Saturday 25 June 2022

Greenock's Wallace Monument

Situated at the very top of the main pathway in Greenock Cemetery (the Esplanade Walk), in a very eminent position, is this monument to Greenock's first Member of Parliament - Robert Wallace (1773-1855).  He was the son of John Wallace (1712-1805) and his third wife Janet Colquhoun.

On his father's death in 1805, Robert Wallace inherited the Kelly Estate in Wemyss Bay along with the Glasgow Estate in Westmoreland, Jamaica and the Cessnock Estate in Hanover, Jamaica.  He became a merchant in Glasgow and was a partner in the Greenock based firm of Wallace, Hunter & Co along with James Hunter, James Tasker and John Robertson.  Wallace, Hunter & Co were merchants (importing sugar and rum) and shipowners with premises at 38 Shaw Street in Greenock.  The company was dissolved in 1849. 

In 1804 he married Margaret Forbes (1783-1846), second daughter of Sir William Forbes of Craigievar (5th Bart) and his wife Sarah Sempill.  They had no children.

Robert Wallace, a Whig, strongly supported electoral reform and became Greenock’s first Member of Parliament after the passing of the Reform Act.  He is best known for his work with regard to postal reform and cheap rate of postage.  His efforts led to the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840.  In thanks for his endeavours, he was awarded the freedom of the City of Glasgow as well as Aberdeen, Paisley, Perth, Dingwall, Inverness and Dornoch.

The Greenock Advertiser described the postal system before reform – “The constant subterfuges to which people were compelled to have recourse to save enormous postage charges by giving their letters to friends to deliver – the pressure on Members of Parliament for franks – the tricks of the Post Office in opening and spying into letters to discover whether they contained enclosures, which were then individually liable to postage – all formed fruitful subjects of complaint in the House of Commons.”  Reform was greatly needed and very much appreciated.

Wallace ran into financial difficulties due to the loss in value of his Jamaican estates and had to sell the Kelly Estate.  He resigned from Parliament in 1845.

A popular man locally, a public subscription was raised in Greenock  and he lived his later days at Seafield Cottage, Esplanade, Greenock.

He died in 1855 and was buried along with other members of his family in Greenock Cemetery.  In 1857 money was raised and it was agreed that a monument to his memory should be erected over his grave.  The family burial plot is situated at the very top of the main pathway in the cemetery (the Esplanade Walk) in a very eminent situation.  The Gothic monument is 31 feet high and made from Aberdeen granite.  It is surrounded by smaller headstones marking the graves of other family members.  

On a red granite tablet is an inscription which reads “Here repose, side by side, the remains of Robert Wallace, late of Kelly, who died on the 1st of April 1855, in the 81st year of his age; and of his beloved wife, Margaret Forbes, who died on the 7th December 1846, aged 62.  Robert Wallace was the descendant and representative of the renowned champion of Scottish independence, and inherited no small portion of the patriotic spirit and indomitable energy of his ancestor.  He sat in Parliament as member for Greenock from 1832 to 1845, being returned four times in succession free of expense, and by his indefatigable and successful labours in the cause of legal and post office reform, he not only justified the choice of the electors, but established a title to the lasting gratitude of his countrymen.  His casting vote as chairman of the committee of the House of Commons secured to the nation the benefit of the penny postage.”  

The space beneath the inscription contained a heraldic shield bearing the Wallace coat of arms and the motto “pro libertate”, now difficult to make out.  At the very top of the monument are iron rods and painted thistles of brass.  The Wallace family claimed descent from Scotland's hero - William Wallace.

Greenock's Wallace Monument was designed by David McIntosh who also designed the Gabriel Wood Mariners Home in Greenock.  The sculptor was Alexander McDonald of the Granite Works, Aberdeen. It must have been a spectacular monument when it was first built.  Unfortunately it is rather sad looking nowadays.  There are several other gravestones around the monument marking the burial places of other family members.

Robert Wallace was highly esteemed not just locally, but throughout Britain.  He left a bequest of several items to the Watt Institution.

This included his freedoms to the various cities and towns he had been awarded, two "curious" arm chairs, one the chair of a Spanish admiral who had sailed around the world.  Another item was a picture of Sir William Wallace and a "curious" long chest with "strange looking" figures carved on it.  The items were on show to the public locally before they disappeared into the vaults of the Museum.  I wonder where these items are now?  

Wallace of Kelly is one of the names around the top of the Lyle Fountain in Cathcart Square, Greenock.

Saturday 18 June 2022

Greenock's Ghost Closes

A walk along Cathcart Street in Greenock gives glimpses of the many closes, or narrow lanes, that once led down to the River Clyde from Greenock's main street.

You can see where these closes once stood by the signs on the walls of the present day buildings. Once the busy, noisy, thronging heart of the town, many were also dirty, overcrowded and crime-ridden places.  However they do add a colourful side to Greenock's history and were where many ordinary people lived and worked. 

Sign showing where Broad Close once stood.

Broad Close was once one of the main lanes down to the River and, for its time, was considered wide!  The local gaol was situated here thus the depiction of the jougs (iron collar used as form of punishment).  You can read more about it here.

Another "ghost close" was the notorious Longwell Close - so called because it houses one of the town's main wells.  There's still a stone on the ground marking where the well once was.  You can read more about it on this blog here.

Drummer's Close still exists in part.  It once ran south from Dalrymple Street (at the Municipal Buildings) and has a very interesting history which you can read here.

Then there's the interestingly named Mince Collop Close - which once stood just off William Street.  Learn more here.

Many of these closes were destroyed during improvements to the town in the 1880s.  It is good to know that the ghost of their presence still remains in the street signs along Cathcart Street a reminder of an important aspect of Greenock's history and heritage.

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Greenock's Finnieston Crane

It is a well known fact that the Finnieston Crane can be found at Stobcross in Glasgow.  However, Greenock has its own cantilever crane at the James Watt Dock Marina.  By a curious coincidence, part of this area in the east end of Greenock was once called Finnieston.  You can see the crane clearly in the Greenockian Blog header.

A look at a local map from the 1840s clearly shows, just across the street from Garvel Park, at what was then called Archibald Street (now Macdougall Street), a few buildings which are labelled "Finnieston".

Greenock's Titan cantilever crane is an icon in the town, built in 1917 by Sir William Arroll & Co for the Greenock Harbour Trust.  The town's shipyards have all gone, but the Titan crane remains as a reminder of our proud shipbuilding and engineering past.

Click here for more reflection photographs.

A very strange coincidence that the area right across from where the Greenock crane stands was once called Finnieston - just like the Glasgow crane!

Monday 13 June 2022

Lyle Fountain Video

Find out more about the Lyle Fountain in Cathcart Square, Greenock - I've just uploaded a new video to the Greenockian's YouTube Channel.

Or you can look back at this previous blog post - Lyle Fountain - the 18 Names.

Tuesday 7 June 2022

Where has W S Graham's plaque gone?

In October 2021 I wrote about this lovely plaque to Greenock poet W S Graham down at the Beacon Arts Centre at Customhouse Quay.  It seems to have disappeared!

EDITED 18 June 2022 - I have been informed that the plaque is safe inside the Beacon Arts Centre building.

I asked at the Beacon but no one seems to know what has happened to it.

If anyone out there has any idea of its present whereabouts, could you please let me know.  (There's a "get in touch" item on the right hand column of this blog or get in touch via Instagram.)  Thank you!

Thursday 2 June 2022

The Walton Window

This beautiful stained glass window can be found in George Square United Reformed Church, Greenock.  It is in memory of the Walton family who were heavily involved with the Church.  Utrick Walton (1817-1885) and his wife Elizabeth Dickinson (1818-1884) came from Alston, Cumbria and settled in Greenock about 1844.  He worked for H M Customs at the Custom House in Greenock.

From a congregational background, the family attended the newly built congregational church in George Square.  Utrick took an active part in church affairs and became Superintendent of the Congregational Sabbath School and church treasurer.  He was also involved in the Seamen's Friends Society and other organisations in the town.  He was presented with a special gift by the congregation to mark 40 years of "long and unwearied service" to the church.

Utrick and Elizabeth had five children.  Their son Joseph died in 1858 aged just 10.  Two other sons - Francis (Frank) (1857-1914) was a clerk in Greenock and John Dickinson (1848-1921) was a sugar broker.  Their only daughter, Mary (1854-1924) lived with her brothers in Greenock.  (It was pointed out to me that there are five faces in blue at the bottom of the window, perhaps these represent the children.)

Another son Thomas Utrick Walton (1854-1917) worked in Greenock's sugar refineries.  In 1881 he emigrated to Sydney, Australia where he worked as a senior chemist at the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.  He married Mary Hamilton and lived at Burwood, a suburb of Sydney.  The couple had three daughters and a son.  

You can see a retort flask in the stained glass window, probably in connection with Thomas.  Before he left Greenock he was presented with a gold watch by members of the George Square congregation in acknowledgement of his service to the church, especially with regard to music.

This window is a beautiful reminder of the members of the Walton family who gave much of their time and energy in serving not just their Church, but also the people of Greenock.

The window was the work of William Meikle & Sons of Glasgow.