Greenock - Encyclopedia

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GREENOCK, a municipal and police burgh and seaport of Renfrewshire, Scotland, on the southern shore of the Firth of Clyde, 23 m. W. by N. of Glasgow by the Caledonian and the Glasgow & South-Western railways, 21 m. by the river and firth. Pop. (1901) 68,142. The town has a water frontage of nearly 4 m. and rises gradually to the hills behind the town in which are situated, about 3 m. distant, Loch Thorn and Loch Gryfe, from both of which is derived the water supply for domestic use, and for driving several mills and factories. The streets are laid out on the comparatively level tract behind the firth, the older thoroughfares and buildings lying in the centre. The west end contains numerous handsome villas and a fine esplanade, i 2m. long, running from Prince's Pier to Fort Matilda, which is supplied with submarine mines for the defence of the river. The capacious bay, formerly known as the Bay of St Lawrence from a religious house long since demolished, is protected by a sandbank that ends here, and is hence known as the Tail of the Bank. The fairway between this bank, which begins to the west of Dumbarton, and the southern shore constitutes the safest anchorage in the upper firth. There is a continuous line of electric tramways, connecting with Port Glasgow on the east and Gourock on the west, a total distance of 72 m. The annual rainfall amounts to 64 in. and Greenock thus has the reputation of being the wettest town in Scotland.

Many of the public buildings are fine structures. The municipal buildings, an ornate example of Italian Renaissance, with a tower 244 ft. high, were opened in 1887. The custom house on the old steamboat quay, in classic style with a Doric portico, dates from 1818. The county buildings (1867) have a tower and spire 112 ft. high. The Watt Institution, founded in 1837 by a son of the famous engineer, James Watt, contains the public library (established in 1783), the Watt scientific library (presented in 1816 by Watt himself), and the marble statue of James Watt by Sir Francis Chantrey. Adjoining it are the museum and lecture hall, the gift of James McLean, opened in 1876. Other buildings are the sheriff court house, and the Spence Library, founded by the widow of William Spence the mathematician. In addition to numerous board schools there are the Greenock academy for secondary education, the technical college (1900), the school of art, and a school of navigation and engineering. The charitable institutions include the infirmary; the cholera hospital; the eye infirmary; the fever reception house; Sir Gabriel Wood's mariners' asylum, an Elizabethan building erected in 1851 for the accommodation of aged merchant seamen; and the Smithson poorhouse and lunatic asylum, built beyond the southern boundary in 1879. Near Albert Harbour stands the old west now the north parish church (a Gothic edifice dating from 1591) containing some stained-glass windows by William Morris; in its kirkyard Burns's "Highland Mary" was buried (1786). The west parish church in Nicholson Street (1839) is in the Italian Renaissance style and has a campanile. The middle parish church (1759) in Cathcart Square is in the Classic style with a fine spire. Besides burial grounds near the infirmary and attached to a few of the older churches, a beautiful cemetery, 90 acres in extent, has been laid out in the southwestern district. The parks and open spaces include Wellington Park, Well Park in the heart of the town (these were the gift of Sir Michael Shaw-Stewart), Whin Hill, Lyle Road - a broad drive winding over the heights towards Gourock, constructed as a "relief work" in the severe winter of 1879-1880.

Greenock is under the jurisdiction of a town council with provost and bailies. It is a parliamentary burgh, represented by one member. The corporation owns the supplies of water (the equipment of works and reservoirs is remarkably complete), gas, electric light and power, and the tramways (leased to a company). The staple industries are shipbuilding (established in 1760) and sugar refining (1765). Greenock-built vessels have always been esteemed, and many Cunard, P. & O. and Allan liners have been constructed in the yards. The town has been one of the chief centres of the sugar industry. Other important industries include the making of boilers, steam-engines, locomotives, anchors, chain-cables, sailcloth, ropes, paper, woollen and worsted goods, besides general engineering, an aluminium factory, a flax-spinning mill, distilleries and an oil-refinery. The seal and whale fisheries, once vigorously prosecuted, are extinct, but the fishing-fleets for the home waters and the Newfoundland grounds are considerable. Till 1772 the town leased the first harbour (finished in 1710) from Sir John Shaw, the superior, but acquired it in that and the following year, and a graving dock was opened in 1786. Since then additions and improvements have been periodically in progress, and there are now several tidal harbours - among them Victoria harbour, Albert harbour, the west harbour, the east harbour, the northern tidal harbour, the western tidal harbour, the great harbour and James Watt dock (completed in 1886 at a cost of X650,000 with an area of 2000 ft. by 400 ft. with a depth at low water of 32 ft.), Garvel graving dock and other dry docks. The quayage exceeds ioo acres in area and the quay walls are over 3 m. in length. Both the Caledonian and the Glasgow & South-Western railways (in Prince's Pier the latter company possesses a landing-stage nearly 1400 ft. long) have access to the quays. From first to last the outlay on the harbour has exceeded £i,50o,000.

In the earlier part of the 17th century Greenock was a fishing village, consisting of one row of thatched cottages. A century later there were only six slated houses in the place. In 1635 it was erected by Charles I. into a burgh of barony under a charter granted to John Shaw, the government being administered by a baron-bailie, or magistrate, appointed by the superior. Its commercial prosperity received an enormous impetus from the Treaty of Union (1707), under which trade with America and the West Indies rapidly developed. The American War of Independence suspended progress for a brief interval, but revival set in in 1783, and within the following seven years shipping trebled in amount. Meanwhile Sir John Shaw - to whom and to whose descendants, the Shaw-Stewarts, the town has always been indebted - by charter (dated 1741 and 1751) had empowered the householders to elect a council of nine members, which proved to be the most liberal constitution of any Scots burgh prior to the Reform Act of 1832, when Greenock was raised to the status of a parliamentary burgh with the right to return one member to parliament. Greenock was the birthplace of James Watt, William Spence (1777-1815) and Dr John Caird (1820-1898), principal of Glasgow University, who died in the town and was buried in Greenock cemetery. John Galt, the novelist, was educated in Greenock, where he also served some time in the custom house as a clerk. Rob Roy is said to have raided the town in 1715.

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