Monday 29 May 2023

Greenock Waterfront Walk

If you would like to take a short walk with lovely views and some interesting history then this Waterfront Walk is just right for you.  The circular route only takes about an hour and passes some of Greenock's more interesting buildings and sculptures.  You can download the fully interactive map and information here.

The route takes you from the new Greenock Ocean Terminal along the waterfront to the Beacon Arts Centre then up to Cathcart Street and along to Cathcart Square.  From there the route returns back to the Waterfront.

It would be ideal for cruise ship visitors who would like to find out a little about Greenock and its history and I've also provided travel information for buses and trains to Glasgow.

So, with the lovely weather we've been having recently, why not take the Waterfront Walk, stopping off at the Beacon Cafe & Bar for a cup of coffee or snack on the way.

All the information can be downloaded here.

Sunday 28 May 2023

Dr Pentecost at Greenock

In 1889, Dr George Frederick Pentecost (1842-1920) of Brooklyn USA, was on a speaking tour of Britain.  He was a celebrated evangelist (couldn't have had a better name!) and colleague of Dwight L Moody.  His British tour attracted such attention that many Christians in Greenock wrote to him asking if he would conduct a mission in the town.  A notice appeared in the local newspaper.  

The meeting took place in the Pillar Hall of the Temperance Institute in Greenock, presided over by Rev Young.  Many local ministers and prominent Greenockians, including ex-Provosts Campbell and Lyle attended the meeting.


On Sunday 26 January 1890 the first meeting in Greenock took place in George Square Baptist Church where "he delivered an earnest address to Christian workers."  Later in the day he spoke at the West Parish Church followed by an evening talk in the Town Hall to an audience "which filled the spacious building in every part.  He was accompanied on the platform by ministers Robert Bell (East Congregational Church), David Boyd (Free North Church), Alexander Corbet (Orangefield Baptist Church), Peter Thomson (Crawfurdsburn Free Church) and John Young (Trinity United Presbyterian) as well several local “big-wigs”.

On Monday afternoon he was back in George Square and in the evening spoke at the Free Middle Church, again accompanied by a large number of local ministers and "prominent laymen".  A conference later in the evening was attended by about a hundred ministers and Christian workers. 

Dr Pentecost stayed in the town for a couple of weeks giving lectures in various churches, all very well attended, according to the local press.  On 18 February a notice appeared in the Greenock Telegraph advising that lectures were cancelled that day owing to Dr Pentecost's "indisposition".  There followed another two days of Bible readings and meetings before Dr Pentecost returned to America. 

Over the next few years he paid several visits to Britain and in 1892 accepted a call to Marylebone Presbyterian Church in London where he worked for five years.  After London he became minister of Yonkers Presbyterian Church in New York.  He was involved in foreign mission visiting India, China, Japan and the Philippines.  In 1914 he became minister of Bethany Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.  He was the author of books on Bible Study.  Dr Pentecost had entered the ministry in 1862 but is seems that although his preaching time was short, he managed to reach many people all over the world.  He certainly had a big following in Greenock and spoke in many local venues attracting large crowds to hear his Christian words.  It seems appropriate to post this, as today is Pentecost Sunday (the seventh after Easter) in the Christian calendar.

Thursday 25 May 2023

Alfred Lord Tennyson - the Greenock connection

Mary Tennyson, sister of Alfred Tennyson, married barrister Alan Ker who was born in Greenock in December 1819.

Alan Ker (1819-1885) was the eldest son of Robert Dow Kerr and Augusta Buchanan.  The Ker family of Greenock were merchants (Ker & Co) who traded and travelled all over the world.  Robert Dow Kerr and Augusta married in Greenock in 1819 and went on to have 15 children, all born in Greenock.  Ker Street in Greenock is named after this family.  The family lived at Finnart House.  Later the family moved to Clifton, Gloucestershire.

 Alan Ker attended the Grammar School in Greenock and later Glasgow University.  In 1838 he studied at the Middle Temple in London and in 1842 became a Barrister at Law.  He moved to Cheltenham, home of his brother Claudius Ker who was a doctor in the town.   It is here that he met the Tennyson family and in 1851 married Mary Tennyson.  After their marriage they moved to the West Indies where their son, Walter Charles Alan Ker was born in 1853 in Antigua.  Mary travelled back to Britain she was not particularly happy living abroad.  Walter received his education in Britain at Cheltenham College and Trinity College, Cambridge.  Read more about the Tennyson sisters here.

Alan Ker remained abroad.  From 1851 to 1854 he was Attorney General of Antigua before moving to Nevis where he was Chief Justice from 1854 to 1856.  From 1856 to 1861 he was Chief Justice of Dominica before becoming, in 1860, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court until 1885.  He had retired from his position and was about to return to Britain when he became ill and died at Kingston, Jamaica in March 1885.  Mary Tennyson Ker died at Margate in 1884.

Their son, Walter Charles Alan Ker (1853-1929) was said to resemble the Tennysons in looks.  He became a barrister but spent his time translating and editing books.  He married in Julia Susan Christiana Holmes (1862-1900), daughter of Robert Holmes of Moycashel, Westmeath.  The couple had a daughter, Dorothy Mary Ker (1886-1965).  The family lived at Vicarage Gardens, Kensington, London.

A Kensington Mystery!     However all was not well in the Ker household.  On Boxing Day 1900 the body of Julia Susan Christiana Ker was found floating in the Thames.  She had been missing since 7 December.  

The body was found by John Harved, a picture frame maker of 30 Stowe Road, Shepherd’s Bush.  He stated that he had been standing talking to someone near Biffen’s Boat Yard at Hammersmith Bridge on Thursday morning about 9.30 when he noticed something floating down the river from the direction of “The Doves”.  He went down to the boat raft and rowed out into the stream catching the body on an oar as it swept past.  The body was then conveyed to the shore and the police were sent for.  When asked how the body was dressed he described a black dress and jacket with a fur boa round the neck and that she was wearing gloves.  When questioned whether the the dress was grey, he relied that it had been black but that “there was a lot of mud.”

PC Robert Sears 683 T stated that he had been called to the riverside at 10 o’clock on the Thursday morning when the body was brought ashore.  He called for Dr Musson and the body was removed to the mortuary.

One of Julia’s friends, Margaret Butterworth of 47 Camden House Road had known her for two or three years and had heard that she “suffered mentally” and described her as “a very delicate woman”.  She said that when Julia returned from Yorkshire she had remarked that she looked very well, to which Julia had replied “Yes, in my body.”  When asked about her home life, Margaret stated that - “ Her home life was very happy, and her husband was kindness itself to her.”  Margaret had last seen Julia on 21 November.

Walter Ker stated that his wife had been suffering from “hysterical delusions” or “aberration of mind”.  She had been admitted to a “home” in  Ilkley, Yorkshire which she had left on 17 November 1900 and returned to her home in Kensington.  Her doctor Sir John Williams had given a good report on her health and all had assumed she had completely recovered and she was in good physical health.  On 7 December Walter Ker returned home and was told by his niece who was living with, them that Julia had gone out and had not returned.  No one knew where she had gone.  When asked by the coroner if he had ever heard her threaten to take her own life he said that he had not, but he believed that she had told her sister who had not taken her seriously and indeed had laughed at her.

Kate New, a servant with the Kers said that she had seen her mistress go out about 4.30 in the afternoon but she had not said where she was going.  She was wearing a grey costume (suit) and seemed very well.  When asked by the coroner  if her mistress “seemed strange at times”, the woman replied “Oh, yes, sir.”

Dr W E C Musson of 61 Bridge Avenue described her clothing the same as Harved and stated that two old letters, a gold wedding ring and a purse containing £1 4sh 5d had been also been found with the body.  He had performed a post mortem examination and found no external signs of violence upon the body which had been in the water for at least two weeks.  He stated that “the brain was congested, but there was no water in the lungs.  The valves of the heart were affected and might cause sudden fainting at any time.  There was an abrasion on the right side of the head, caused just before or immediately after death, which, in his opinion, was due to asphyxia and shock from immersion.”

The coroner Mr H R Oswald said that there was no evidence to show how the deceased came into the water and the jury returned an open verdict.

Walter Ker and his daughter Dorothy Mary Ker (1886-1965) continued to live at Vicarage Gardens until his death in 1929.  He left the residue of the property in trust for his daughter, Dorothy, for life, with "the remainder to her issue as she may appoint, or failing appointment to her children equally or on failure of issue", then he directed the trustees to cause to be erected in the parish or other church at Greenock a tablet bearing the following or a similar inscription:-

Sacred to the memory of Alan Ker, the eldest son of Robert Dow Ker of Finnart in this burgh, who was successively Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Jamaica from 1860-1884.  As a Judge he was distinguished for an inflexible firmness of principle and independence of character, as a man for his earnest solicitude for the welfare of his fellow-men, which was the guiding star of his life, and to which he sacrificed his private interest and his ease and comfort.  He was born on December 7th 1819 and died at Kingston, Jamaica, on March 20, 1885, being accorded the honour of a public funeral – R.I.P. The memory of the just is blessed.

Dorothy Mary Ker died in 1965.

Saturday 6 May 2023

State of the Art

What a terrible state the lovely little art works down at the Waterfront area of Greenock are in!

This is "Ebb and Flow" which I described in my blog here.  The little seal has gone.  It had been broken and now it has completely gone.  The explanation about the mosiacs on the benches has also gone!  This area is not far from where cruise ships berth when they are visiting Greenock.  Here's a photograph of how it used to look.

The Yardmen, representing Greenock's shipbuilding heritage has been vandalised.  Now it is just a shadow of its former glory.  Here is a photograph of how it used to look.  See more photographs and read about it here.

How it looks now -

It must be very disappointing for the artists who put so much time and talent into producing these works for everyone - both locals and visitors - to enjoy.

Thursday 4 May 2023

John Galt and the Coronation bunfight

John Galt (1779-1839) Greenock author, always raises a smile in his writing especially his characterisation and the pomp of ceremony which he readily and wryly describes.  Galt was actually in London at the time of the Coronation of George IV in July 1821 and gave a very down to earth account of the proceedings.   In his collection of stories -  “The Steamboat” - published by Blackwood in 1822, there is a short story entitled “Preparations for the Coronation” about a Scot, Mr Duffle, visiting London for the great event.  His opening sentence sets the tone of the work: - “London being, as is well known, a place of more considerable repute than Greenock, or even Port Glasgow …”!

Galt’s Mr Duffle describes his adventures in London and discussions with the various characters he meets during his visit for the Coronation of King George IV.  One conversation he has with “… a man in a suit of shabby black, of a clerical cut …” who gives his opinion - “The ceremony has survived the uses which gave it sanctity in the eyes of the people.  It will now pass like a pageant of the theatre, and be no longer impressive on its own account, but merely on account of the superior quantity of the silk and lace that may be shewn in the dresses.  Some things just don't change!

Mr Duffle takes his place in the grandstands to witness the arrival of the lords and ladies attending the King and then the arrival of King George IV himself “who entered with a marvellous fasherie, as I thought it, of formalities … for I could see he was now and then like to lose his temper at the stupidity of some of the attendants.  But it’s no new thing for kings to be ill served; and our Majesty might by this time, I think, have been used to the misfortune, considering what sort of men his minister are. 

After the ceremony, Galt goes to the balcony to view the banqueting hall.  Of the actual feast Galt writes of the dishes:- “… the King tasted but little of them; it was therefore supposed that he had got a refreshment behind the scenes”.  After the King and nobles leave, the general company were invited to come and enjoy the leftovers!  Or as Galt puts it:- “But the best part of the ploy was after his Majesty had retired,for, when he departed, everyone one, according to immemorial privilege, ran to plunder the table …” including Mr Duffle.  He  “was content with a piece of a most excellent bacon ham, and a cordial glass or two of claret wine, and a bit seed-cake.  The crowd seized not just the leftover food and drink, but ornaments and table decorations.

John Galt, Writer

In his later writing “Remarks on the Steamboat”, Galt reflects:- “If anything were calculated to inspire laughable contempt for the melodrama of earthly grandeur, it was the hurly-burly in Westminster Hall subsequent to the King’s departure.  I can neither repress my derision at the commotion, nor conceive why it was permitted, thought “the swinish multitude” were in court dresses.  But there is a stronger infection in folly than in wisdom, and, though I despised the pastime, I could not resist joining in the game.  In the plunder of the tables I got hold of a golden Britannia as big as a doll, with which I made proud a Bishop’s lady and gave to another “gorgeous dame” of high degree, a really beautiful basket of crystal, and bestowed gilded vessels on longing ladies.  But what added to the delight was the discovery that all the magnificence was as artificial as courtesies!  The goblets and imagery, the plates and epergnes, at the coronation festival of the greatest monarch on the earth, were gilded wood and pewter trenchers!  This, however was wise, and showed the improved intelligence, alias the political economy of the age; but wherefore cheat the eye?  At the time, the coronation afforded me inconceivable pleasure, for I could only see things, bating the occasion, worthy to provide heart-easing laughter; the remembrance, however, like many other sweets, sours in the rumination.  It did more to lessen my respect for the tricks of state than anything I ever witnessed."

John Galt had a wonderful eye for detailing the absurd and seeing through the conventions and characters of his day.  Throughout his description of the Coronation he constantly compares the proceedings and characters to those in King Crispin processions, very popular in his day.