopoly of the East India Company. The Greenland whale-fishery, commenced here in 1752, was never of any importance, and is now discontinued. The coasting trade at this port has declined since 1800. This, however, does not indicate a general failure of that trade on the Clyde, which, upon the whole, has greatly increased, but merely an alteration of the mode of carrying it on; many of the coasters, in consequence of the deepening of the river, and the introduction of towing by steam, now proceeding direct to Glasgow, instead of stopping in the first instance at Greenock. For the same reasons, not a little of the foreign trade has been transferred to Glasgow. 

   In 1728, the gross receipt of the customs at Greenock was £15,231; in 1770, £57,336; in 1802, £211,087; in 1831, £592,008; in 1834, £482,138; in 1837, £380,704; in 1838, £417,673; and in 1839, £315,084. The recent decrease is partly accounted for by the duties on tobacco having been paid at Glasgow since 1834. 

   The vessels entered inwards, and cleared outwards, to foreign ports, with cargoes, in the years after-mentioned, each year ending 5th January, were as follows:- 

INWARDS. 

………………………………..BRITISH…………………………………………….FOREIGN 

Years. No. Tons. No. Tons. 
1784 52 6,569 580 
1794 89 14,807 17 3,357 
1804 165 30,802 25 5,120 
1814 163 40,447 1,007 
1824 188 46,162 11 3,054 
1831 199 49,887 15 4,100 
1834 277 69,843 10 2,073 
1837 230 64,016 17 4,453 
1838 229 59,014 25 8,267 

OUTWARDS. 

………………………………..BRITISH…………………………………………….FOREIGN 

Years. No. Tons. No. Tons. 
1784 63 7,297 520 
1794 90 16,953 13 2,806 
1804 155 31,896 20 5,965 
1814 186 43,685 986 
1824 188 46,857 2,699 
1831 226 54,236 13 3,405 
1834 284 71,698 2,140 
1837 196 55,758 2,807 
1838 216 58,714 17 6,521 

   In 1825, the registered vessels belonging to the port were 241, tonnage 29,054, men 1,987; in 1837, vessels 386, tonnage 47,421, men 3,039; each year ending 31st December. At the beginning of 1840, the number of vessels was 408, and the tonnage 63,820. 

   In 1830, the vessels entered inwards and cleared outwards, coastwise, with cargoes, were, inwards 684, tonnage 67,884; outwards 796, tonnage 81,988; in 1835, inwards 999, tonnage 103,185; outwards 924, tonnage 95,172; each year ending 5th January. The declared value of British and Irish goods exported from Greenock to foreign parts was, in 1831, £1,493,405; in 1832, £1,662,251; in 1834, £1,459,086; in 1836, £1,623,362; in 1837, £1,555,560; in 1838, £1,141,765; each year ending 5th January. 

   Before the war with the North American colonies, 1775, all the large vessels belonging to the Clyde were built in that country; but since then ship-building has been carried on to a great extent at Greenock. At present there are here 9 establishments in this business, one of which – that of the Messrs. Scott – is one of the largest in the empire. In March 1840 there were 21 vessels building, the aggregate tonnage of which was 7,338. The Britannia, the first of the line of steamers which was established between Liverpool and Halifax in 1840, was built here. Five of the steam-vessels for carrying the royal mail to the West Indies are building or have been built in Greenock, and it is to supply 6 with their machinery. This place is celebrated for the construction of boilers and other machinery for steam-vessels. Boat-building is a considerable branch of trade. Rope and sail-making, commenced in 1725, are extensively carried on at several works. Sugar-refining is here prosecuted to a greater extent than any where else in Scotland. The first house for this purpose was erected in 1765, and now there are eleven. The town has iron foundries, manufactories of pottery ware, flint-glass, glass bottles, and silk and felt hats; with 4 breweries, 2 tanneries, 2 soap and candle works, besides other establishments common in towns of this size. Straw-hat making affords employment to many females, and the manufacture of hats from rye-straw in imitation of Leghorn bonnets has been brought to great perfection. 

   One of the most extraordinary works of the kind to be met with in any country, is that by which the town is plentifully supplied with water for domestic use, and machinery to a prodigious extent can be impelled. It was accomplished in 1827 by an association called the Shaws Water company, constituted by act of parliament in 1825. The work consists of an immense artificial lake or reservoir situate in the bosom of the hills, behind the town, formed by turning the course of some small streams, the principal called Shaws water, which formerly ran into the sea at Innerkip, and from which the company takes its name. From this reservoir an aqueduct passes along the mountain-range, running for several miles at an elevation of 500 feet above the level of the sea. The whole length of the aqueduct is 6½ miles; the reservoir covers 296¾ imperial acres of land, and there is a compensation-reservoir covering 40 acres, besides smaller basins. Self-acting sluices, most ingeniously constructed, prevent the danger of any overflow, and completely preserve the water during the greatest floods. There are also two extensive filters. The whole of this magnificent work was planned and executed by Mr. Robert Thom, at the expense of £52,000. In the vicinity of the town it pours down a current of water in successive falls, which impel two grist mills, a mill for cleaning rice and coffee, a paper work, a sail-cloth and cordage manufactory, a factory for spinning wool, and an extensive mill for spinning cotton, all erected on its course. The construction of the cotton-mill has been regarded with great interest, contributing as it does to impart to Greenock the character of a manufacturing town. 

   The following information regarding it, is taken from the Greenock Advertiser of 30th March, 1841. The foundation-stone of the manufactory was laid with masonic honours on 15th June, 1838 – the very day on which the railway was commenced at Greenock. The mill is an oblong building 300 feet in length, 65 in width, and four stories in height. The elevation is plain but chaste and elegant, and surpasses in appearance any building of the same kind which it has been our lot to witness. The centre portion projects, with a pediment on the top, and finishes with an octagon belfry on which is a vane resembling a first-rate steamer. There is a staircase at each end of the mill of easy ascent, with spacious landing-places. – The flats being all exactly alike, a description of one will stand for the whole. Each room is 215 feet long and 61 broad. The ceilings, which are lined with timber, are supported by two ranges of cast-iron pillars, of which there are 40 in each room. Over these pillars are transverse beams, each 9 feet apart. The apartments at the east end of the mill, which are intended for cotton and for blowing rooms, are fire-proof. They are separated from the work rooms by a stone gable – their ceilings are of arched brick-work resting on cast-iron beams, and the floors are of Arbroath flags. Those at the west end are employed as a counting room, and for warping and winding apartments. A considerable part of the ground flat is already filled with throstle frames, with which the entire apartment is intended to be occupied. The second floor contains preparing machinery, such as carding, drawing, slobbing, and finishing fly frames, entirely for throstle spinning. The third flat contains the various kinds of preparing machinery for mule spinning only; and the fourth flat is to be filled with self-acting mules. When fully at work, this mill will give employment to about 600 persons, and for their behoof the proprietors have already erected an extensive range of dwelling-houses, of the most comfortable and commodious description. Other houses are to be reared in due time, as it is desired that those employed at the work should live as nigh to it as possible. – The wheel-house stands at a distance of 21 feet from the east end of the mill. It is also a large building, of plain but neat design. Its length is 90 feet, and its breadth 33. The base is nearly 50 feet below, while the roof is about 35 feet above, the level of the road. From its bottom a tunnelled tail-race runs under the road in an oblique direction, for a distance exceeding 100 yards. This tunnel, a considerable proportion of which is 50 feet beneath the surface, and the under part of the wheel-house, have been cut through solid whinstone rock. The arch of the tunnel, and the arc on which rests the axle of the wheel, are constructed of dressed freestone, the joints of which are joggled and filled with cement. The stones forming the arc weigh from one to ten tons each, and the whole consists of 5,000 tons of dressed mason work, ten feet thick. The wheel itself is the largest and most magnificent structure of the kind in the world. It measures 70 feet 2 inches in diameter, or 220 feet 6 inches in circumference, and, with the stream furnished by the Shaws Water company, will work equal to 130 horses’ power; but, from the capacity of the buckets, and the strength of its parts, it is capable of working up to 200 horses’ power with a full supply of water. It is constructed on what is called the tension or suspension principle; the shrouding or outer rings of the wheel being braced to the centre by 32 chain cable iron bars or arms, 2¾ inches in diameter, and an equal number of diagonal braces of the same thickness. The axle of the wheel is of cast-iron, and weighs 11 tons. The bearings in which the wheel revolves, are 24 inches long and 18 inches in diameter, resting in cast-iron bushes. The centres or naves, into which the arms and braces are fixed with gibs and cutters, are 10 feet in diameter, and weigh 8½ tons each. They are of a ribbed form, with punched covings, and have prominent sockets, for receiving the ends of the arms. They have a rich and elegant appearance, and the arms radiating towards the periphery of the wheel, give an impression of lightness to the ponderous machine. The shrouding is of cast-iron, and is of 17 inches in depth. On the side which is not covered by the gearing, there are two sunk pannels with a neat “egg and dart” moulding all round the styles; and, in the body of each pannel, there is a very elegant branch of the water-lily in bas relief, which has a very handsome effect, by relieving this part of the wheel from that inexpressive plainness which is usual in such structures, and yet does not partake of that inappropriate expression of misplaced ornament, which too often gives a gingerbread appearance when applied to large machines. The weight of the wheel is 117 tons. The shrouding is composed of 64, and the teethed segment of 32 pieces, containing in all 704 teeth. The buckets are 160 in number, and each will contain 100 gallons of water. The sole of the wheel is constructed of iron plates fastened with no fewer than 20,000 rivets. The wheel performs nearly one revolution in the minute. The spur wheel and segment pinion, which works in the teethed segment of the water-wheel, weighs with its shaft 23 tons, and the pinion and main shaft into the mill weigh 13 tons. The spur wheel, the diameter of which is 18 feet 3 inches, revolves at the rate of 600 feet per minute, and the whole act together so smoothly that not the slightest shaking or noise is perceptible. – The cistern conducting the water to the wheel is of iron rivetted together, and is supported by two cast-iron beams the full width for the wheel-house. The water strikes the wheel six feet from the top of the diameter. The governor of the wheel, which is of beautiful workmanship, and the rack for the sluice, are placed on a level with the cistern. Although, as already stated, the weight of the wheel exceeds 100 tons, it revolves as smoothly and steadily as a well-adjusted pinion in a time-piece. Indeed, it is impossible for any description to give an adequate idea of the effect produced upon the spectator by the calm, majestic, but resistless force with which it moves, never deviating by an hair’s-breadth from its appointed sphere, and yet seemingly capable of rending to pieces the walls within which it is enclosed. To the east of the wheel-house a capacious store for holding cotton wool has been erected. It is capable of containing 800 bales. The building is fire-proof, having an arched roof of brick-work and stone side-walls. Besides, matters are so arranged that, in the event of fire, the whole could be covered with water in fifteen minutes Behind the wheel-house stands the gas-work for lighting the manufactory. Its roof is formed by the troughs for conveying the water from the ordinary channel to the wheel, as is also that of the boiler-house for heating the mill by steam-pipes. – The wheel which forms the stupendous piece of mechanism above described, was first set in motion by its constructor, Mr. Smith of Deanston, on 23d March, 1841. It received the name of the Hercules, but, we believe, it will be more generally called, as in time past, ‘the Big wheel.’ – Several of the falls on the Shaws water have been taken on lease for various branches of manufacture, which it is expected will ere long be in operation. 

   In connection with the Shaws water works we have to record the most awful catastrophe that ever occurred in this part of the country. On the night of Saturday the 21st of November 1835, the Whinhill dam, which forms one of the reservoirs, suddenly burst its banks in consequence of the heavy rains, and poured its contents, consisting of three millions cubic feet of water, upon the grounds below, overwhelming the eastern extremity of Greenock, and part of the suburb of Cartsdyke.4 The lateness of the hour, and the darkness of the night, added to the appalling character of the scene. About 40 persons lost their lives, and an immense amount of property was destroyed. So sweeping and so sudden was the torrent, that many of the victims were surprised in bed and drowned before they could leave their houses. Many persons made most remarkable escapes. In one instance, a man who volunteered, when the flood was at its height, to rescue two children who had been left behind in a house, discovered the bed on which they had been laid floating on the water, and its occupants sound asleep, altogether unconscious of their danger. – In the summer of the same year (25th July, 1835), a dreadful accident occurred at the quay by the bursting of the boiler of the Earl Grey steamer, when 6 persons lost their lives, and a number were seriously injured. As the railway from Greenock to Glasgow has already been described in our notice of the latter city, it may suffice to state here that the line was opened throughout on Tuesday, 23d March, 1841. 

   The following is the earliest description of Greenock which has fallen under the observation of the writer of this article, and which he quoted in a former publication.5 It is translated from a work by M. Jorevin de Rocheford, a French gentleman who visited these parts about the year 1670. “Krinock.6 – This town is the passage of the Scotch post and packet-boat to Ireland. Its port is good, sheltered by the mountains which surround it, and by a great mole, by the side of which are ranged the barks and other vessels for the conveniency of loading and unloading more easily.” The “great mole” here mentioned was merely a rude landing-place. Crawfurd, who wrote in 1710, at the time when the harbour was completed, describes Greenock (p. 124), is “the chief town upon the coast, well built, consisting chiefly of one principal street, about a quarter of a mile in length.” About this time the houses were covered with thatch; in 1716, there were only 6 slated houses in the place. In 1782, Semple, the continuator of Crawford’s work, said: “About two years ago John Shaw Stewart of Greenock, Esq., caused survey and draw a plan of the town, and laid off a great part of the adjacent ground regularly for building upon, having feued off a number of steadings, where several good houses are built, part of which is to be called the New Town of Greenock. The town has greatly increased in building within these thirty years, being compact with elegant houses, a number of them slated. Good streets, and well-causeyed, some of them very broad, particularly north of the New (or Middle) church.” To describe the town at the present day:- in the eastern, which is also the oldest portion, the streets are, in general, irregular and narrow with not a few dirty alleys; but towards the west, in which direction the town has of late years extended, there are several elegant and spacious streets, while numbers of beautiful villas are scattered on the heights behind, and along the shore. Wordsworth, who visited this place some years ago, celebrated it in one of his “Itinerary Sonnets,” which we may here transcribe, as being slightly connected with this branch of our subject; fervently wishing that the reversed condition which the poet has, in the concluding lines, so gloomily foreshadowed, may be far distant. 

“GREENOCK. 

Per me si va nella Citta dolente. 

We have not passed into a doleful city, 

We who were led to-day down a grim dell, 

By some too boldly named ‘the Jaws of Hell:’7 

Where be the wretched ones, the sights for pity? 

These crowded streets resound no plaintive ditty:- 

As from the hive where bees in summer dwell, 

Sorrow seems here excluded, and that knell, 

It neither damps the gay, nor checks the witty. 

Alas! too busy Rival of old Tyre, 

Whose merchants princes were, whose decks were thrones; 

Soon may the punctual sea in vain respire 

To serve thy need, in union with that Clyde 

Whose rustling current brawls o’er noisy stones, 

The poor, the lonely, herdsman’s joy and pride!” 

   “One of the most remarkable circumstances connected with Greenock is the proximity of the Highlands. But a few miles off, across the frith of Clyde, this untameable territory stretches away into Alpine solitudes of the wildest character; so that it is possible to sit in a Greenock drawing-room amidst a scene of refinement not surpassed, and of industry unexampled, in Scotland, with the long cultivated Lowlands at your back, and let the imagination follow the eye into a blue distance where things still exhibit nearly the same moral aspect as they did a thousand years ago. It is said that when Rob Roy haunted the opposite coasts of Dumbartonshire, he found it very convenient to sail across and make a selection from the goods displayed in the Greenock fairs; on which occasion the ellwands and staves of civilization would come into collision with the broad-swords and dirks of savage warfare, in such a style as might have served to show the extremely slight hold which the law had as yet taken of certain parts of our country.”8 

   From its nearness to the Highlands, a great proportion of the inhabitants of Greenock are either Highlanders by birth, or derive their lineage from that region, as their surnames plainly testify. We learn from the Old Statistical Account that, in the 3,387 families which composed the population of Greenock in 1792, there were 1,825 heads of families from the Highlands, who were classified thus: born in Argyleshire – among whom the prevailing name is Campbell – 1,433; in Buteshire 78; and in the northern counties 314. According to the same authority, one might at that time walk from one end of the town to the other, passing many people, without hearing a word of any language but Gaelic. After the lapse of half-a-century, the above holds true, though only to a modified extent, there being now a greater infusion of Lowlanders, and the Gaelic tongue not being in such common use. 

   With regard to public buildings, the most conspicuous is the custom-house, an oblong Grecian edifice, with a splendid portico, situated upon the quay, where – not being encumbered with contiguous buildings – it is seen to much advantage. It was erected in 1818, at the expense of £30,000. The town-hall and public offices were planned in 1765 by James Watt, and finished the following year: considerable additions have since been made to them. The tontine, an inn and hotel in Cathcart-street, is a substantial and handsome structure erected, in 1801, at the expense of £10,000. Nearly opposite are the exchange buildings, finished in 1814, at a cost of £7,000, and containing 2 assembly-rooms and other accommodation. Behind these buildings, is the theatre, which was erected in the beginning of this century by Stephen Kemble. An hospital or infirmary was erected in 1809, and a jail or bridewell in 1810. A commodious news-room was opened in Cathcart-square in 1821. The gas-work was constructed in 1828, and cost £8,731. The churches will be noticed afterwards. 

   James Watt, the celebrated improver of the steam-engine, was a native of Greenock. A fine statue of him by Chantrey, the expense of which was raised by subscription, is placed in a building in Union-street, which is appropriated as a library. This building cost about £3,000, which was defrayed by Mr. Watt of Soho, only surviving son of the great man whom it and the statue are intended to commemorate. On the front of the pedestal of the statue is the following inscription from the elegant pen of Jeffrey:- “The inhabitants of Greenock have erected this statue of James Watt, not to extend a fame already identified with the miracles of steam, but to testify the pride and reverence with which he is remembered in the place of his nativity, and their deep sense of the great benefits his genius has conferred on mankind. Born 19th January, 1736. Died at Heath-field in Staffordshire, August 25th, 1819.” On the right of the pedestal is a shield, containing the arms of Greenock, and, on the left, emblems of strength and speed. On the back is an elephant, in obvious allusion to the beautiful parallel drawn by the writer of the inscription between the steam-engine and the trunk of that animal, which is equally qualified to lift a pin or to rend an oak. Watt is the only celebrated person to whom Greenock has given birth. Galt, the novelist, a native of Irvine, passed part of his early days in Greenock; and, having returned toward the end of his life, he died here in 1839. Here also died Burns’ “Highland Mary,” in memory of whom it is in contemplation to raise a monument. 

   For a long time the inhabitants of Greenock were almost exclusively devoted to commerce, and literature and science received little countenance at their hands. In 1769, when John Wilson, a poet of considerable merit, was admitted as master of the grammar-school, the magistrates and ministers made it a condition that he should abandon “the profane and unprofitable art of poem-making,” – a stipulation which 30 years afterwards drew from the silenced bard the following acrimonious remarks in a letter addressed to his son George when a student at Glasgow college:- “I once thought to live by the breath of fame; but how miserably was I disappointed when, instead of having my performances applauded in crowded theatres, and being caressed by the great – for what will not a poetaster in his intoxicating delirium of possession dream? – I was condemned to bawl myself to hoarseness to wayward brats, to cultivate sand and wash Ethiopians, for all the dreary days of an obscure life – the contempt of shopkeepers and brutish skippers.” Since that time a better taste, and more liberality of sentiment, have prevailed, and some attention has been paid to the cultivation of science. In 1783, the Greenock library was instituted; and, in 1807, a collection of Foreign literature in connection with it was commenced. In 1841 this library contained about 10,000 volumes. It is the one already mentioned as occupying the building erected by Mr. Watt. Another library – the Mechanics’ – was formed in 1832. An elegant Mechanics’ Institution was built in 1840: it sometimes has 800 students. There is also a Scientific association. Letter-press printing was established here in 1765, by one MacAlpine, who was also the first bookseller. It was confined to handbills, jobbing, &c, till 1810, when the first book was printed by William Scott. In 1821, Mr. John Mennons began the printing of books, and since that time many accurate and elegant specimens of typography, original and selected, have issued from his press. With regard to newspapers the Greenock Advertiser, a respectable journal, published twice a-week, has existed since 1802. The Clyde Commercial List appears three times a-week. The Observer, published once a-week, was begun in 1840. The Intelligencer was established in 1833, but was discontinued in about 3 years afterwards. 

   The town possesses 3 banking establishments; namely, the Greenock bank, established in 1785; the Renfrewshire bank, in 1802; and the Greenock Union bank in 1840. The last-mentioned is a joint-stock company; the other two are private banks. There are also 4 branches of Glasgow and Edinburgh banks; a Provident bank; and 24 agencies for insurance offices. Charitable and religious institutions are numerous and liberally supported. 

   Till 1741 the affairs of the burgh were superintended by the superior, or by a baron-bailie appointed by him. By a charter dated in that year, and by another dated in 1751, Sir John Shaw, the superior, gave power to the feuars and sub-feuars to meet yearly for the purpose of choosing 9 feuars residing in Greenock, to be managers of the burgh funds, of whom 2 to be bailies, 1 treasurer, and 6 councillors. The charter of 1751 gave power to hold weekly courts, to imprison and punish delinquents, to choose officers of court, to make laws for maintaining order, and to admit merchants and tradesmen as burgesses on payment of 30 merks Scots – £1 13s. 4d. sterling. It is believed there is no instance on record of any burgesses ever having been admitted. The qualification of councillor was, being a feuar and resident within the town. The election was in the whole feuars, resident and non-resident. The mode of election of the magistrates and council was by signed lists, personally delivered by the voter, stating the names of the councillors he wished to be removed, and the persons whom he wished substituted in their room. In 1825, 497 feuars voted. The commissioners on municipal corporations stated in the Report, in 1833, that “this manner of electing is much approved of in the town.” They also reported, that “the affairs of this nourishing town appear to have been managed with great care and ability. The expenditure is economical, the remuneration to officers moderate, and the accounts of the different trusts are clear and accurate.” The municipal government and jurisdiction of the town continued to be administered under the charter of 1751, without any alteration or enlargement, until the Burgh Reform Act of 1833 came into operation. Under that act, the town-council consists of a provost, 4 bailies, a treasurer, and 10 councillors, for the election of whom the town is divided into 5 wards, 4 of which return 3 councillors each, and one returns 4: the ward having 4 councillors has a preponderance of electors. The bailie-court of Greenock has now the same jurisdiction, both civil and criminal, competent to a royal burgh. By an act of parliament passed in 1840, Cartsdyke forms part of the burgh of Greenock. In 1839-40, the corporation revenue was £22,564. In virtue of the reform act of 1832, Greenock sends one member to parliament; previously, the town had no voice in the representation. The parliamentary and municipal boundaries are identical. In 1840, the constituency was 1,168. 

   The noble family of Cathcart take from this town their second title in the peerage, Baron Greenock, conferred in 1807. They are descended from Sir John Shaw of Greenock, who died in 1752, through his only child Marion, and inherit feu-duties in the town to a considerable amount, being that part of the Shaw estate which was not entailed on the family of Shaw Stewart of Blackhall, now also of Greenock. 

   Till 1815, the sheriff-court for the whole of Renfrewshire was held at Paisley. In that year an additional sheriff-substitute, to be resident at Greenock, was appointed; and by an act of court promulgated by the sheriff-depute, dated 3d May, it was declared that the district or territory falling under the ordinary jurisdiction of the court at Greenock should be termed “the Lower Ward,” and that it should in the meantime consist of the towns and parishes of Greenock and Port-Glasgow, and the parish of Innerkip. To this ward the parish of Kilmalcolm has since been annexed. 

   In 1834, the parishes forming the Lower Ward were, with Erskine in Renfrewshire, Largs in Ayrshire, and Cumbray in Bute, erected into a presbytery, called the presbytery of Greenock. 

   In January 1838, when the Commissioners of Religious instruction visited Greenock, it was composed of 3 parishes quoad civilia, the Old or West, the Middle, and the East; and of 3 quoad sacra, the North, St. Andrews, and the South. 

   1. OLD or WEST CHURCH. – This is the original parish, from which the others have, from time to time, been disjoined. It is partly landward, and partly town. Quoad sacra its greatest length is 3½ miles, its greatest breadth 2¾. According to a census taken by the minister and elders, its population quoad sacra, in 1835, was 7,863, of whom there belonged to the Established church, 4,212; to other denominations, 2,613; not known to belong to any denomination, 1,038. The original church was built in the end of the 16th century, and enlarged in 1677. About 20 years after this enlargement, the masters of vessels and seamen of the port, erected a gallery in the south aisle. This church is in the form of a cross, with a small belfry, and stands in the middle of an extensive burying-ground close by the shore. It was in such a bad state of repair, that on 16th October, 1837, it was formally condemned by the presbytery, and the heritors appointed to build a new one on another site. Accordingly, a new and elegant church, accommodating 1,400 persons, has been erected in Nelson-street, Mr. Cousin architect. The benefice of this parish is considered the most lucrative in Scotland. The following were the emoluments and advantages of the minister, as reported by the Commissioners in 1838:- 

Stipend from teinds, average of crops 1833 and 1834, £286  14  11¼ 
Annuity bond, town of Greenock, 25   0   0 
Feu-duties from glebe, 406  12   4 
 £718   7   3¼ 

The minister has also a manse and glebe. It will be observed that the greater part of the above is derived from feuing out the glebe for building, which was allowed to be done at an average rent of £100 per acre, by an act of parliament obtained in 1801. – The United Secession congregation, which meets in Innerkip-street, was first established in 1748. The present place of worship was built in 1803, at a cost of £1,202 9s. 1d.; and £153 15s. 8d. has since been expended in building a session-house, and making other repairs. Sittings 730. Stipend £180. – Another congregation of the same body, established in 1832, has a church in Union-street, which was built, in 1834, at a cost of £2,400. Sittings 950. Stipend £164. – The Relief congregation, Sir Michael-street, established in 1808, assembles in a building erected in 1807, at an expense of £2,400. Sittings 1,498. Stipend £200, besides a house and garden, rented by the congregation for the minister’s use, at £27. There is a colleague, who has a stipend of £180. – The Independent congregation, Sir Michael-street, was established 1805. Church built same year, cost £1,250. Sittings 750. Stipend £110.9 – The Episcopal congregation, Union-street, was established in 1824, when a chapel was built and consecrated. Sittings 400. Stipend £125. – The Roman Catholic congregation, established about 1809, has a chapel, built 1814-15, which cost about £3,000. Sittings 761. The annual emolument of the former minister was £100, but the present one has never received any. It may be diminished, but not increased. The minister has a house, valued at £24 per annum, but no glebe, nor any provision in lieu thereof. – The Universalist congregation, established in 1801, assembles in a hall, which is used during the week for various purposes. The hall is fitted up with forms, and will accommodate about 200. There is no regular minister. – The Holy Catholic Apostolic congregation, established in May 1834, has a church built in 1834-5, which cost about £1,170, and is capable of containing from 500 to 600. In 1837 there were a minister and 2 subordinate ministers, the stipend paid to whom in that year amounted to £180. – The Wesleyan Methodist congregation, established in or about 1811, has a chapel built in 1814; cost not known. Sittings 400. There is no fixed provision for a minister. 

   2. NEW or MIDDLE CHURCH. – This, which is wholly a town parish, was disjoined from the original parish of Greenock in 1754. Quoad sacra its length is ⅓, and its breadth ¼ of a mile. Its population in 1838, according to a survey by the minister, was 8,223; of whom there belonged to the Established church, 4,570; to other denominations, 3,049; not known to belong to any denomination, 604. The church, which is in Cathcart-square, was built in 1757. It cost £2,388 17s. 8½d., of which £1,058 5s. 9d. was defrayed by subscriptions, and the remainder paid by the corporation. That sum does not include the cost of the steeple and clock, which were erected by subscription in 1787. The steeple is 146 feet high. Sittings 1,497. Stipend £275, besides £20 for communion elements, with a manse and garden, but no glebe. – The Seamen’s chapel was built in 1831, at a cost of £120, by a Seamen’s Friend society, for the benefit of the seafaring population of Greenock, which amounts to about 2,500, about 1,000 of whom are generally at home. Sittings from 300 to 350. Chaplain’s salary £26 annually. 

   3. EAST CHURCH. – This parish is partly landward and partly town, and was disjoined from the Old or West parish in 1809. Quoad sacra its extent is 7 square miles; its greatest length 2½, and its greatest breadth 3½ miles. Its population, according to a census taken by the elders in the end of 1835, was 5,580, of whom there belonged to the Established church, 2,994; to other denominations, 2,311; not known to belong to any denomination, 275. The church was built in 1774, as a chapel-of-ease, and has never been altered since, with the exception of a very partial change in the arrangement of some of the seats. Sittings 1,053. Stipend £250, with £20 for sacramental expenses. The minister has a house allowed him by the community, and kept in repair at their expense, but no glebe, nor any provision in lieu thereof. 

   4. NORTH CHURCH. – This is a quoad sacra town parish, divided from the West parish in 1834. Its greatest length is half-a-mile, and its greatest breadth 400 yards. According to a survey made by the elders, as reported in 1838, the population was 2,464, of whom there belonged to the Established church, 1,568; to other denominations, 857; not known to belong to any denomination, 39. The church was built in 1822-3, as a chapel-of-ease, and was slightly altered, but not enlarged, in 1824. It was built by a joint-stock subscription in 600 shares of £5 each, but this not proving sufficient, a further payment of about 22s. 6d. on each share was made. Sittings 1,165. Stipend £200, besides £10 for communion expenses at each sacrament. – The Gaelic station, Ardgowan-street, established in May, 1832, is maintained by the Congregational Union of Scotland. Sittings 200. The minister receives £20 per annum from the Union. Public worship is performed twice each Sunday in the Gaelic language. 

   5. SOUTH CHURCH. – This quoad sacra parish consists of a small compact district of the town, and was disjoined from the West parish in 1834. By a survey by the minister, reported in 1838, the population was 2,116, of whom there belonged to the Established church, 1,110; to other denominations, 928; not known to belong to any denomination, 78. The church was built by subscription in 1791, and cost £1,300. It was originally intended for a Gaelic chapel, and service is still performed in Gaelic in the forenoon, but in English in the afternoon. Sittings 1,300. Stipend £260. – The Baptist congregation, Tobago-street, was first established about 1809. Their chapel was built in 1821, and cost £1,250. Sittings 550. No stated minister. 

   6. ST. ANDREWS. – Another quoad sacra parish, which contains a small section of the town, and was divided from the West parish in 1835. According to a census taken by the minister and elders, reported in 1838, the population was 2,117, of whom there belonged to the Establishment, 1,095; to other denominations, 939; not known to belong to any denomination, 83. The church, which is a beautiful Gothic building, from a design by Mr. Henderson of Edinburgh, was opened on the 29th May, 1836. It was built by private subscription and aid from the General Assembly’s church-extension fund, at an expense – including school – of £2,662 2s. The grant from the Assembly’s committee amounted to £350. Sittings 945. Stipend £150. – The United Secession congregation, Nicholson-street, was established in 1790. The church was built in 1791, at an expense of £1,400. Sittings 1,106. Stipend £200. – The Reformed Presbyterian congregation, West Stewart-street, was first established about 1824. The church was built in 1833, and cost £500. Sittings 447. Stipend £80. – The Unitarian congregation, Sir Michael-street, was first established in 1831, and assembles in the second floor of a building which is fitted up as a chapel at a cost of about £150. Sittings 250. The minister, from choice, received no emolument in 1838. 

   7, 8. ST. THOMAS’S and CARTSDYKE. – Other two quoad sacra parishes, bearing these names respectively, have been formed since the visit of the Religious Instruction Commissioners in January 1838, from the appendix to whose report the foregoing ecclesiastical details have been chiefly taken. 

   From the abstract of education returns made to parliament in 1834, it appears that there were no parochial schools in Greenock, but that of other schools there were in all 36, with 52 instructors, the greatest number attending which were, from Lady Day to Michaelmas 1833, 2,661; and from Michaelmas 1833 to Lady Day 1834, 2,937. The grammar-school, with a rector and mathematical teacher, is under the control of the magistrates. The Highlanders’ academy, which was erected in 1836, has upwards of 300 pupils. 

   There is authentic information as to the population of Greenock from a pretty early period. In 1695, according to a survey made for the purpose of a general poll-tax, there were 367 families, which, estimating 4½ for each family, gives a population of 1,651 souls.10 By a survey generally said to have been made in 1735, but which, it is believed, is assignable to the year 1741, the population was 4,100. By 1755 there was a slight decrease, the return to Dr. Webster being only 3,858. In 1782 Semple estimated the inhabitants at 12,000. By the government enumerations, the population, exclusive of seamen, was, in 1801, 17,458; and in 1831, 27,571. Houses, in 1831, 2,577. Assessed property, in 1815, £52,507.

1  According to the popular belief, Greenock received its name from a green oak, which, it is said, once stood upon the shore; but this seems a mere play upon words, and there is no reason to suppose that any such oak ever existed. The name may be derived from the British Graenag, signifying a gravelly or sandy place; or from the Gaelic, Grianaig, signifying a sunny bay. Both these terms are applicable to the site of Greenock, which has a sandy and gravelly soil and is finely exposed to the sun on the margin of a beautiful bay. The last derivation is the most probable, and in support of it we must add that the name of the place is still pronounced Grianaig by the Highland portion of the population. 

2  Drummond’s Travels, London, 1754, p. 21, folio. 

3  Chalmers’ Caledonia, Vol. III., p. 845. 

4  In justice to Mr. Thom it must be stated, that the Whinhill dam was not constructed by him. It was formed before the works were projected, and was purchased by the company in 1829. 

5  Views in Renfrewshire. Lizars, Edinburgh, 1839. 

6  Krinock – such is the orthography employed by the Frenchman, who must have picked up the names of places as he best could. Travellers’ Guides and Road Books having in his day been unknown. 

7  The poet had, we presume, approached Greenock from lnverary, by way of LOCH GOIL: see that article. 

8  Chambers’ Gazetteer. 

9  This congregation has recently removed to a new and handsome chapel. 

10  Wilson’s Survey of Renfrewshire, p. 215. 

2 thoughts on “Greenock, pp.706-714.

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