Monday 25 April 2022

Waverley Buildings, Greenock

I have been intrigued by this photograph since I first saw the "Kennedy Collection" of photographs which show Greenock in the late 1960s before the town centre was "improved".  (Photographs @The Watt Institution, Greenock.)  I've often wondered what  this sculpture was and why it was on this building.

I think I've now discovered a bit more about it.  The sculpture was placed at the top of a building in Westburn Street which was demolished in the late 1960s.  It looks like an interesting building with a  decorative roof and urns.  It must have looked spectacular when it was new.  This was Waverley Buildings, 29 Westburn Street, which housed large shops and offices.  



Fronting Westburn Street, Waverley lane led off from the south side of the building and connected Westburn Street with Sugarhouse Lane to the East.  (I've marked it on the photograph.)


I believe that the sculpture is of Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) and the building and lane named after his famous novel, Waverley.  The building was opened in 1871/72 - just after the celebrations in memory of the centenary of Walter Scott's birth. 

Needless to say Westburn Street looks nothing like this now.  There used to be a great variety of shops and businesses in that one street.  This photograph shows the street looking south.  I've marked the statue on Waverley Buildings.

The buildings on the lower west side of Westburn Street are still there.  The east side of the street is now the entrance to the Oak Mall Shopping Centre.  I wonder what happened to the sculpture, was it just demolished along with the other buildings in the street?

I've made a short film of Greenock in the 60s which you can see here.

Sunday 24 April 2022

Mysteries at the McLean Museum - Sugar Connections?

You will need all your psychic abilities to get to the root of this week's Mystery at the McLean!  Another display cabinet at the McLean Museum in Greenock (part of the Watt Institution, Kelly Street) holds some (what seems to me) random objects.  Here's the object that caught my attention - in the photograph below.  


Obviously a set of overalls with "JW" embroidered on the front.  What on earth does this stand for?  If we are not possessed of psychic powers, then what are us lowly mortals visiting the museum supposed to make of this display?  

As an old Greenockian, I assumed that the "JW" refers to Walkers - once upon a time important sugar refiners in the town.  A quick check at the online collections site (Inverclyde Council website) confirms that this is indeed a uniform jacket dated 1965-1970 from John Walker & Co, sugar refiners, Greenock. (The National Library of Scotland have two wonderful old films from the 1960s showing sugar being processed in Greenock.  Check them out here.)

The only notice in the entire case is the same "Remembering Sugaropolis" label from another case containing a wooden spoon.  The notice is quite small and very difficult to read.  For those who are not local, Sugaropolis was the name given to Greenock when it was a major sugar refining centre in Britain.  There were some other items which perhaps had a more obvious sugar connection - some jars of samples of sugar, a machete and a sugar sack. 

So, if this is a case referring to Greenock's sugar refining heritage, what do the other objects inform us about the sugar industry? The piece of paper on top of the Walkers uniform - what is that?  An employment record of someone who worked at Walkers, perhaps?  No!  It is a document dated 1798 stating that Captain Andrew Ramsay of the ship Union of Greenock could trade between Great Britain, North America, West Indies and Europe.  Just about 200 years before the uniform on which it rests!  An amazing piece of local history in its own right, but what has it got to do with the overalls or sugar?  No explanation is given.

Then, in the same case, are these bottles - what have they got to do with sugar?  Well, there is no notice as to what they might be, but on zooming in on my photograph I could make out the word "Hoytema & Co".  A quick check on Google led me to discover that they were late 18th century Dutch gin bottles found in Nigeria.  So, the connection to Greenock's sugar trade is?  Obvious ... eh, isn't it??

What about this lovely stoneware jar in the display case.  It is labelled "MacSymon Company Ltd" - a grocery shop owner in Greenock in 1880 and later Liverpool.  His shops presumably sold sugar - perhaps that's the connection?  Was it stored in jars like this?

Why is nothing labelled in this collection of what seems to me, random artifacts?  If they are connected, why is there no information as to how?  Sadly, I discovered that I had photographed the exact same display in September 2021 - nothing had changed and no information cards had been added in the intervening 8 months.

It won't be long till cruise ships arriving at Greenock bring lots of visitors to the area.  Many will seek out the museum expecting to learn about local history.  As a Greenockian, I hope they will visit the Watt Institution because the staff are lovely, the building is amazing and there is a fabulous art collection.  Whether they will be any the wiser as to Greenock's wonderful history and heritage is very much in question as long as the museum continues to randomly display objects without any explanation as to their meaning or importance. 

Check out other Mysteries at the McLean - Children of Greenock  - Wooden Spoon - Magician's Clock - Spanish Armada Relic - click on links.

Monday 18 April 2022

Greenock West End Walk - An Architectural Ramble

If you would like to take a self-guided walk around Greenock's West End and find out about some of the wonderful buildings in the area, then this walk is perfect for you.  Even if it is raining or you don't live locally, you can download the PDF and explore the area virtually.  The map on page 2 of the document is fully interactive as are the quick links to the left of it.

The walk starts at George Square in Greenock and goes just as far west as Forsyth Street before returning to George Square where it ends.  There's lots to see along the way with many 19th century buildings some of which have been converted to other uses.

Former Greenbank Church, Kelly Street (14 on map)

There's a map with all the interesting buildings mentioned on the walk numbered in red, and when you download the PDF you can click on the red numbers and you will be taken to external sites giving more information about the building in question.

St Mary's Church, Patrick Street (26 on map)

So, if you live locally or are visiting Greenock for a short time then this would be a great walk to see some of our lovely buildings and find out a bit more about their history.  Download it here.

Thursday 14 April 2022

Greenock Waterfront - Mechanical Animals

Perhaps the most unusual of the art installations at Greenock Waterfront (between the Waterfront Leisure Centre and the Beacon Theatre) are these amazing jellyfish.  The work is called "Mechanical Animals".

By artist Tragic O'Hara, the jellyfish are made of steel and perspex with coloured LED lights inside and powered by solar panels.  Check out the artist's website for some amazing photographs of them lit up at night.


The noticeboard explains that mechanical animals may be all that's left if we do not take more care of our planet.

RIG Arts were involved in this project along with another two projects together named - Creative Conversations - at the Waterfront depicting Greenock past, present and future.  Three great additions to an area which is very popular with walkers in Greenock.

The other two projects are - depicting the past - Yardmen and depicting the present Ebb & Flow.

Wednesday 13 April 2022

Greenock in the 60s

There's a wonderful collection of photographs of Greenock in the 60s taken by Eugene Mehat.  They are fascinating to look at if you remember Greenock when ships were still being built and there was a great variety of shops in the town centre.

Photo - @The Watt Institution

I put some of these photographs together into a short film which you can view on the Greenockian YouTube channel here.  It takes a nostalgic walk from Charing Cross in the east end of Greenock, across from Scotts shipyard, through the town centre and finishes up at Gray Place in the west end of the town.






Saturday 9 April 2022

Mysteries at the McLean Museum - Spanish Armada Relic

There is a relic of the Spanish Armada at the McLean Museum in Greenock.

Sitting just outside the Museum entrance on Kelly Street is this old cannon.  The Museum's online catalogue describes it as a "A 16th century Spanish Armada 12 pounder cannon from the Portencross wreck".  The cannon is supposed to come from a Spanish ship which ended its days at Portencross near West Kilbride in North Ayrshire - just 23 miles south of Greenock.  The name of the ship is unknown but it appears to have gone down just off shore from Portencross Castle.  Another cannon was found and remains at Portencross.

Portencross Castle

In 1588 when the Spanish fleet was routed by the English many ships trying to return to Spain were caught up in bad storms and blown way off course.  A few ended up in Scotland.  There's an excellent article about the defeat of the Spanish Armada on the Royal Museums Greenwich site (click to read).

How did this cannon end up in the Watt Institution, Greenock?  It was donated to the museum in 1877 by Caird & Co, shipbuilders.  When Greenock's main harbour was formed in 1710 the cannon was placed there by the magistrates of the town.  In 1810 when the harbour was being improved, shipbuilder John Scott bought it and placed it in his shipyard.  It was used to secure ships.

John Scott had a brass plate made for the cannon giving its full history - "The famous Spanish Armada sailed to conquer England in the year 1588, under the command of the Duke of Medina.  The fleet was scattered in a tempest, and many of the ships were wrecked on the western islands of Scotland.  This gun, saved from one of the wrecked ships, was brought here, and placed by the magistrates on the West Quay, in the year 1710, where it remained for one hundred years.  Mr Scott having purchased all the materials of the old Quay when the harbour improvements were going on, this gun was removed here, not for the purpose of destroying ships, but for assisting vessels for repairing safely in and out of dock."  "Building yard, Greenock 1843.  Caliber of gun 12 pounder.  Circumference at breech 3 feet 6 inches.  Length of gun 8 feet 3 inches.  Circumference at muzzle 2 feet 3 inches."  There is now just a small descriptive plate attached to the cannon.

Such was its importance that in 1905 it was send from Greenock to be exhibited at the Naval, Shipping and Fisheries Exhibition at Earls Court, London.

Returned to Greenock, it still guards the entrance to the McLean Museum.

There are interesting links between Armada shipwrecks and Greenock.  In 1680s the Earl of Argyll employed Archibald Miller a diver (salvor) from Greenock to investigate the wreck of an Armada ship which had sunk off Tobermory, Mull.  Miller is recorded as finding several items for the Earl.

In 1874 another attempt was made to find any treasure left behind on the ship.  This time Greenock submarine diver, Charles Gush, was employed by to find any remains of the ship at Tobermory.  The Marquis of Lorne and his wife HRH Princess Louise were on board the steam yacht Colombia to view the proceedings, but there was an accident.  Fortunately Charles Gush recovered.

In 1906 once again attempts were made to salvage any remains from the wreck at Tobermory.  James Gush, submarine diver (son of Charles Gush) was employed by Captain William Burns (salvor) and the West of Scotland Syndicate, a group of businessmen intent on finding treasure.  Some items were recovered and sold at auction - perhaps not the treasure they expected.

Since then many more expeditions have set out to try and find the "Tobermory Treasure".  You will find a full and detailed account on the Canmore site (click to view) of the ship now thought to be the San Juan De Sicilia and the salvage operations undertaken over the centuries.  It is a fascinating story.

Friday 8 April 2022

Greenock's Great Names

It is interesting to see the differences in the plaques of names of the prominent Greenock men which adorn the top of the Lyle Fountain in Cathcart Square in Greenock.  The fountain recently had restoration work done and looks quite different.  The name plaques or shields are now gilded whereas before they were painted in different colours.


I'm surely not the only one who has oftened wondered just who were the people whose names adorned the Fountain.  This is the plaque in honour of Abram Lyle (1820-1891) who donated the fountain to the town.  A cooper, ship owner and sugar refiner, he was Provost of Greenock from 1876-1879.

Another former Provost of Greenock who has his name on one of the Lyle Fountain plaques is James Morton (1822-1890).  An iron merchant, he was Provost from 1868 until 1871.




The third former Provost to be commemorated with a plaque on the Fountain is Dugald Campbell (1832-1899).  He was an accountant and Provost of Greenock from 1879-1882.



The motto around the shield of this plaque had been damaged, but has been repaired by the restorers.
It is good to put faces to the names on the Fountain.  My thanks to Greenock Burns Club for permission to use the photographs of the Provosts.

Monday 4 April 2022

Greenock Waterfront Yardmen

These three wonderful characters are part of an artwork at Greenock's Waterfront between the Beacon Theatre and the Waterfront Leisure Centre.  Their creator is artist Jason Orr of RIG Arts.



The scenes celebrate this area's long shipbuilding heritage and the characters are just 12 inches high!  For such small figures, they have strong presence.


There are three different scenes with characters at work - and on a break.  Look at the cat sitting on the bench.

They are really fascinating to look at and each time you look closer, there's something new to see.  


Even in such a small work, the attention to detail is amazing.


It really is necessary to see these works in person to appreciate all the details in them, so do make a point of looking out for them if you are in the area.  While I was taking these photographs I spoke to a chap who was also having a look at them.  He used to work in the shipyards and thought they were wonderful.  Many of my own relatives worked in the shipyards and it is heartening to see these figures representing our strong shipbuilding heritage.




Sunday 3 April 2022

James Watt Dock - bright visitor

There were two very different vessels berthed at the James Watt Dock yesterday.

This is the World Pearl - an offshore supply vessel.

The other visitor is Lord of the Highlands - a  small, luxury cruise ship.



There were also plenty of small boats and yachts in the James Watt Dock Marina.