Tuesday 15 October 2019

Shackleton's Carpenter at the Beacon

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.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Sailing ship at Greenock

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.

I would have loved to have seen her in full sail!

What a wonderful ship.

Monday 23 September 2019

Port Glasgow Dry Dock Mural

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.

The mural's artist, Jim Strachan was also involved in other local projects - Broomhill Mural in Greenock and the Quayside Mural and Railway Station Mural in Port Glasgow.

Joining with Monday Murals - check out murals from all around the world.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Coronation Park Memorial Cairn

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 September 1947.

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.

Monday 12 August 2019

Port Glasgow murals

These colourful murals can be found on the wall of Fergus Monk's garage at the West Quay in Port Glasgow. 

They are the work of local artist Jim Strachan who also painted the Broomhill Mural in Greenock.

One of the murals shows fishing boats and the catch being processed on the quay.  The other shows people having fun.

Both murals face the River Clyde and are an unexpected burst of colour on the quayside.

Visit Monday Murals for a glimpse of other murals from around the world.

Friday 9 August 2019

Family history research in Greenock - places to visit

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.

Men of the Clyde
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.

Local Churches
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).
St John the Evangelist Episcopal Church (Union Street, Greenock)
St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church (Patrick Street, Greenock)

Inverclyde Cemeteries
Inverclyde Council have a list of local cemeteries.  Most local cemeteries are open every day.  Check the Council website 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 Cairn and the grave of Highland Mary, the sweetheart of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns.

Other Local Information
Inverclyde Council have 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.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Skelmorlie Aisle in Largs

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.

If you intend visiting the Skelmorlie Aisle in Largs, then please check with Historic Environment Scotland about opening hours.

Friday 24 May 2019

The Carolina Merchant

The ship Carolina Merchant sailed from Gourock in July 1684 with the kidnapped ElizabethLinning on board.  She had been taking farewell of relatives, some of the 35 Covenanter prisoners on board the ship.   In his book “The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland”, Robert Wodrow lists the names of some of those transported – James McClintock, John Buchanan, William Inglis, Gavin Black, Adam Allan, John Galt, Thomas Marshal, William Smith, Robert Urie, Thomas Brice, John Syme, Hugh Syme, William Syme, John Alexander, John Marshal, Mattew Mackan, John Paton, John Gibson, John Young, Arthur Cunningham, George Smith and John Dowart.

John Erskine of Carnock
Another person who went on board the Carolina Merchant while it lay at Gourock was the brother of Lord Cardross, John Erskine of Carnock who described the ship as being of “170 tons and carried 16 guns”.  He also writes that when the ship set sail, a trumper “sounded several times which was truly pleasant”.

The journey was certainly not a pleasant one.  It was reported –
“Captain James Gibson commanded the vessel, and is reported to have been very rude to the poor prisoners, who were about thrity-two in number.  And his seamen and under-officers were yet harsher.  Any small money their friends had scraped together for them before they sailed was taken from them and they could have no redress.  They were disturbed when at worship under deck and threatened; whenever they began to sing psalms the hatches were closed upon them.” 
Food and water were severely rationed and many became ill while on board.

Many were still very ill when they reached Charles Town in October 1684.  They were put in houses under guard in the town and their possessions sold without their consent.  Two prisoners escaped, but were recaptured, severely beaten and condemned to perpetual servitude.  Many of the prisoners died in the colony.  It is thought that only about six ever managed to return to Scotland.

William Dunlop
As well as the prisoners, there were other passengers on board the Carolina Merchant.  Henry Erskine, Lord Cardross wished to set up a colony which would have religious freedom and had brought on board a group of people who were to settle there.  William Dunlop who would later become Principal of Glasgow University was also with Cardross.

Once ashore, many of the settlers became ill with malaria.  The survivors moved on and set up their settlement named Stuart Town (near the present day Beaufort, South Carolina).  William Dunlop became their minister.  However trouble soon started when they began trading with the local Native Americans.  They also attacked a nearby Spanish settlement.  In 1686 the Spanish retaliated and attacked Stuart Town, plundering and setting fire to it.  Many of the settlers were killed.  A few escaped and went back to Charles Town.  William Dunlop stayed in America for a while before returning to Scotland.

William Dunlop's family would later have many links with Greenock.

Thursday 23 May 2019

The remarkable adventures of Elizabeth Linning

In July 1684 a ship lay at anchor in Gourock Bay.  She was the Carolina Merchant owned by the Glasgow merchant Walter Gibson and captained by his brother James Gibson.  On board, in the hold were 35 convicts from the tollbooths of Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Their crime – they were Covananters – those who had been on the wrong side in Scotland’s recent religious wars.  The privy council in May 1684 had ordered the commissions of Glasgow and Dumfries -
“to sentence and banish to the plantations in America such rebels as appear penitent, in the ship belonging to Walter Gibson, merchant, in Glasgow.”  
“Penitent” was not perhaps what the prisoners were feeling, they had been given a stark choice – public execution or be taken to the Carolinas and sold as indentured servants (they would work for free for a set number of years, after which time they would be given their freedom).  The Gibson brothers would share the profit from their sale.

On the shore Elizabeth Linning waited to go on board.  She had relatives among the prisoners and was taking them some provisions and preparing to say her final goodbyes.  Once on board she completed her mission, but unbeknown to her, the captain of the Carolina Merchant had decided to take her with them to be sold along with prisoners.  Elizabeth managed to escape ashore while everyone was asleep, but Gibson sent men after her and she was brought back on board the ship and taken with the others to Carolina.  They arrived in Charles Town in October 1684.

Despite the dreadful conditions on the journey, Elizabeth Linning was not one for giving up!  After the prisoners had been taken ashore, she remained on board as she was indisposed.  She overheard Captain Gibson say “Since she is sickly, let her go ashore, but see that she come aboard every night till we get her sold.”  On hearing this she managed to get ashore  and found a way of getting to the Governor of the colony who believed her story and called for Captain Gibson to appear in court the next day. 

Gibson was questioned as to whether he had brought Elizabeth Linning from Scotland with her consent.  He made up a story that she had been on board to try and help the prisoners escape.  He stated that she herself was a rebel and that he had an order from Lieutenant Colonel Windram to take her with the other prisoners.  The Governor asked to see the order, to which Gibson replied that it had been by word of mouth.  The Court ordered that Elizabeth be set free -
At a Council held at Charleston, October 17th, 1684, upon the reading of the petition of Elizabeth Linning against Captain James Gibson, commander of the Carolina Merchant, in a full council, it was ordered as follows – Whereas, upon the confession of Captain Gibson, that the within written Elizabeth Linning was, without the consent of the said Elizabeth, brought to this province by force and by a pretended order from Lieutenant Colonel Windram, but the said Gibson producing none, it was ordered that the said Elizabeth be set at liberty as a free woman.

It is thought that Elizabeth Linning returned to Scotland, Robert Woodrow (The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland) when writing his account states that she was “yet alive, attesting this account”.

She must have been a remarkable woman.  To persevere throughout hardship and being forcibly taken to what must have felt like the other side of the world and still be determined stand up for herself and her freedom must have taken a lot of courage.  I would love to know what happened to her when she returned to Scotland.

Monday 20 May 2019

Colourful Broomhill Mural

This amazing mural by local artist Jim Strachan is in Ann Street in the Broomhill area of Greenock.

It is a fabulous, colourful tribute to the area's past and industrial heritage.

The plaques tell the story of what can be seen in the mural.  The Heid O' the Hill website gives much more information about the local history of the area as well as old photographs and more information about the mural.

It certainly brightens up that particular corner of Greenock.

Joining with Monday Mural at Sami's Colourful World.

Saturday 18 May 2019

Looking good!

After an extensive refurbishment the scaffolding is down and the outside of Greenock's Watt Library and McLean Museum and Art Gallery is looking good!  (The building, situated on Union Street and Kelly Street in Greenock is to be renamed the Watt Institution.)

The stonework looks amazing - somehow the wonderful architectural details of the building stand out much more.

Unfortunately neither the Library, Museum or Art Gallery are open to the public, and won't be until early 2020 (so we are informed).  The wonderful Inverclyde Heritage Hub which attracted many visitors and researchers was closed by the Council just before Christmas 2018, so the area has been without physical access to research resources for quite some time.  (Many local resources are accessible online at Inverclyde Council website, but it is not quite the same as a browse through old books and the serendipitous finds of unusual bits of information which that activity sometimes produces.  It was also great to have pleasant and knowledgeable staff on hand to provide information about resources to visitors.  Can you guess - I miss that place!)

This is all slightly unfortunate as 2019 marks the bicentenary of the death of Greenock's most famous son, the engineer James Watt after whom the building was named.  The building also contained the wonderful statue of Watt by Sir Frances Chantrey.

Many other places connected with James Watt will be commemorating the event.  There's a great website - James Watt 2019 which gives a fabulous amount of information about the famous Greenockian and lists of events taking place in Birmingham.  The University of Birmingham and other organisations have produced a fabulous collection of information and resources about Watt which can be accessed from this site.

I hope that the inside of the building will be as wonderful as the refurbished outside is and I look forward to Greenock having its wonderful resources available to the public once more.