Wednesday 27 November 2013

The Greenockian Behind Those Light Bulb Moments

Light bulb moments -  what have they got to do with Greenock?

We all have to change a light bulb at some time.  A 60 watt bulb used to be the usual for a main light and 40 watt bulb for a table lamp.  The higher number of watts (symbol W), the stronger the light.  The international standard unit of power known as a watt is named after Greenock's most famous son - James Watt.  This is a photograph of a statue of Watt which can be seen right beside the Municipal Buildings in Greenock.

Watt was born in Greenock in 1736 to a well established family.  I won't go into the full story, you can read about him here.  His improvements to the steam engine kick-started the industrial revolution and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, the next time you have to change a light bulb or have an "illuminating" light bulb moment, just remember the famous Greenockian - James Watt.
The Greenockian

Monday 25 November 2013

On the River Clyde - Hohe Bank

On the River Clyde on Saturday. 

Hohe Bank - a cargo ship registered in Gibraltar.  Photographs taken at Custom House Quay and the Esplanade, Greenock.

Heading up river to Glasgow.

Looks like she's carrying parts for wind turbines.

 The Greenockian

Sunday 24 November 2013

St George's North Church, Greenock

The spire of the former St George's North Church in George Square, Greenock.

No longer used for worship. 

Now a martial arts gym.
Joining up with InSPIREd Sunday. 

The Greenockian

Saturday 23 November 2013

The Greenockian Who Built The Smithsonian

The original building  of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, known as The Castle, was built by Greenock man Gilbert Cameron who was the project contractor.  The work began in 1847 and finished in 1855.

Gilbert Cameron was born in Greenock in about 1809, the son of Dugald Cameron, a shoemaker and his wife Jane Sayers who were married in Greenock on 27 January 1806.  After serving his apprenticeship as a mason and working as a journeyman for some years in Greenock.  He then moved to America and worked as a stonemason and builder in New York before moving to Washington.

He worked as the contractor at the Smithsonian with the architect James Renwick Jr (1818-1895) of New York.  The Smithsonian was built as the result of a bequest by the British scientist James Smithson (1765-1829) who, strangely, had never actually visited the United States.  In 1904 Smithson's body was exhumed from a grave in Genoa, Italy and transferred to Washington where it was reinterred at the Smithsonian.

The money for the building was taken in boxes of gold sovereigns from London, by sea,  to Washington by a Pennsylvanian lawyer, Richard Rush.  That must have been one nerve-wracking journey!

Mr Cameron was also the building contractor for the Soldiers' Home in Washington.  The architect on this building was Lieutenant Barton Stone Alexander (1819-1878).  The two buildings are quite similar architecturally.

The money for this building came the people of Mexico City who, in 1847 when the city was surrendered (during the Mexican-American war), paid a bounty of $150,000 to General Winfield Scott to ensure that their city was not pillaged by his troops!

Gilbert Cameron returned to Greenock at the start of the American Civil War, and had an entry in the local Post Office Directory of 1865-1866 as a builder and contractor.  He seems to have taken an active part in local affairs. 

He died on 5 November 1866 at his home, Washington Cottage in Greenock.  His obituary in the Glasgow Herald states that -

"Mr Cameron was in town on Monday in the enjoyment of his ordinary good health.  He dined in one of the hotels, and returned home during the evening.  About nine o'clock he was suddenly seized with cramp and vomiting, which continued till an early hour yesterday morning, when death took place."  He had unfortunately contracted  Asiatic Cholera.  His wife, Mary Mitchell died in Washington in 1884.  They had no children.

His memory lives on in Greenock in a stone from the Seneca quarry on the Potomac River (where the stone for the Smithsonian was quarried), which Gilbert Cameron had sent over to be part of the memorial to Greenock's most famous son, James Watt.  This memorial cairn can be seen in Greenock Cemetery. 

The Greenockian

Friday 22 November 2013

Across the Clyde From Custom House Quay

View across the River Clyde from Custom House Quay, Greenock.

Joining with Friday Fences.
The Greenockian


Wednesday 20 November 2013

Call In the Rat-Catcher - Greenock 1881

For a shop to be overrun by rats is a major disaster, especially if it is a grocer's shop.  That is exactly what happened to the premises of James Malloy Campbell on West Blackhall Street in Greenock.  This unusual case was put before Sheriff Smith in October/November 1881.  Mr Campbell had taken the lease on the premises in 1878.  This was his second shop as a grocer and wine merchant , his other was in Roxburgh Street in Greenock.  All seems to have been well until a drain burst which resulted in the rat infestation in his shop.

Since the premises had been in good condition at the start of the lease, Mr Campbell decided to take his landlord (Thomas May Thorne) to court for compensation of £90 in respect of the damage done to stock by the rats.  Goods in the shop and even in the shop window had been eaten and destroyed as well as a boars head (value 5 shillings) Mr Campbell had used in his Christmas display.

As it was a condition of the lease that the premises be kept in good repair, Mr Campbell claimed that he had tried his best to deal with the problem himself by poisoning and trapping.  He stated that this had resulted in the death of a terrier dog (value £5) by accidental poisoning.  Six cats had also perished, overcome by the sheer number of rats!  He believed that the landlord should have done more to deal with the cause of the problem.

The landlord claimed that on being notified of the problem he had employed a builder, Mr Jamieson to make right the damage, which he had done.  This did not end the problem and the local rat catcher was called in.  Mr Climie, "a man of skill in rat-catching, was actively employed for many weeks ... and was successful in killing many rats."  However there seemed to be some disagreement between the parties as to whether Mr Climie was given full access to the whole of the premises by Mr Campbell - a trap stair from the shop to a cellar was not mentioned and Mr Climie therefore contained his activities to the shop alone and the rat problem continued.  After a while Mr Climie was called in again by the landlord and given access to the whole premises - the problem was finally dealt with.  I wonder if the shop was closed during all this poisoning, trapping and other means of rat catching or where it was "business as usual"!

On summing up, the Sheriff scathingly commented on Mr Campbell's claim for compensation for his losses, stating that he was claiming retail price for the goods not wholesale and that - "he wishes to convert these rats into most valuable customers, and that at his landlord's expense.  If such a claim were to be successful, where is it to stop?  This grocer goes on for a whole year supplying these customers, the rats, on his landlord's credit and unknown to his landlord.  Why not pursue the same system during the whole term of his lease?"  Sheriff Smith.

This court case could not have been the ideal advertisement for his business and needless to say, James Campbell did not renew his lease.  The trade directory for1883 shows his with just his original shop in Roxburgh Street.  However another grocer had taken over the West Blackhall Street premises.

The address given is "17 West Blackhall Street, known as Havelock Buildings".  In 1881 other commercial tenants of the premises were - a stationer, a chemist& druggist, an optician, a branch of the Post Office and the offices of a lawyer and engineer.  
There is still a Havelock Building in Greenock, but obviously street numbers have changed over the years.  On the ground floor are commercial premises, with apartments on the three floors above.   

The Greenockian


Sunday 17 November 2013

On the River Clyde - Hebridean Princess

The Hebridean Princess was towed up the River Clyde by two tugs yesterday.  It was a very windy day! 

During the summer she is used for cruises around Scotland.

She is safely berthed in the James Watt Dock today.

The Greenockian

Friday 15 November 2013

Thursday 14 November 2013

John Fleming - Greenock Artist

I came across this interesting gravestone in Greenock's Duncan Street cemetery at the weekend.  It marks the grave of John Fleming a local artist who was born in Greenock in 1792.  If you look very closely you can just make out that the top is a depiction of an artist's palette with paint brushes.  The weather has taken its toll and I can't quite make out the writing on the scroll across it.
John Fleming was mainly noted for his landscapes, many of which are of the local area and are a fascinating glimpse of how Greenock looked at that time. 

He was also a portrait painter - many of his sitters were local merchants.  This is a self portrait.

John Fleming was an original member of the "Institution for Promoting and Encouraging the Fine Arts in the West of Scotland" formed by forty-three west of Scotland men in 1821.  They held their first exhibition later that year in a Glasgow gallery in South Maxwell Street (near where the St Enoch Centre is now).  Fleming supplied the drawings for Joseph Swan's engravings of the local area.  Fleming became a member of and exhibited at the West of Scotland Academy in 1841.

Based in Greenock, John Fleming appears in several trade directories, having premises in William Street and then moving to Hamilton Street.  He was a member of the Watt Club in the town.  He died at Hamilton Street on 16 February 1845.  His obituary shows the esteem in which he was held locally.
Fittingly his gravestone states that it was erected
"by a few friends and admirers of his genius."

You can see some of Fleming's work at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery in Greenock and online here.

The Greenockian

Tuesday 12 November 2013

God Speed Greenock!

The motto on Greenock's old coat of arms is  God Speed Greenock.

God speed is a old phrase which means God prosper you or good fortune, said especially to those starting out on a journey.  This is particularly apt for Greenock which was once a major port, with ships and mariners travelling to all corners of the globe.

Other elements of the coat of arms also relate to this great maritime past, the sailing ship being the most obvious one.  Greenock was once a major centre for herring fishing - thus the three fish.

This depiction shows men with barrels - again, many herring were salted, encased in barrels and sent all over the world from here.  Many other goods were imported by ship to Greenock, like tobacco and sugar, processed here and then exported worldwide on local ships.

The set of three covered cups or goblets is the emblem of the old local land owning family, the Schaws.  They were reputed to have been Masters of the Wine Cellar and Cupbearers to the Kings of Scotland.  This job meant that they had to taste the king's wine before he drank it to make sure it didn't contain poison!  Haven't heard of any of them dying while employed in that capacity - a dangerous occupation in troubled times!

All these depictions of Greenock's motto and coat of arms come from inside the Municipal Buildings in Greenock which were completed in 1886.

The Greenockian

Sunday 10 November 2013

I Can See For Miles ...

It was an absolutely beautiful day here in Greenock.

The spire of Greenock's old Cartsburn Church looks majestic against the backdrop of the snow capped hills of Argyll and the River Clyde.  Scotland is truly a beautiful place to live.

Cartsburn Church - abandoned and derelict -

and yet somehow absolutely beautiful!

Who is that having a wee rest on top of the spire?

Just one of our local seagulls.
I was inspired to join InSPIRED Sunday today - pop over and see some other lovely church spires from around the world.

The Greenockian