September this year marks the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower which took the Pilgrims (mostly Puritans) from Plymouth across the Atlantic to America in 1620. In 1957 a fabulous replica of the orginal Mayflower called Mayflower II was built at Brixham, Devon using traditional methods where possible. Interestingly, all the ropes for the Mayflower II were made by the Gourock Ropeworks in Port Glasgow. Stuart Upham of the firm J W & A Upham shipbuilders who built the replica stated that "The Gourock Ropework Company Ltd are probably the only people in the world capable of producing the ropes to our specification". For this ship, the Ropeworks produced 400 ropes of different sizes.
There's a wonderful film in the National Library of Scotland's collection showing how the ropes were made. It is called "Truck to Keelson: Ropes for Mayflower II" (click to view). 'Truck to keelson' is a nautical term that means from top to bottom of a ship.
Former Gourock Ropeworks building in Port Glasgow
The film, shot in the Gourock Ropeworks building in Port Glasgow, shows how the ropes were spun and the various personnel involved in the process. There's a background track of sea shanties sung by the Greenock Male Voice Choir and commentary by Jameson Clark.
There's another fabulous film (Pathe News) showing more details of the replica ship and her crew as they get ready to set off from Plymouth in 1957.
The replica has now undergone renovations in time for the celebrations surrounding the 400th anniversary and you can read more about it on the Mayflower400 website. A vast tourism project is centered around the replica ship.
Let us here in Inverclyde be proud of the fact that in the 1950s a local company had the skills and knowledge accrued through two centuries of ropemaking to be asked to be part of this historic venture.
Harry (Chippy) McNish was the carpenter on board Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship Endurance on her epic voyage to the Antarctic in 1914 and the play "Shackleton's Carpenter" tells his story.
It was performed at the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock on Sunday evening and what a magnificent performance was given by the actor Malcolm Rennie who played Port Glasgow man, McNish. It is a one man show, and Rennie held everyone's attention with his portrayal of McNish and his story told in flashbacks at the sad end of his life.
The play was written by Gail Louw and is on tour at the moment. You can find out more details at the Shackleton's Carpenter site.
Check out my previous blog post about Port Glasgow hero, Chippy McNish here.
A beautiful visitor to Custom House Quay in Greenock recently has been the wonderful sailing ship Tenacious. Great to see a sailing ship on the River Clyde.
She is part of the fleet of the Jubilee Sailing Trust who state "Aboard our voyages we liberate people facing challenges in their lives from feelings of being restricted, trapped or disconnected from people and the world around us."
Seeing Tenacious at such a historic setting in Greenock made me think of how this place would have looked back in time when this was a busy port.
I'm sure it impressed not just locals, but many of Greenock's overseas visitors from the cruise ships who were here when Tenacious was in residence.
This fantastic mural can be seen on the side wall of Port Glasgow swimming pool on Bay Street. It was put there just last week. The artist is Jim Strachan (of RIG Arts) and he has depicted Port Glasgow's lost industrial past and gives a vivid glimpse into just how busy and important the town was in former times. The mural shows many aspects of Port Glasgow's heritage.
The mural's situation is almost right where Port Glasgow's dry dock (graving dock) once stood. Built in 1762 it was the first to be constructed in Scotland. (It is now covered by the Health Centre car park.)
Lamont's shipbuilding yard is also depicted with the workers finishing their shift and streaming out of the yard to go home for their tea.
Many boats and steamers belching smoke can be seen in the harbour. On the quayside are the horse drawn carts which serviced the docks, carrying cargo, coal and provisions for the boats.
I think my favourite part of the mural is on the far left. Here you can see the 6ft high weather vane depicting a sailing ship being hoisted to the top of the town buildings.
This is such a wonderful mural - so full of life and energy. I'm sure it will prove very popular in Port Glasgow.
This monument in Coronation Park in Port Glasgow is in
memory of the 20 people who died in a boating accident in the River Clyde on 14
The pleasure motor boat ‘Ocean’ had left from Inchgreen for
a trip to Ardentinny on Loch Long.However the weather became bad and they headed for the more sheltered
Gareloch.As it entered the Gareloch, the
boat was swamped by a heavy wave and sunk.
Twenty people, including six members of the Graham family
from Port Glasgow, including a two year old child, drowned.There were only three survivors.
A very fitting memorial overlooking the River Clyde.
If you are going to be visiting Greenock and the local area and want to do some family history research then here are some ideas and resources. First of all, download a local map from the Inverclyde Council website.
The Watt Institution (Watt Library and McLean Museum and Art Gallery) has an outstanding collection of books and resources which can be a great help in family history research. It is open from 10 till 4 from Wednesday to Saturday (check their site for opening times). You can check out many of their resources online by following the links here.
You may know from your previous research which church your family was associated with.Many local churches have changed names over the years or are no longer used as places of worship.However you can still get photographs of the building and some may be open because they are used as shops or warehouses.If a church is still open for worship, then if you visit on a Sunday you will be made most welcome.
Some local churches have their own websites -
Lyle Kirk(including the former Ardgowan Parish Church, Finnart St Paul’s Church and Old West Kirk).
Inverclyde Council have a list of local cemeteries.Most local cemeteries are open every day.Check the Councilwebsite for details.
You can download a brochure from Inverclyde Council which gives lots of information about some of those who are buried in the Duncan Street and Inverkip Street Cemeteries as well as Greenock Cemetery.There are details of walks which take you around the Cemetery to see some interesting graves.Of particular interest is the James Watt Memorial Cairnand the grave of Highland Mary, the sweetheart of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.
Other Local Information
Inverclyde Councilhave a wide range of maps, brochures and leaflets that can be downloaded from their website.These are a fabulous resource for visitors and locals alike.
Port Glasgow Heritage Walk
If you want to know more about Port Glasgow and its heritage then download the Heritage Walk booklet.
I often get inquiries from people researching an Inverclyde connection in their family history. Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow, as well as the villages of Inverkip and Kilmacolm were once part of Renfrewshire which makes things a wee bit confusing sometimes. I've updated my Family History Research Leaflet because many of the links (especially those of Inverclyde Council) were no longer working or had been moved.
If you are interested in researching your family history, then here are a few online resources to get you started.
Our local council have an incredible amount of online information available.
Of specific interest is the Intimations section which contains all the birth, death, and marriage details which were posted in the local press from 1800-1918.
Another section contains Post Office Directories for the area from 1783-1912.These list people, their occupations and addresses - a bit like a telephone directory.
Inverclyde Council have a huge collection of old photographsof the area which give an amazing insight into the old streets and living conditions of the area.
Inverclyde’s Great War- lots of information about local people who fought and died during World War I.Some biographical details and photographs are included.
Old Local Maps
Greenock has seen many changes over the years and perhaps the street where your ancestor lived doesn’t appear on modern maps.The National Library of Scotlandhas a site which has old town plans and maps for all of Scotland.
Just type in the street and town and Google will find it for you and show you a map of the area.
A good, free site for some census information for a lot of Britain (only certain years in some places) is FreeCen.It has census information for Renfrewshire for 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871.
Run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Family Search contains lots of information of births and marriages in Renfrewshire.
I've worked out a Heritage Walk for Port Glasgow which takes in many of the important aspects of the town's history and heritage. Starting at Newark Castle, the walk takes you around several interesting sites. The booklet includes a map and directions along with more photographs and links.
Click to download the Port Glasgow Heritage Walk.
There's an old building in the graveyard behind Largs town centre, and what's inside is truly amazing! Once the private chapel of Sir Robert Montgomerie of Skelmorlie and his wife, Dame Margaret Douglas it was also their final resting place. It is called the Skelmorlie Aisle and dates from the 1630s.
My photographs hardly do the place justice. It has to be seen in person to appreciate the true beauty of the work.
Fortunately it still survives as the parish church which was once on the land was demolished in the 19th century. The Skelmorlie Aisle now under the protection of Historic Environment Scotland.
There are so many decorative elements within the small space - biblical scenes, town scenes, coats of arms, sculptured stones - it would take days to really see everything.
I was fortunate to have a very knowledgeable guide the day I was there who explained much of what we could see, otherwise I would have been totally overwhelmed.
The graveyard itself is very interesting with some really old gravestones.