Sunday 4 September 2016

Cowan's Corner

This photograph is of the north west side of Cathcart Square in Greenock and is locally known as Cowan's Corner and there is an interesting story surrounding this empty space!

When Greenock's Municipal Buildings were being designed in the 1880s, the owner of this piece of land refused to sell to the Corporation.  There were shops and office on the site - you can see a photograph of how it looked on the McLean Museum website.  So, the new Municipal Buildings had to be build around the standing buildings.  Ironically it remained that way until Greenock was bombed during the Second World War in May of 1941 when the corner was destroyed, but the Municipal Buildings received much less damage! 

Robert Cowan was a draper and silk merchant in the town, the son of Archibald Cowan, a tailor and Elizabeth Turner.  In 1832 Robert married Jane McIver, daughter of Captain David McIver.  As this extract from Fowler's Commercial Directory 1836-1837 shows, Robert Cowan already had premises at the corner of Cathcart Square and Hamilton Street (may have once been his father's).  His home was at 25 Anne Street.

He seems to have been a very successful and well thought-of business man.  He two daughters - the younger daughter, Mary Elizabeth died in 1865.  By this time the family were living in Union Street.  His other daughter, Jane Boyd, married in 1862 a Glasgow merchant, Lawrence Bennett Robertson, the son of Andrew Robertson (woollen merchant) and Margaret Bennett.

Robert Cowan died from heart disease in 1867 leaving a substantial estate both in property and business to his daughter Jane Boyd Robertson.  She and her husband took over the running of the business, and it was with Lawrence Bennett Robertson that negotiations into the disposal of "Cowan's Corner" began.  The Corporation refused to pay the compensation Robertson demanded for giving over the land and therefore the Municipal Buildings had to be built around the area - the original design having to be amended to fit in with these circumstances.  Later a fine set of tenements with shops underneath were built which fitted in rather well with the surrounding area - look here.

There were many complaints at the time as the above newspaper cutting shows.

The Cowan and Robertson family are buried in Greenock Cemetery.  The headstone reads -

In memory of our beloved daughter Mary Elizabeth who departed this life November 15, 1865.
Robert Cowan fell asleep in Jesus on the 18 April 1867 aged 65 years
Jane McIver died 10 October 1881
Jane Boyd wife of L B robertson died May 1881
Lawrence B Robertson died 31 August 1889

It is interesting to note that Robert Cowan's grandson - Robert Cowan Robertson (1836 - 1910)  became a well known marine and landscape artist.  He was fond of sailing around the Western Isles and built a studio on Barra.  He was a friend of the artist Samuel John Peploe (1871-1935).  You can view some of his work on the McLean Museum collection at ArtUK.  My particular favourite is "Tug Standing By a Schooner in a Gale" 1899.


  1. Interesting details. Greenock has a fascinating history and I've long thought that Victoria Tower is the finest tall building in Scotland. Great views of it from Well Park framed by cabbage palms which give it an exotic jungle look like Inverclyde's very own Angkor Wat.

    1. That made me laugh! Greenock jungle - heard it called that, but not for the reasons you suggest, although we do get many a downpour!


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