Tuesday 27 February 2024

Argylls' Parade, Port Glasgow

The short path linking Port Glasgow's Shore Street with the Tesco Supermarket is called Argylls' Parade.

This is in honour of the regiment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders who have strong links with the area.  Many local memorial plaques bear testament to this.   

A&SH - Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders from Westburn Church, Greenock

In 2013 the Regiment of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders paraded along the path named after them and you can see the video of this on YouTube.  Check out the Regimental mascot, a Shetland pony which has a fascinating history

The history of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders can be found at their museum in Stirling here.  A pathway named after a wonderful part of local and national history!

For more information about local people who may have served during both World Wars then check out Inverclyde's Great War - a wonderful site full of information about both wars.

Saturday 17 February 2024

"Daft Lochnagar" and the strange will

“Daft Lochnagar” was a familiar character around Inverkip and Gourock.  With eccentric habits and dressed in old, greasy clothes he lived in cheap lodgings and travelled around a lot.  He was obsessed with Scottish music and played the fiddle as often as he could.  He also bought and cooked all his own food, worried that someone was trying to poison him.  While outwardly he looked like a poor tramp, in reality he was related to the Shaw Stewart family who owned the Ardgowan Estate in Inverkip and land elsewhere in Scotland. 

His name was William Maxwell Shaw Stewart.  Born in 1796 he was one of the five sons of Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, 5th Bart (1766-1825) and his wife (who was also his cousin) Catherine Maxwell, youngest daughter of Sir William Maxwell of Springkell.  William’s eldest brother, Michael Shaw Stewart (1788-1836) inherited the Ardgowan Estate on the death of their father in 1825.  His other brothers were Houston Shaw Stewart, who later became Admiral Shaw Stewart, John Shaw Stewart, Advocate and Sheriff of Stirlingshire and Patrick Maxwell Shaw Stewart, MP for Lancaster and later MP for Renfrewshire.  He also had three sisters, Margaret Shaw Stewart who married the 11th Duke of Somerset, Helenora and Catherine.

William died in 1869 in Hamilton.  When his will produced, it was decided among the family that William had not been of sound mind when it was written, and a court action was raised to set it aside.  Over £30,000 and various land holdings were involved.  The strange contents of the will made it into many newspapers and periodicals, both in Britain and abroad.  More of that later, but, what about the man, what kind of life had he led?

Ardgown Estate, Inverkip - home of the Shaw Stewarts

William Maxwell Shaw Stewart had been “always a bit of a gowk” (an awkward or foolish person) since he was a child, as his brother the Admiral testified in Court after his death.  In 1811 when his brother was a lieutenant in the Navy, William was sent to sea with him as a midshipman.  He lasted two weeks before being sent home.  It was thought that he might be better suited to the Army, but after a couple of weeks, he was advised to leave by his Colonel.  His father, Sir Michael, through friends, got him a position with a business in Liverpool with Cropper, Benson & Co, shipping agents, but once again he only lasted there for a short time before being sent home to Ardgowan. 

Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane

As a last resort he was sent to Australia.  Sir Michael was friendly with Sir Thomas Makdougal Brisbane (1773-1860) who had just been appointed Governor of New South Wales and in 1820 William was sent to Australia on the staff of Governor Brisbane.  Once in New South Wales, William was awarded a government land grant and his father provided funds for more land to be added to this.  He called his 2060-acre Australian estate Lochnagar (near Black-Creek, later known as Branxton, New South Wales).  However, it was said that he spent most of his time playing Scottish music on the fiddle and was described as “unsettled and peculiar”.  

He returned to Scotland, just after his father’s death, on the ship “Lady Rowena” (interesting information about the ship here) in 1826.  His brother Sir Houston Shaw Stewart described what his life was like on his return from Australia as “he did not engage in any employment except playing the fiddle, particularly dance reels and strathspeys and Gow’s music”.  After his return to Scotland, his Australian property of Lochnagar was advertised to let.  It was advertised as having 2000 acres of excellent land, "the greater part of which is arable … covered with blue gum, and other valuable timber.”  The advertisement goes on to list  “14 well improved dairy cows, with calves by their side and now in the family way to become the property of the Tenant, with liberty to sell, or dispose of all, or any of them.  Four excellent working bullocks … an excellent dwelling-house, bedroom and parlour.”

Aware of his son’s difficulties, Sir Michael had left his share of his estate in the hands of trustees so that William had no control over his inheritance.  He fell out with his family and moved to Comrie, Perthshire where he was known as “Daft Lochnagar” due to his eccentricities.  One of these was to throw open all his windows on Sunday mornings and play the fiddle while the people passed by on their way to church.  A tall man, he was said, in his younger days, to dress “peculiarly, although with a picturesque effect” and it was said that he roamed about the countryside “playing his fiddle”.  He became a bit of a miser and was suspicious of everyone.  He had his own coach and carried around with him his cooking utensils and food, his caged singing birds, and his fiddle.  If he decided to remain anywhere, he took the cheapest lodgings he could find.

In 1852, due to some detail about trustees in his father’s will, he acquired his share of his patrimony.  His only remaining brother, the Admiral, was on service overseas and could not do anything about this.  However, William set about acquiring some land.  In 1854 he bought property in Torhouse (Wigton) at auction, and he bought Holmhead in Lanarkshire in 1863.  He also still had income from his Australian estate of Lochnagar.

Over the years he had little to do with his family, although his brother Houston did try to get him to meet with them.  He occasionally returned to Gourock and Inverkip but did not have any contact with his family or near relatives, always living in lodgings, usually one room, described as “a class of houses wholly unsuitable for a person of his position and upbringing”.  His brother described him in later life as looking like a "ratcatcher, dressed in greasy clothes".  William proudly titled himself Justice of the Peace and Commissioner of Supply for both Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire.  William Maxwell Shaw Stewart died at Hamilton in July 1869 in the house of William Hepburn, Almada Street. 

The Strange Will

When his family decided that he had not been of sound mind when his will was written, they went to court to have the will set aside.  This resulted in a six day trial at Edinburgh Court of Session in June 1870.

Some of the contents of William Maxwell Shaw Stewart’s will were very unusual.  Of local interest - he left £100 for the Sheriff of Renfrewshire who was to be allowed this “in addition his expenses at a hotel in Greenock for breakfast, dinner, a bottle of wine, and for tea, supper, and bedroom and the usual allowance for servants”.  He also stated that "A professor of Scottish music, healthy, able in body and mind, was to be appointed at a moderate salary to teach the violin and the music of the firm aforesaid (Gow)"  he further stipulated that the teacher should reside in the parish of Inverkip and be a member of the Established Church.  The Sunday scholars of Inverkip were to be provided every Sunday after lessons with as much white bread and butter as they could eat and as much tea as they could drink, and were, besides to be supplied with a tea service, knives and forks with ivory handles the tea service bearing the names of William Maxwell Stewart JP and CS for Renfrewshire. 

He also made provisions outside of his home base - all the young women of seventeen years of age on the lands of Carnock (Shaw Stewart land) were to receive a certain sum.  The estate of Lochnagar in New South Wales was to be used as a base for the encouragement of Scottish music, especially reels and strathspeys and particularly the reels and Strathspeys published by Neil Gow and Sons.

At court several witnesses were brought in to describe William and his eccentricities and sadly, the court records show that there was a great deal of laughter and flippancy during the trial, even from his relatives.    Margaret Nelson who lived in Comrie said that she knew William in 1830 when he lived there.  She described: “He used to pass on horseback in a peculiar dress – white trousers, blue jacket, and red belt with rather a fancy bonnet.  He asked to be allowed to trim the turnips and kiss the workers.  He did not get liberty to do either … we used to call him “daft Nicolson” that was the family name of the proprietors of Carnock. I used to see him afterwards at Dalhalla near Comrie.”  She also stated that other people knew him as Lochnagar.  She also knew his first servant at Dalhalla who stated that he would spend all night playing the fiddle and she could not sleep.  It was also said that although he was “daft” he was such a miser that he could not be taken advantage of! 

Also in court, John Campbell (aged 74), a baker in Inverkip spoke about William asking him about some of the neighbours.  When Campbell mentioned to William that he had egg all down his jacket William had replied that “he lived on eggs because people could put poison into everything but eggs”.

After six days in court the will of William Maxwell Shaw Stewart was set aside.  The pursuers in this case were Admiral Sir Houston Shaw Stewart (brother), Sir Michael Robert Shaw Stewart (nephew), John Osborne (brother in law) and Michael John Maxwell Shaw Stewart (nephew).  The estate of Lochnagar in Australia was sold and the remainder of his estate distributed amongst his relatives.

For more stories about the Shaw Stewarts read: 

Patrick Shaw Stewart - Author of "Achilles in the Trenches" - war poet.

Archibald Stewart - planter in Tobago and business partner of John Paul Jones.

The Shaw Stewart Mausoleum in Inverkip.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Municipal Buildings' unusual details

The eastern entrance to Greenock's Municipal Buildings in Cathcart Square is absolutely full of interesting sculptural details.  This drawing from when the buildings were designed in the 1880s shows how it was to look.

It would appear from the drawing that statues were meant to stand in the niches above the entry which are now windows.

Designed by H & D Barclay, they were constructed in the 1880s.  The Victoria Tower, at the eastern end of the buildings stands at 245 feet high (75m).  However, a closer look at the entry-way reveals a lot of unusual sculptures.

Around the archway is a frieze of wonderful animals and birds.

Two lovely ladies decorate either side of the arch.  Some of these details are easy to miss, but just add a wonderful, decorative touch to the entry to the carriageway.  Next time you are in Greenock have a closer look at the Municipal Buildings - it is amazing what you'll find!

Monday 12 February 2024

Port Glasgow railway station bridge

The old bridge at Port Glasgow railway station is being demolished.  

There's just the skeleton of the bridge left to be taken down.

A new footbridge has been put in place in the station.

Sunday 4 February 2024

Greenock's stained glass heritage

Greenock has an amazing amount of beautiful stained glass windows in various churches and public buildings in the town.  Here are just a few of the stunning artworks to be seen locally.

Wellpark Mid Kirk
Wellpark Mid Kirk Church, Greenock

The Wellpark Mid Kirk Church in Cathcart Square has some wonderful windows - click here to see some.

St John the Evangelist Episcopalian Church

St John the Evangelist Episcopalian Church in Union Street has a variety of gorgeous stained glass windows.  Find out more about the St Elizabeth window here and the St Andrew window here.

George Square United Reformed Church

The Walton Window can be found in George Square United Reformed Church in George Square, Greenock and tells the story of a Greenock family.

Old West Kirk

The Old West Kirk on Greenock's Esplanade has the most amazing collection of stained glass windows.  One of my favourites is Daniel Cottier's Hope.

Old West Kirk

Westburn Church on Nelson Street has three wonderful windows by Strachan featuring Bible women - Mary, Miriam and Deborah.  There's also the wonderful window featuring St Andrew, Scotland's patron saint.
Westburn Church

Lyle Kirk in Union Street has a beautiful, large stained glass window.  Find it here.

Lyle Kirk, Greenock

These are just a selection of the marvellous stained glass heritage of Greenock.

Thursday 1 February 2024

Shetland exhibition of Greenock artist's work

There's a fabulous exhibition taking place at the moment at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick called "Logical Confusion".  (Until the end of February 2024.) 

It features the work of artist Mike McDonnell (1939-2022).  Born and brought up in Greenock, Mike studied medicine at Glasgow University and practised briefly as a doctor in Greenock before relocating to the Solomon Islands for a number of years.

He eventually settled in the Shetland Islands where he served as GP on the island of Yell for more than 25 years before turning artist after he retired.  His artwork is very varied, reflecting the places he's lived and his multitude of interests.  He died in Aberdeen infirmary in 2022.

One of his pieces, "Children of Greenock", celebrating the work of Greenock poet W S Graham, can be seen in the Watt Institution, Kelly Street, Greenock. 

There's an entertaining biography of Mike McDonnell here, listing his many talents of this fascinating man.  Many of his works can be seen on this website dedicated to the man and his work.  More detailed descriptions of his works can be found in the book "Logical Conclusion: The Artistry of Mike McDonnell" by Jonathan Wills (available on Amazon).