Saturday 29 April 2017

Trade in 1791 - essentials and home comforts

Greenock's shipbuilding and sugar refining industries relied heavily on imported goods.  Shipbuilding required timber, much of which was imported from Canada.  Sugar was imported from the West Indies and refined here.  However the Greenock ships which brought back these valuable cargoes did not make their outward journey empty.  They supplied invaluable commodities which the settlers and traders in these far away lands could not easily obtain.

This advertisement (I've reproduced part of it here) from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1791 shows what goods were being exported from Britain by ships belonging to Greenock merchants.  Among the items being offered for sale were:-
Food - refined sugar, Cheshire cheese, salad oil
Clothing - shoes, stockings, hats
Fabric - Irish linen, printed cotton in fashionable patterns, corduroys, woollens, embroidered serge
Metal goods - nails, ships anchors, German steel,
Household essentials - earthenware, frying pans, kettles, window glass, candles
Toiletries - soap, hair power
Other items included - tobacco, paint and oil, fishing nets, sail cloth guns, powder and shot.

It is so interesting to see the sorts of things that were traded then.  Obviously it was not just the working essentials that were important to settlers, they also required some home comforts and luxury goods.  Many local merchants had branches of their business on both sides of the Atlantic in order to make the most of the trading opportunities available.  William Forsyth, who is named in the advertisement, was an important merchant in Nova Scotia with trading partners in Greenock.  There will be more about William Forsyth and his family in future posts.

Monday 24 April 2017

Broomhill War Memorial, Greenock

This is the Broomhill War Memorial commemorating those from the area who died in World War I.

It is situated at the corner of Drumfrochar Road, Cornhaddock Street and Broomhill Street.

It was unveiled by Greenock's Provost Thomas Mitchell on 16 April 1920.

There are many names on the Memorial from many different regiments.  A full list of names can be found at Inverclyde's Great War.  At that site you can click on the individual names and find out more about the person.

The site has information about all the War Memorials in the area and if you are researching family from Greenock and surrounding places, this site is well worth a visit.  It is run by the McLean Museum and Inverclyde Council and also provides an invaluable collection of resources about World War I and the local people who gave their lives.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Great views across the Clyde

It was such a great day here in Greenock yesterday that I set out in search of some photographs of the River Clyde.  The Clydeport Cranes are always a good signpost for getting your bearings.

One of the best places for good views is up high on the Kilmacolm Road.  The views across the river from here are just amazing - you can see right up to the Gareloch.

Looking down just past the James Watt Dock Marina into what was the Great Harbour there were a few boats berthed.

I never tire of this view.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Greenock Jougs

Once upon a time, at the bottom of Broad Close in Shaw Street in Greenock there was a thatched house that served as the town gaol.  Daniel Weir in his "History of the Town of Greenock" (1829) describes it as "an ill-looking thatched house of one story, and consequently one apartment".  From the walls of the building hung the jougs (or jugs) - an iron collar attached to the wall by a stout iron chain.  This representation of the jougs can be seen on a wall off Cathcart Street (east end) in Greenock where the Broad Close once ran down to Shaw Street which (neither still exist).

In Scotland, the jougs were used both for detention of wrongdoers and also as a punishment.  Offenders would be secured in the collar and left to the mercies of the local population who hurled abuse, and heaven only knows what else, at the miscreants.  Jougs were often attached to churches and town tollbooths. They acted as deterrent as well as a punishment.  Another set of jougs could be found at the West Quay head in Greenock - handy for errant sailors!

In the Ayrshire town of Kilmaurs, the jougs can still be seen attached to the Tollbooth in the centre of the town.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Apples and ships

At either end of Robert Street in Port Glasgow are bronze sculptures by the Danish artist Nina Saunders.  Called 'Future in Hand' they were designed in 2006 as part of a community project involving high school pupils from Port Glasgow.

There is also a memorial garden, The Apple Garden, designed by Rebecca Wells, attached to the project, but it was not at its best when I took these photographs.

The sculpture at the west end of Robert Street shows a hand holding a representation of the steamship Comet built in Port Glasgow in 1812, representing the shipbuilding industry of Port Glasgow, and an apple.  The apple is a representation of this area of Port Glasgow which, before all the housing was built, was once a very productive fruit-growing area.

The sculpture at the east end of Robert Street shows just a large apple.  Love the beautiful patina on the sculpture and how it ties in with the red sandstone tenement buildings nearby.

Robert Street in Port Glasgow also contains the former Clune Park School, derelict Clune Park Church, and the Toll Boys Memorial.  Such a shame the area has become so run down.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Tall ship on the Clyde

On the River Clyde at Greenock yesterday, the beautiful tall ship Stavros S Niarchos.

Part of the Tall Ships Youth Trust.

What a beautiful sight!

Sunday 9 April 2017

Riot at opening of new Greenock school

The opening of the new Highlanders' Academy in Greenock on 5 December 1887 was accompanied by a riot!  The Glasgow Herald reported -

"An unprecedented and, as the sequel proved, disgraceful exhibition was yesterday witnessed at the opening of a new Board school in Greenock, which resulted in the injury of several persons, the jeopardising of the lives of very many more, the destruction of much valuable property, besides having a bad moral affect among the young persons who were present, which will probably take years to get rid of."

The problem concerned the transfer of the former headmaster, Robert Wilson to a different school.  He had been headmaster at the original Highlanders' Academy (1837), located in Roxburgh Street.for 17 years.  As its name suggests, the school had been built to accommodate the large number of children whose parents had come to Greenock from the Highlands of Scotland looking for work.  Money was raised for the school partly by subscription and the land gifted by Sir Michael Shaw Stewart.  The original school had to be demolished when the railway was being extended.  Now that the new Highlanders' Academy building was completed, the parents and children wanted their own headmaster to be transferred to the new school with them.  However, the authorities had chosen a William Cook as the new headmaster.

At nine o'clock on the morning of 5 December 1887, the day of the opening, a procession, headed by local councillors and teachers as well as many children accompanied by their parents walked to the school.  Joined by many onlookers, the Herald reports that four or five thousand people were gathered -  
 "The majority of the crowd was composed of the working class, many of them being young men, although a few of the parents in the middle-class were also here and there observable."

A few protesters stated voicing their opinions about the choice of headmaster, and once most of the children were safely inside the school, Mr Wilson tried to enter.  He had been suspended for not accepting a position at another school and attempts were made to stop him entering the school.  This led to more agitation, and with the large crowd filling the surrounding streets panic set in, many people trying to get out of the area.  Inside the school, the Councillors and members of the School Board locked themselves in the headmaster's room.  The mob managed to get inside the school where they seem to have run amok.  The police were already inside the building and tried to beat back the crowd.

Mr Wilson was raised shoulder high and paraded through the school.  More and more people seem to have joined the fracas, and it was not until Mr Wilson left the building about 11 o'clock that the police managed to get control of the situation.  The children were led to safety and eventually the crowds dispersed.  The Councillors and School Board members escaped by a side door to a waiting cab.

The new headmaster, Cook, also tried to escape in a cab, but it was followed by a crowd.  Police officers were stationed at the homes of various Councillors and School Board members in case of more trouble.  Eventually things quietened down.  Mr Robert Wilson was some months later reinstated as headmaster of Highlanders' Academy, Greenock.

Highlanders' Academy was completed in 1887 to a design by David Barclay.  It is situated at the corner of Dempster Street and Mount Pleasant Street in Greenock.  The school was closed in 2012 and the building put up for sale by Inverclyde Council.

Let's hope it doesn't share the same fate as Mearns Street School.

Wednesday 5 April 2017

The Failure of the Renfrewshire Bank

On 1 April 1842 the Renfrewshire Bank in Greenock stopped all payment causing widespread panic in the area.  It was reported that -
     "The whole town was in commotion, and men, women and children were seen
running in all directions, hurrying from shop to shop,
and place to place, seeking change of Renfrewshire Bank notes."
As word of the Renfrewshire Bank's failure spread people started arriving in Greenock from all over hoping to change their Renfrewshire Bank notes and withdraw money from their accounts.  There was a general run on all the local banks until it was ascertained that it was only the Renfrewshire Bank that had failed.  Many local people, shipowners, business owners, shopkeepers and small savers lost just about everything.

Former Renfrewshire Bank premises in Bank Street, Greenock
The Renfrewshire Bank had been set up in 1802 in the lower flat of a house in Hamilton Street, Greenock, opposite Tan-work Close.  It moved to its own premises in Bank Street, across from Shaw Place in 1811.  At one time it had branches in Inverary, Campbeltown, Rothesay, Port Glasgow and Glasgow.  The Bank published its own banknotes - you can see examples at the McLean Museum's Online Collection site here.
McLean Museum Online Collections 
There had originally been nine partners in the Renfrewshire Bank -
Archibald Speirs of Elderslie,
Boyd Alexander of Southbar, Renfrewshire,
John Cunningham, a merchant in Port Glasgow,
Alexander Dunlop, magistrate of Greenock
John Hamilton, merchant in Greenock
William Napier of Blackstone (near Paisley)
Charles Stirling of Kenmuir, a West Indies merchant
Peter Speirs of Culcreuch, Glasgow tobacco merchant
James Patten, of Greenock, formerly with the Greenock Bank

The death of Alexander Dunlop of Keppoch in 1840 seems to have been the tipping point in the Bank's downfall.  The only original partner remaining was William Napier.  Roger Aytoun had been admitted as a partner in 1820.  He was a former army captain (92nd regiment) and brother in law of William Napier, having married Anne Napier in 1810.  

The Renfrewshire Bank ceased on 1 April 1842 with liabilities of over £230,000.  John Ker, a Greenock merchant was made trustee.  Holders of notes issued by the Bank prior to 1840 were paid by the estate of Alexander Dunlop (Keppoch), one of the original partners.

William Napier, one of the remaining partners, was described as "unmarried and of quiet and reserved manners, and took no particularly active interest in public matters." Both he and Roger Aytoun were declared bankrupt.  Napier sold his family estate of Blackstone, Renfrewshire in order to pay his debts.  Even the Bank's fixtures and fittings were auctioned to raise money.

The failure of the Renfrewshire Bank had long lasting effects for the people of Greenock and the surrounding area..  Many ships and houses were under mortgage to the bank and banknotes issued  by the bank became almost worthless - just two shillings and three pence per pound.  It was just one of the many small local banks which failed at this time.  However the lovely building still remains in use as a rehabilitation centre in Greenock today.