Thursday 7 October 2021

Plaque to W S Graham, poet

Greenock poet William Sydney Graham (1918-1986) is commemorated down at Greenock's Customhouse Quay with this lovely plaque.  It can be seen right beside the Beacon Theatre.  It has a quote from one of his poems etched into it.

I've already written about the plaque on the wall of his former home in Hope Street Greenock.  You can read about it here.

Plaque on wall of house 1 Hope Street, Greenock.

River Clyde reflected in the glass wall of Beacon Theatre, Greenock

He often mentioned Greenock and the surrounding area in his poems and you can read more on my blog post from 2017 - Greenock Poet's Plaque.

Greenock's former Custom House in background.

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Tuesday 5 October 2021

Joseph Dhanis, shipbroker

I came across some interesting information about Joseph Dhanis, shipbroker who lived in Greenock for a number of years (from about 1863 till 1871) with his family.  While in Greenock he lived at Mount View Cottage and later the 1871 Census shows him living at 21 Brisbane Street with his wife, an Irish woman – Bridget Maher and two children - Cornelin who was born in Australia in 1860 and Francis who was born in London in 1861.  The couple had four more children all born in Greenock – Marie Michael (born 1863), Athanase Louis (born 1866), Josephine Carol (born 1868) and Antoine Joseph (born 1870).  

Joseph Dhanis went into business in 1864 with Patrick Robertson Macdonald and Andrew Bryde Hood – Macdonald, Hood & Co Shipbrokers of Glasgow and Greenock.  He left the company in 1867.  (The company, later Guthrie, Macdonald & Hood went on to be a successful concern.)  

After their stay in Greenock, the Dhanis family moved to Dixon Street, Glasgow where Joseph carried on business as a shipbroker.  Later they moved back to Belgium.  But it was Dhanis' life in Australia which proved to be interesting.

Belgian by birth, Joseph Dhanis arrived in Australia in 1851 and by 1854 was working as a shipbroker and agent at 489 George Street, Sydney (later moving to 177 George Street).  His company - J Dhanis & Co bought and sold ships and cargoes.  In May 1855 he was appointed Royal Hanovarian Consul for Sydney.  A notice in the Sydney press states that “Mr Dhanis was the first merchant in this colony to introduce a direct importation from Holland to here ...”.  The company then moved to premises at Macquarrie Place in Sydney.

By February 1858, Dhanis was declared bankrupt.  However that did not stop him from marrying Irishwoman Briget Maher at St Mary's in Sydney on 16 July 1859.  Shortly thereafter they moved to Melbourne where, in October, Dhanis was arrested for “obtaining money by means of false representation”.  The amount involved was a cheque for £3, but Dhanis had no funds at the bank to honour the cheque.  He was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment at Parramatta Gaol with hard labour for twelve months.  

On his release from prison and after a few more appearances at insolvency hearings, Dhanis and family left Australia.  The couple and their child travelled to London where their son, Francis was born in 1861.  From there the next stop was Greenock and setting up business again as a shipbroker.  I wonder if his partners Macdonald and Hood knew of his background?  Perhaps that's why they parted company after a short time in business.

Source  Baron Francis Dhanis

After a year or so in Glasgow the Dhanis family moved back to Belgium.  Their son Francis Dhanis, just a schoolboy in Greenock, attended the Belgian Military Academy and volunteered to go to the Congo Free State where he fought against Arab slave traders.  His military career in Africa reads like an adventure novel.  In 1896 he was appointed Governor General and was later given the title of Baron.  In 1901 he married Baronesse Estelle de Bonhome.  He died in 1909.  It was said that he spoke English with a strong Scottish accent!

It is interesting to find out about the backgrounds of the very many interesting people who made Greenock their home - even if it was just for a short time.


Monday 4 October 2021

Rust and ruins

There's something missing from Greenock's skyline in the east end of the town.  The little steam crane that used to be visible just above the wall on the north side of East Hamilton Street at the bottom of Ratho Street is no longer sticking out above the wall.  On closer inspection I discovered that it had collapsed.  After all these years of standing proud, another of the few lasting remnants of Greenock's industrial past has rotted away.  You can still see what's left at the James Watt Dock Marina.

The crane before its collapse.

All that remains now is a pile of rusty twisted metal.


Built by Thomas Smith & Sons of Rodley near Leeds it was of a kind to be found all over the UK, especially on busy quays.  (You can see a much better photograph of the crane here.)


I used to love seeing the difference between this little crane and its nearby "big brother" - the Titan Cantilever crane which fortunately is still standing.

Another Greenock icon .......... gone!

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Sunday 3 October 2021

Greenock town drum

I recently visited the McLean Museum, part of the Watt Institution in Greenock.  One of my favourite objects in the Museum is the Greenock town drum.  It it beautifully illustrated with a picture of a sailing ship and men with barrels on the quayside.

This was an important item in Greenock's history.  Throughout Scotland many towns had their own drummer who would be employed by the town council to rally the inhabitants to a particular place to hear national proclamations and important news which the local council felt that everyone should hear.  The drummer could also be used to advertise travelling merchants coming to the town and other less important events.

From the town directory we know that in 1805 Greenock's Drummer was James Skinner who lived at Taylor's Close in Greenock.  Taylor's Close ran from Dalrymple Street south to Hamilton Street, very near where the Central Library is today.  The drummer was paid by the council and they also provided a uniform and paid when the town drum needed repaired.


The drummer would also alert townsfolk if there was to be a hanging or if a criminal was to receive a public punishment.  No doubt the sound of the drum would stir up great excitement in the town.  In the past there was a form of punishment called banishment, where wrong-doers were "drummed out of town" and banished from the area for their crimes.  

A man named John Smith was found guilty of stealing some candles.  His punishment was "to be taken from the court and be put into the jougs there to stand bareheaded for half an hour with some of the candles hung around his neck and a libel upon his breast with the following words upon it:- "Here I stand for stealing candles."  After his stance in the jougs he was to be drummed out of the town, and thereafter banished from the same for life."  (Dugald Campbell, Historical Sketched of the Town and Harbours of Greenock, 1879.)

Here in Greenock we have another link with the town drum - Drummer's Close.  It can still be seen today and runs south from Dalrymple Street at the side of the Municipal Buildings.  Anyone who was sentenced to banishment would be taken from the square with the drummer leading the way and from then on that person was no longer allowed to live in the local area.

Source - Watt Institution, Greenock

There's a curious incident related in Daniel Weir's The History of Greenock in which he states that when the Flesh Market and slaughter-house (situated funnily enough in Market Street) was rebuilt in 1815 the first cow to be slaughtered there (by James Bartlemore) was "paraded through the town dressed in ribbons with the town drum beating before it".

Being the Town Drummer must have been quite an interesting job!

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Thursday 30 September 2021

Maps for local and family history

Maps can be a wonderful tool when researching either local history or family history.  As far as local history is concerned, it can be interesting to see just how much a town has changed over time and it is fascinating to find out where your family once lived when researching your own family history.  One of the best resources for this is the National Library of Scotland which has a great selection of online town plans and maps for all of Scotland.  You can superimpose old maps over new ones to try and find locations from the past.  Find them here.

However some folk prefer to have a proper paper map to look at and there are a variety of places where you can find reproduction maps.  Alan Godfrey Maps are reprints of old Ordnance Survey Maps and there is a wonderful selection of historic maps from all over the UK.  I have several of Greenock and Port Glasgow which I find invaluable in my research.  Find them here.

Of course you can find up to date Ordnance Survey Maps on the official site here.

A local company based in Largs provides all sorts of historical and up to date street maps - Nicolson Digital.  Check out their great range here.

If you are looking for vintage maps of a particular area then there are lots available in various antique shops and to buy online.  I hope you will check out some of the links I have provided in this post.  Please let me know if you have found this information useful.  (Contact form - right column of blog.)

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Saturday 11 September 2021

Captayanis - up close

If you visit Greenock it would be almost impossible not to see the wrecked ship out in the middle of the Clyde.  The name of the ship was Captayanis - a sugar ship which sank in 1974.

I've always wanted a closer look at the ship and was lucky to take a trip on this little landing craft - Tonka out to the wreck.  


The tour was run by Clyde Charters and started from the James Watt Dock Marina.  It was a wonderful evening and a great way to see Greenock from a different angle.


We were taken right around the wreck and even got close enough to touch it.  It was fascinating to see the wonderfully rusted hull.  Lots of birds out there too.


The Greek ship Captayanis was bringing sugar to the James Watt Dock in Greenock but got caught in a dreadful January storm.  She collided with another ship, was damaged and started to take in water.  Eventually she ended up beached on a sandbank in the river.  All the crew managed to get aboard tugs which were sent out to help the Captayanis.  Eventually the ship rolled over and nothing could be done.  So she is still there to this day. 

Check out Clyde Charters website to find out about their other tours.

Thursday 9 September 2021

Port Glasgow buildings refurbished

I was delighted to see that the refurbishment work on these two old buildings in King Street, Port Glasgow had been completed and they look great.

Last time I blogged about them here they were surrounded by scaffolding and the renovation work was underway.  I'm happy to say that it looks like the external work has been completed.

The stonework looks fantastic - really showing up the different shades of stone between the two buildings.

The lodge was built in Port Glasgow in 1758 as Lodge Cumberland Kilwinning 217John Wesley preached there in 1772 - read about that here.  They were also known as the King George VI Buildings.

The building next door was built a few years later and was the Town Hall for Port Glasgow.  Great to see these buildings looking so good.

Friday 3 September 2021

5 Beautiful Buildings in Greenock

 Here are my top 5 must-see buildings in Greenock. 

Greenock Sheriff Court

The first is the Sheriff Court building on Nelson Street.  It opened in 1869 and the architects were Peddie and Kinnear of Edinburgh.  Looks more like a fairytale castle than a working courthouse but in my opinion one of the most beautiful buildings in Greenock.  For more information and photographs see here.

Sir Gabriel Wood Mariners Home, Greenock

Second would habe to be the Sir Gabriel Wood Mariners Home in Newark Street.  It is empty and up for sale at the moment but hopefully will given a new lease of life very soon.  Built in the 1850s it was founded by local man Sir Gabriel Wood and brought into being by his widow Lady Augusta Wood and his sister Frances Ann Wood.  It is a spectacular building in a beautiful setting.

Greenock Custom House

My third choice had to be the Greenock's former Custom House.  Built in 1818 it was designed by William Burn.  It is now occupied by a variety of businesses and also homes Greenock's Burns Museum which has an interesting display of memorabilia of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns (check Burns Club  website for details of when open).  Situated on Custom House Quay the building is right down at the riverside with spectacular views across the water.  See more photographs and find out more here.

Sculpture detail from Municipal Buildings, Greenock

Greenock's Municipal Buildings would be my fourth choice.  The buildings were constructed in the 1880s and designed by H & D Barclay.  All around the building are some fabulous architectural features and sculptures - see more here.  But perhaps my favourite feature is the wonderful Victoria Tower which is a fabulous landmark in Greenock.

Wellpark Mid Kirk, Greenock

My next favourite has to be the Wellpark Mid Parish Church in Cathcart Square.  Completed in 1761 it has a fabulous history.  You can read more here.  This is another town landmark and still used by the Church of Scotland as a place of worship today.

The Victoria Tower, Municipal Buildings, Greenock
It was difficult to choose my top five favourite buildings in Greenock as there are so many fabulous buildings in the town.  I'll list more of my favourites at a later date.

Monday 30 August 2021

Ropemaking machinery from Port Glasgow

There's something about old industrial machinery that is just fascinating!

These wonderful old machines can be found at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine, but a notice informs that they were once in use at the Gourock Ropeworks in Port Glasgow.

Such an interesting set of machinery - it's difficult to imagine how noisy and probably dangerous all this would have been when operational.


The Gourock Ropeworks building is still standing in Port Glasgow and has been converted into apartments.

Former Gourock Ropeworks Building, Port Glasgow

This wonderful illustration is from a mural at the Maritime Museum.


It was great to see some rope-making machinery that came from a local works ... even if I did have to travel to Irvine in Ayrshire to view it!


For other posts about Ropeworking in Port Glasgow -
The Port Glasgow Rope and Duck Company tells about the Glasgow Tobacco Lords who started ropemaking in Port Glasgow
Port Glasgow and Mayflower II tells of how ropes from Gourock Ropeworks were used on a replica of the Mayflower in 1957

Sunday 29 August 2021

Former Greenbank Church, Greenock

 This is the former Greenbank Church on the corner of Kelly Street and Newton Street in Greenock.


Designed by Hippolyte Jean Blanc (1844-1917) it was opened in 1882 as Greenbank United Presbyterian Church.
  It is described as an example of the Early Pointed Gothic Revival style.


The congregation of this church had a very rich and interesting history.  They started out as a breakaway group from the Port Glasgow Secession Church, holding services in a tent at Cartsdyke in Greenock.  In 1758 they had raised enough money to build a church in Market Street (now King Street) and Smith’s Lane, described as a "plain and comfortable edifice" and "the wee kirk".  In 1803 they moved again to what was called the "Canister Kirk" (described as “octagonal”) which seems to have been on East Shaw Street (near where the Hospital used to be at Inverkip Street).  This cost the grand sum of £1202.  In 1845 they moved again to a new church at George Square (George Square United Presbyterian Church) on the corner with Princes Street which unfortunately burned down in 1880.  The intrepid congregation then agreed to build a new church, and the site on Kelly Street (also known as Greenbank Terrace) was chosen.  The foundation stone was laid by former Provost Abram Lyle in October 1881.



The new building was opened in October 1882.
  The masonry work was carried out by A Galbraith & Co of Glasgow and joiner work by Hunter & Sinclair of Glasgow.  Plumbing work - Peter Bell & Co, glazier work - T Britton, plaster work – James McCreadie, slaters - David Phillips & Sons and upholsterers - Robert Blair & Sons, all Greenock tradesmen.



At the side is the church hall which was added in 1933 by local architect Alexander Stewart McGregor.

The minister at this time was the Rev James Brown Thomson (1850-1910) born in Penpont, Dumfries and who lived at Bentinck Street in Greenock.



In 1929 due to church mergers, it became Greenbank Church of Scotland.  In 1955 the congregation united with St Mark's Church on Ardgowan Street and used that building.  They became St Mark's Greenbank Church.  In 1987 it united with the Old Kirk on Nelson Street and that became St Luke's Church of Scotland (now known as Westburn Parish Church).



When the building was vacant after the 1955 church union it became the Greenbank Institute for the Deaf.

Latterly the building was used by the Elim Church.

Unfortunately, it now lies empty.



Joining with InSPIREd Sunday.  Come on over to see lots more churches from around the world.