Monday 15 April 2024

Greenock's first pillar boxes

 In January 1856 Greenock got its first Post Office pillar boxes.  

They are described as “octagonal in shape and about three and a half feet high.  The letters will be deposited in a box placed beneath the slit, which is guarded inside by valves from any attempt to abstract letters”.  The first three pillar boxes (or letter boxes) were placed at George Square, Brougham Street and Rue End Street.

The postmaster at the time was Thomas McMillan (1820-1889).  Thomas McMillan, born in Kilmacolm, worked in Robert Cowan’s drapery business at Cathcart Square, later going into business with another draper at premises in Hamilton Street.  A strong supporter of Viscount Melgund in the 1847 Parliamentary election when he became Greenock's MP, it was said that it was through this influence that he was appointed Postmaster for Greenock in 1848.  He remained in that office until May 1888 when he retired through ill health.

Some of the Greenock Post Office staff in 1872.

When he first became Postmaster, the post office was in Church Place (at the west side of the Mid Kirk), it was later moved to William Street then the lower floor of the Customhouse.  Later a new building was opened in Wallace Square (now Greenock’s central library)where a large staff were employed.  He was a member of Trinity UP Church (now Lyle Kirk, Union Street).  He married Janet Suttie in 1844.  The family lived at Maybank, Finnart Street, Greenock. 

Photo source - Greenock Burns Club

Janet Suttie (wife of Thomas McMillan, postmaster) was one of the daughters of Thomas Suttie (1788-1857) and his wife Janet Brown (1791-1857).  Thomas Suttie was a smith in Greenock with premises at 18 Cathcart Street.  He was a manufacturer of, among other things, post boxes.  In 1857 Suttie & Co received a large order from the East India Company to supply pillar boxes for India – 20 for Bombay and 50 for Bengal.  They were quite ornate, standing at five feet and surmounted by a crown.  Suttie also made pillar boxes for other parts of Britain.  Thomas Suttie also designed a Range Boiler which was put in use in heating Greenock’s gaol.  He provided railings for many local buildings and was employed to install a new safe in one of Greenock’s banks.  They made grates and boilers for many local premises.

Another of Suttie's daughters, Robina Suttie (1826-1896), married Hugh Macfarlane, bank agent and justice of the peace of Paisley at Innellen in 1859.  You can see a needlework sampler made by Robina in 1839.  It is now in the possession of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

Thomas Suttie died while on a visit to his daughter in Millwall, London in 1857.  His wife, Janet, died just a few months later.

Charles Suttie (1816-1897) was the son of Thomas and took over the company on his father’s death.  He married Susan Clark (1839-1899), daughter of John Clark, jeweller in Greenock in 1859.  They had a large family of seven sons and three daughters and lived at 40 Forsyth Street.  Their eldest son, John Clark Suttie died in 1882 at Cradock, South Africa.  The family emigrated on the P and O ship SS Clyde to New Zealand in 1883 and settled at Onehunga, Auckland.

You can see a photograph of a Suttie Pillar Box here.

Thursday 21 March 2024

Greenock stone faces

Where do you think this beautiful sculptured head can be found in Greenock?  Municipal Buildings, perhaps?  No - it can actually be seen on a tenement building fronting Brougham Street and Margaret Street.  There are also a couple more equally interesting sculptures on the same building.  Doesn't look too happy, does he?

Sometimes Greenock can surprises you with what it has to offer!  The building dates from 1870 and was constructed by William & James York, Contractors who also had a part in the construction of the Albert Harbour in Greenock.  The property was named Lorne Place when it was first constructed.

It came with all mod cons - kitchen ranges and venetian blinds!

Sometimes it pays to look up at buildings - you never know what you might see!

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Empress sold for firewood

One hundred years ago today, on 20 March 1924, the former Clyde Training Ship Empress left the Clyde under tow headed for Appledore, North Devon to be broken up.  The ship, built in 1859 at Pembroke Dock was originally named HMS Revenge and had been the flagship of the Mediterranean and Channel Fleets, later becoming flagship at Queenstown, Ireland. She was one of the last wooden battleships, nicknamed “wooden walls”, to be built.

HMS Revenge at Queenstown - firing a royal salute

Mr H Hinks of Appledore had purchased the Empress from the Admiralty.  The voyage from the Clyde to Appledore was not without incident due to bad weather.  A newspaper reported – “Off Milford Haven the seven tugs could only manage to hold the Revenge, but the storm was successfully weathered, and Appledore Bar reached.  Here the dangerous shoals had to be negotiated, but this was accomplished, and, much to the relief of the crew, the great wooden battleship was safely berthed in Mr Hinks’s yard, where after being thrown open to the public for a time, she will be broken up.”  Eighty men were employed to break up the ship.  The wood from the ship was sold for firewood.

Revenge had arrived in the Clyde in 1890 towed by two of the Clyde Shipping Company’s tugs, Flying Dragon and Flying Vulture.  A newspaper report described the event – “As she sailed slowly up the harbour between the lines of shipping to her berth at the east end of Stobcross Quay, her great hull, with its rows of portholes, handsome figurehead, and curiously-shaped stern, and the immense platforms on her three masts, attracted considerable attention.  

Renamed Empress, after fitting out she was taken to her anchorage in the Gareloch.  The ship could accommodate up to 400 boys aged 11-14 and was under the command of Captain G T Deverell.  The ship was taken out of commission as a training ship in July 1923.  Empress had replaced the previous Clyde training ship Cumberland which had been destroyed by fire in 1889.

Local author, Viki McDonnell has written a wonderful book “Snatched from Satan” which gives details of the setting up of the Clyde Industrial Training Ship Association in 1869 and the social and economic conditions locally which brought about its formation.  More importantly, the author gives the reader a glimpse of the lives of the boys who were sent to the ships over the years as well as the officers who were tasked with training them.  Interesting too is the involvement of local industrialists and philanthropists who funded the Association and took a large part in its life.  An excellent book with some great illustrations and old photographs detailing life on board Cumberland and Empress.

You can also read a very interesting article about the training ships on the Helensburgh Heritage Trust website.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Gourock rocks

In the 1830s the roads of Demerara were paved with stones from Gourock! 

The stones came in the form of ballast, a necessity for sailing ships for stability.  A newspaper article from 1833 describes how this came about – “Formerly the vessels sailing from Greenock to Demerara were obliged to take ballast of a useless description on board, but since the introduction of Macadamising the West Indies, the road metal forms the ballast of the vessels, and the shipowners, instead of paying for ballast, have now freight paid for taking it out”.  

Demerara (now part of Guyana) was a popular destination for Greenock ships, bringing back coffee and sugar to the town.  Demerara sugar gets its name from here.

Macadamising refers to a system developed by John LoudonMcAdam (1756-1836), an Ayrshire man who developed the system of using crushed stones to build roads.  Read more about the method here.  “Road metal” just means the broken stones.

The quarries at Gourock were the financial winners in this enterprise.  The news article continues – “The quarryman at Gourock is the contractor for supplying the metal.  The contract has proved a kind of windfall for the inhabitants of Gourock, as 1s 6d per ton is given by the contractor for breaking and gathering the stones; and some of the little boys who are expert at the business, can earn 1s 6d per day.  The stones are taken from the heaps of rubbish lying on the seashore and at the quarry”. 

Quarry Quay, Gourock

I wonder if any of those roads are still in existence?

Saturday 9 March 2024

Crawfurd of Cartsburn window

This beautiful stained glass window is to be found in the Old West Kirk in Greenock.

It shows the arms of the Macknight Crawfurd family and the motto -  quod tibi hoc alteri  - nil durum volenti - "do to others as you would have them do to you nothing is hard for the willing".

The Old West Kirk had a laird's loft especially for the Crawfurd family and a vault where many of the family were buried.  You can read about some of the memorials to the Cartsburn family on a previous post here.  

This stone can be found in the wall of the Old West Kirk, Esplanade, Greenock marking the Crawfurd burial vault.

On wall of Old West Kirk, Greenock

The Crawfurd coat of arms from the original Cartsburn House in Greenock can now be seen at Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh.  The Castle was owned by Thomas Macknight Crawfurd (1820-1909).

At Lauriston Castle, Edinburgh


Tuesday 5 March 2024

Greenock's dunghill problem - 1842

In 1842 the Poor Law Commissioners set up an enquiry into "Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Scotland".  Epidemics of cholera had swept through the country in the 1830s and highlighted the insanitary state of many towns throughout the country.  Local doctor, William Laurie was responsible for reporting on conditions in Greenock.  It does not make for easy reading:-

"The great proportion of the dwellings of the poor are situated in very narrow and confined closes or alleys leading from the main streets; these closes end generally in a cul de sac, and have little ventilation, the space between the houses being so narrow s to exclude the action of the sun on the ground.

I might almost say that there are no drains in any of these closes, for where I have noticed sewers, they are in such a filthy and obstructed state, that they create more nuisance than if they never existed.  In these closes where there is no dunghill the excrement and other offensive matter is thrown into the gutter before the door, or carried out and put in the street".

"There are no back courts to the houses, but in nearly every close there is a dunghill, seldom or never covered in; few of these are cleaned out above once or twice a year; most of them are only emptied when they can hold no more; to some of these privies are attached, and one privy serves a whole neighbourhood".

Dr William H Laurie had his office at 15 Hamilton Street in Greenock, but despite that, conditions there would seem to be no better: -  "Behind my consulting rooms, where I am now sitting, there is a large dunghill with a privy attached.  To my knowledge, that dunghill has not been emptied for six months."  In 1841 he lived at 79 Brougham Street, well away from the problem central area.

The report from 1842 continues:- “Market Street – a narrow back street almost overhung by a steep hill rising immediately behind it.  It contains the lowest description of houses built closely together, the access to the buildings being through filthy closes.  The front entrance is generally the only outlet.  In one part of the street there is a dunghill, yet it is too large to be called a dunghill.  I do not mistake its size when I say that it contains 100 cubic yards of impure filth, collected from all parts of the town.  It is never removed.  It is the stock in trade of a person who deals in dung; he retails it by cartfulls; to please his customers he always keeps a nucleus, as the older the filth is the higher the price."

Market Street is now called King Street and once also housed the town's slaughterhouse and flesh market - see map above.  Today you can see the remains of the Telephone Exchange and look south towards the railway line.

King Street, Greenock

It is difficult these days to even imagine the problems caused by lack of proper sanitation.  "The proprietor has an extensive privy attached to the concern.  This collection is fronting the public street.  Enclosed in front by a wall; the height of the wall is about 12 feet and the dung overtops it; the malarious moisture oozes through the wall and runs over the pavement.  The effluvium all round about this place in summer is horrible; there is a land of houses adjoining, four stories in height; and in the summer each house swarms with myriads of flies.  Every article of food and drink must be covered, otherwise if left exposed for a minute, the flies immediately attack it and it is rendered unfit for use from the strong taste of the dunghill left by the flies".

The slaughterhouse caused many problems too: -"But there is an even more extensive dunghill in the street which is attached to the slaughterhouse and belongs to the town authorities.  It is not only the receptacle for the dung and offal from the slaughterhouse, but the sweepings of the streets are also conveyed and deposited there.  It has likewise a public privy attached. In the slaughterhouse itself the blood and offal are allowed to lie a long time and the smell in summer is highly offensive".

It took until the 1870s before many of Greenock's overcrowded closes were eventually cleared.  You can read about Dr  James Wallace and his part in this effort here.  Read more about Greenock's closes here.

Friday 1 March 2024

Death of the Divine Miss Markland

In September of 1851 the death of a woman woman in Greenock was announced in newspapers both locally and much further afield.  It was not usual in those days for the death of an ordinary woman to be announced in such a way, but Jean Findlay was different.  She was well known to many because, in her youth she had been one of Scot's poet Robert Burns' Belles of Mauchline.  She was the "divine" Miss Markland (sometimes written Murkland).

Jean Markland was the daughter of George Markland and his wife Agnes Shaw.  The couple married in 1761 and Jean was born in 1765.  Burns poem “Belles of Mauchline” was written in 1784 - 

In Mauchline there dwells six proper young belles,
The pride of the place and its neighbourhood a';
Their carriage and dress, a stranger would guess,
In Lon'on or Paris, they'd gotten it a'.
Miss Miller is fine, Miss Markland's divine,
Miss Smith she has wit, and Miss Betty is braw:
There's beauty and fortune to get wi' Miss Morton,
But Armour's the jewel for me o' them a'.

On 16 September 1788 at Mauchline, Jean Markland married James Findlay a customs officer.  He worked at Tarbolton, Ayrshire and later, in 1792, moved to Greenock where he was a tide surveyor.  James Findlay died in 1834 (age 80) and was buried in the Inverkip Street cemetery in Greenock.  Jean died in 1851 and her death was reported in newspapers throughout Britain.

Plaque in Mauchline marking the home of Jean Markland

It is curious to note that in reports of her death it was stated “In ordinary circumstances, the departure from this life of a respectable lady, ripe in years, would not have afforded matter of general interest, but it happens that the deceased was one of the very few persons surviving to our own times, who intimately knew the Peasant Bard in the first flush of his genius and manhood …”. 

Jean Markland's home in Mauchline

James Findlay as an Excise Officer in Tarbolton was asked, in a letter dated 31 March 1788 to “instruct the bearer, Mr Robert Burns, in the art of gauging, and practical dry gauging casks and utensils; and that you fit him for surveying victuallers, rectifiers, chandlers, tanners, tawers, maltsters etc; and when he has kept books regularly for six weeks at least, and drawn true vouchers and abstracts therefrom (which books, vouchers, and abstracts, must be signed by your Supervisor and your self, as well as the said Mr Robert Burns), and sent to the Commissioners at his expense; and when he is furnished with proper instruments, and well instructed and qualified for an officer, then (and not before, at your perils) you and your Supervisor are to certify the same to the Board, expressing particularly therein the date of this letter; and that the above Mr Robert Burns hath cleared his Quarters, both for lodging and diet; and that he has actually paid each of you for his instructions and examination; and that he has sufficient at the time to purchase a horse for his business”.  The note was signed by A Pearson, Excise Office, Edinburgh.

James Findlay was employed as a customs officer on the River Clyde and would have been involved in looking for smugglers up and down the coast.  Robert Burns also spent some time as a "gauger" (customs officer) and you can find an interesting article about his time in that employment on the website of Alexandria Burns Club.

Picture courtesy of Greenock Burns Club

When James and Jean Findlay lived in Greenock, the had a cottage at the Bay of Quick - might even be the one in this picture.  (Bay of Quick was approximately where the Container Terminal is now, at the east end of the Esplanade.)

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Argylls' Parade, Port Glasgow

The short path linking Port Glasgow's Shore Street with the Tesco Supermarket is called Argylls' Parade.

This is in honour of the regiment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders who have strong links with the area.  Many local memorial plaques bear testament to this.   

A&SH - Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders from Westburn Church, Greenock

In 2013 the Regiment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders paraded along the path named after them and you can see the video of this on YouTube.  Check out the Regimental mascot, a Shetland pony which has a fascinating history

The history of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders can be found at their museum in Stirling here.  A pathway named after a wonderful part of local and national history!

For more information about local people who may have served during both World Wars then check out Inverclyde's Great War - a wonderful site full of information about both wars.

Saturday 17 February 2024

"Daft Lochnagar" and the strange will

“Daft Lochnagar” was a familiar character around Inverkip and Gourock.  With eccentric habits and dressed in old, greasy clothes he lived in cheap lodgings and travelled around a lot.  He was obsessed with Scottish music and played the fiddle as often as he could.  He also bought and cooked all his own food, worried that someone was trying to poison him.  While outwardly he looked like a poor tramp, in reality he was related to the Shaw Stewart family who owned the Ardgowan Estate in Inverkip and land elsewhere in Scotland. 

His name was William Maxwell Shaw Stewart.  Born in 1796 he was one of the five sons of Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, 5th Bart (1766-1825) and his wife (who was also his cousin) Catherine Maxwell, youngest daughter of Sir William Maxwell of Springkell.  William’s eldest brother, Michael Shaw Stewart (1788-1836) inherited the Ardgowan Estate on the death of their father in 1825.  His other brothers were Houston Shaw Stewart, who later became Admiral Shaw Stewart, John Shaw Stewart, Advocate and Sheriff of Stirlingshire and Patrick Maxwell Shaw Stewart, MP for Lancaster and later MP for Renfrewshire.  He also had three sisters, Margaret Shaw Stewart who married the 11th Duke of Somerset, Helenora and Catherine.

William died in 1869 in Hamilton.  When his will produced, it was decided among the family that William had not been of sound mind when it was written, and a court action was raised to set it aside.  Over £30,000 and various land holdings were involved.  The strange contents of the will made it into many newspapers and periodicals, both in Britain and abroad.  More of that later, but, what about the man, what kind of life had he led?

Ardgown Estate, Inverkip - home of the Shaw Stewarts

William Maxwell Shaw Stewart had been “always a bit of a gowk” (an awkward or foolish person) since he was a child, as his brother the Admiral testified in Court after his death.  In 1811 when his brother was a lieutenant in the Navy, William was sent to sea with him as a midshipman.  He lasted two weeks before being sent home.  It was thought that he might be better suited to the Army, but after a couple of weeks, he was advised to leave by his Colonel.  His father, Sir Michael, through friends, got him a position with a business in Liverpool with Cropper, Benson & Co, shipping agents, but once again he only lasted there for a short time before being sent home to Ardgowan. 

Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane

As a last resort he was sent to Australia.  Sir Michael was friendly with Sir Thomas Makdougal Brisbane (1773-1860) who had just been appointed Governor of New South Wales and in 1820 William was sent to Australia on the staff of Governor Brisbane.  Once in New South Wales, William was awarded a government land grant and his father provided funds for more land to be added to this.  He called his 2060-acre Australian estate Lochnagar (near Black-Creek, later known as Branxton, New South Wales).  However, it was said that he spent most of his time playing Scottish music on the fiddle and was described as “unsettled and peculiar”.  

He returned to Scotland, just after his father’s death, on the ship “Lady Rowena” (interesting information about the ship here) in 1826.  His brother Sir Houston Shaw Stewart described what his life was like on his return from Australia as “he did not engage in any employment except playing the fiddle, particularly dance reels and strathspeys and Gow’s music”.  After his return to Scotland, his Australian property of Lochnagar was advertised to let.  It was advertised as having 2000 acres of excellent land, "the greater part of which is arable … covered with blue gum, and other valuable timber.”  The advertisement goes on to list  “14 well improved dairy cows, with calves by their side and now in the family way to become the property of the Tenant, with liberty to sell, or dispose of all, or any of them.  Four excellent working bullocks … an excellent dwelling-house, bedroom and parlour.”

Aware of his son’s difficulties, Sir Michael had left his share of his estate in the hands of trustees so that William had no control over his inheritance.  He fell out with his family and moved to Comrie, Perthshire where he was known as “Daft Lochnagar” due to his eccentricities.  One of these was to throw open all his windows on Sunday mornings and play the fiddle while the people passed by on their way to church.  A tall man, he was said, in his younger days, to dress “peculiarly, although with a picturesque effect” and it was said that he roamed about the countryside “playing his fiddle”.  He became a bit of a miser and was suspicious of everyone.  He had his own coach and carried around with him his cooking utensils and food, his caged singing birds, and his fiddle.  If he decided to remain anywhere, he took the cheapest lodgings he could find.

In 1852, due to some detail about trustees in his father’s will, he acquired his share of his patrimony.  His only remaining brother, the Admiral, was on service overseas and could not do anything about this.  However, William set about acquiring some land.  In 1854 he bought property in Torhouse (Wigton) at auction, and he bought Holmhead in Lanarkshire in 1863.  He also still had income from his Australian estate of Lochnagar.

Over the years he had little to do with his family, although his brother Houston did try to get him to meet with them.  He occasionally returned to Gourock and Inverkip but did not have any contact with his family or near relatives, always living in lodgings, usually one room, described as “a class of houses wholly unsuitable for a person of his position and upbringing”.  His brother described him in later life as looking like a "ratcatcher, dressed in greasy clothes".  William proudly titled himself Justice of the Peace and Commissioner of Supply for both Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire.  William Maxwell Shaw Stewart died at Hamilton in July 1869 in the house of William Hepburn, Almada Street. 

The Strange Will

When his family decided that he had not been of sound mind when his will was written, they went to court to have the will set aside.  This resulted in a six day trial at Edinburgh Court of Session in June 1870.

Some of the contents of William Maxwell Shaw Stewart’s will were very unusual.  Of local interest - he left £100 for the Sheriff of Renfrewshire who was to be allowed this “in addition his expenses at a hotel in Greenock for breakfast, dinner, a bottle of wine, and for tea, supper, and bedroom and the usual allowance for servants”.  He also stated that "A professor of Scottish music, healthy, able in body and mind, was to be appointed at a moderate salary to teach the violin and the music of the firm aforesaid (Gow)"  he further stipulated that the teacher should reside in the parish of Inverkip and be a member of the Established Church.  The Sunday scholars of Inverkip were to be provided every Sunday after lessons with as much white bread and butter as they could eat and as much tea as they could drink, and were, besides to be supplied with a tea service, knives and forks with ivory handles the tea service bearing the names of William Maxwell Stewart JP and CS for Renfrewshire. 

He also made provisions outside of his home base - all the young women of seventeen years of age on the lands of Carnock (Shaw Stewart land) were to receive a certain sum.  The estate of Lochnagar in New South Wales was to be used as a base for the encouragement of Scottish music, especially reels and strathspeys and particularly the reels and Strathspeys published by Neil Gow and Sons.

At court several witnesses were brought in to describe William and his eccentricities and sadly, the court records show that there was a great deal of laughter and flippancy during the trial, even from his relatives.    Margaret Nelson who lived in Comrie said that she knew William in 1830 when he lived there.  She described: “He used to pass on horseback in a peculiar dress – white trousers, blue jacket, and red belt with rather a fancy bonnet.  He asked to be allowed to trim the turnips and kiss the workers.  He did not get liberty to do either … we used to call him “daft Nicolson” that was the family name of the proprietors of Carnock. I used to see him afterwards at Dalhalla near Comrie.”  She also stated that other people knew him as Lochnagar.  She also knew his first servant at Dalhalla who stated that he would spend all night playing the fiddle and she could not sleep.  It was also said that although he was “daft” he was such a miser that he could not be taken advantage of! 

Also in court, John Campbell (aged 74), a baker in Inverkip spoke about William asking him about some of the neighbours.  When Campbell mentioned to William that he had egg all down his jacket William had replied that “he lived on eggs because people could put poison into everything but eggs”.

After six days in court the will of William Maxwell Shaw Stewart was set aside.  The pursuers in this case were Admiral Sir Houston Shaw Stewart (brother), Sir Michael Robert Shaw Stewart (nephew), John Osborne (brother in law) and Michael John Maxwell Shaw Stewart (nephew).  The estate of Lochnagar in Australia was sold and the remainder of his estate distributed amongst his relatives.

For more stories about the Shaw Stewarts read: 

Patrick Shaw Stewart - Author of "Achilles in the Trenches" - war poet.

Archibald Stewart - planter in Tobago and business partner of John Paul Jones.

The Shaw Stewart Mausoleum in Inverkip.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Municipal Buildings' unusual details

The eastern entrance to Greenock's Municipal Buildings in Cathcart Square is absolutely full of interesting sculptural details.  This drawing from when the buildings were designed in the 1880s shows how it was to look.

It would appear from the drawing that statues were meant to stand in the niches above the entry which are now windows.

Designed by H & D Barclay, they were constructed in the 1880s.  The Victoria Tower, at the eastern end of the buildings stands at 245 feet high (75m).  However, a closer look at the entry-way reveals a lot of unusual sculptures.

Around the archway is a frieze of wonderful animals and birds.

Two lovely ladies decorate either side of the arch.  Some of these details are easy to miss, but just add a wonderful, decorative touch to the entry to the carriageway.  Next time you are in Greenock have a closer look at the Municipal Buildings - it is amazing what you'll find!

Monday 12 February 2024

Port Glasgow railway station bridge

The old bridge at Port Glasgow railway station is being demolished.  

There's just the skeleton of the bridge left to be taken down.

A new footbridge has been put in place in the station.