As early as 1736 there was a ropeworks in Port Glasgow, made
necessary by the increasing number of ships bringing tobacco and other goods
into the port from America and the West Indies.
Ships needed ropes and canvas to keep “ship-shape” for their next
voyage, so a ropeworks was not just a necessity but a valuable commercial
enterprise. Glasgow’s Tobacco Lords were
quick to see the advantage in such an opportunity and it is hardly surprising
to know that a couple of the most successful of these merchants were involved
in the setting up of Port Glasgow’s Rope and Duck Company. Two of the original partners were Lawrence Dinwiddie and Richard Oswald, Glasgow merchants who would later go on to be Lord Provosts of the city and who were formost among the city’s merchant elite.
The first manager of the Company was John
Stevenson who corresponded with merchants at home and abroad in connection with
the Company’s business.
Lawrence Dinwiddie (1696-1764) had the advantage of having a
brother, Robert Dinwiddie
who was Governor of Virginia – very handy when
dealing in tobacco. Their father built
e in Glasgow where the family lived. Lawrence, who was Lord Provost of Glasgow
from 1742 till 1744, had a wide variety of business interests. Like many Glasgow merchants he had his own
ships which travelled across the Atlantic bringing tobacco back to the west of
|Advertisement from 1742|
The Dinwiddie brothers also set up the Delftfield Pottery in
Glasgow (off what is now Brown Street) – a business which Greenock’s James Watt would later become a partner,
advising on technical aspects of the works.
In fact James Watt lived in Delftfield House after his first marriage to
Margaret Miller in 1764. You can see a
picture of the house on the Inverclyde Council website here. (Decorative and everyday pottery items were in great by British merchants overseas and could be traded, with other household commodities, for tobacco and other produce).
The Port Glasgow Rope & Duck Company also traded extensively with merchants
around the Baltic -sourcing supplies of hemp needed in the making of rope. Four ships a year travelled between the Clyde
and the Baltic. As usual ships would
leave Port Glasgow with cargoes of salted herring (and other goods requested by
local merchants). They would return with
hemp, flax and sometimes tar. Richard
Oswald, one of the partners requested that some of the best caviare be sent
back to Port Glasgow.
Port Glasgow at this time was at the epicentre of a global
trade - the importance of shipbuilding would come later. We
should never underestimate just how important Port Glasgow was in Scotland’s 18th
century international trade.
The Port Glasgow Rope and Duck Company later merged with the
Gourock Ropework Company and take their name.