Sunday 24 March 2024

Holmscroft School Greenock

On Monday 5 March 1888 over five hundred children marched into their beautiful new school at the corner of Ann Street and Dempster Street – Holmscroft Public School.  It was built to replace the Sir Michael Street School which had been taken over by the Caledonian Railway Company when they were extending the railway from Greenock to Gourock.

Photo @Watt Institution

The new school was designed by H & D Barclay who were the architects responsible for the Municipal Buildings in Greenock.  Described as being in the Tudor style, the side elevations were divided by buttresses into seven bays, the end bays being blank to give solidity, the others being opened out into large three-lighted mullioned windows.  Three of the bays were finished with gable tops with curved outlines.  The the building was three storeys in height, one of which was a basement on the playground level which was used as a drill hall.  The main entrance was on Ann Street.  The entrance to the boys playground were on Ann Street and Wellington Street and the girls entered from Wellington Street and Dempster Street.  There were twelve classrooms, which could accommodate over one thousand children.  Many of the rooms had sliding partitions and could be made larger or smaller as required.

The cost of the site was £2,670, the buildings including boundary walls and outbuildings cost £9,200 and furniture and fittings cost £400.  The building was considered to be rather flamboyant to many in the town and was described in the local newspaper as “perhaps one of the most beautiful public schools in Scotland and one of the costliest as well”.

The first headteacher was Alexander Bremner.  The choice of headteacher caused a lot of problems for the School Board, just as it had with the choice at Highlanders' Academy (also designed by David Barclay) which had been opened just few months earlier. 

Photo @Greenock Burns Club

The foundation stone of the building had been laid at an official ceremony in February 1887 by Thomas Sutherland MP for Greenock from 1884-1900, who was presented with a mallet by architect David Barclay.  The official party then adjourned to the hall of the nearby South Parish Church for more speeches from the various guests.  Refreshments. "a cake and wine banquet" were provided by J B Morison of the Imperial Restaurant in Greenock.

The School was demolished in 1968.

Thursday 21 March 2024

Greenock stone faces

Where do you think this beautiful sculptured head can be found in Greenock?  Municipal Buildings, perhaps?  No - it can actually be seen on a tenement building fronting Brougham Street and Margaret Street.  There are also a couple more equally interesting sculptures on the same building.  Doesn't look too happy, does he?

Sometimes Greenock can surprises you with what it has to offer!  The building dates from 1870 and was constructed by William & James York, Contractors who also had a part in the construction of the Albert Harbour in Greenock.  The property was named Lorne Place when it was first constructed.

It came with all mod cons - kitchen ranges and venetian blinds!

Sometimes it pays to look up at buildings - you never know what you might see!

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Empress sold for firewood

One hundred years ago today, on 20 March 1924, the former Clyde Training Ship Empress left the Clyde under tow headed for Appledore, North Devon to be broken up.  The ship, built in 1859 at Pembroke Dock was originally named HMS Revenge and had been the flagship of the Mediterranean and Channel Fleets, later becoming flagship at Queenstown, Ireland. She was one of the last wooden battleships, nicknamed “wooden walls”, to be built.

HMS Revenge at Queenstown - firing a royal salute

Mr H Hinks of Appledore had purchased the Empress from the Admiralty.  The voyage from the Clyde to Appledore was not without incident due to bad weather.  A newspaper reported – “Off Milford Haven the seven tugs could only manage to hold the Revenge, but the storm was successfully weathered, and Appledore Bar reached.  Here the dangerous shoals had to be negotiated, but this was accomplished, and, much to the relief of the crew, the great wooden battleship was safely berthed in Mr Hinks’s yard, where after being thrown open to the public for a time, she will be broken up.”  Eighty men were employed to break up the ship.  The wood from the ship was sold for firewood.

Revenge had arrived in the Clyde in 1890 towed by two of the Clyde Shipping Company’s tugs, Flying Dragon and Flying Vulture.  A newspaper report described the event – “As she sailed slowly up the harbour between the lines of shipping to her berth at the east end of Stobcross Quay, her great hull, with its rows of portholes, handsome figurehead, and curiously-shaped stern, and the immense platforms on her three masts, attracted considerable attention.  

Renamed Empress, after fitting out she was taken to her anchorage in the Gareloch.  The ship could accommodate up to 400 boys aged 11-14 and was under the command of Captain G T Deverell.  The ship was taken out of commission as a training ship in July 1923.  Empress had replaced the previous Clyde training ship Cumberland which had been destroyed by fire in 1889.

Local author, Viki McDonnell has written a wonderful book “Snatched from Satan” which gives details of the setting up of the Clyde Industrial Training Ship Association in 1869 and the social and economic conditions locally which brought about its formation.  More importantly, the author gives the reader a glimpse of the lives of the boys who were sent to the ships over the years as well as the officers who were tasked with training them.  Interesting too is the involvement of local industrialists and philanthropists who funded the Association and took a large part in its life.  An excellent book with some great illustrations and old photographs detailing life on board Cumberland and Empress.

You can also read a very interesting article about the training ships on the Helensburgh Heritage Trust website.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Gourock rocks

In the 1830s the roads of Demerara were paved with stones from Gourock! 

The stones came in the form of ballast, a necessity for sailing ships for stability.  A newspaper article from 1833 describes how this came about – “Formerly the vessels sailing from Greenock to Demerara were obliged to take ballast of a useless description on board, but since the introduction of Macadamising the West Indies, the road metal forms the ballast of the vessels, and the shipowners, instead of paying for ballast, have now freight paid for taking it out”.  

Demerara (now part of Guyana) was a popular destination for Greenock ships, bringing back coffee and sugar to the town.  Demerara sugar gets its name from here.

Macadamising refers to a system developed by John LoudonMcAdam (1756-1836), an Ayrshire man who developed the system of using crushed stones to build roads.  Read more about the method here.  “Road metal” just means the broken stones.

The quarries at Gourock were the financial winners in this enterprise.  The news article continues – “The quarryman at Gourock is the contractor for supplying the metal.  The contract has proved a kind of windfall for the inhabitants of Gourock, as 1s 6d per ton is given by the contractor for breaking and gathering the stones; and some of the little boys who are expert at the business, can earn 1s 6d per day.  The stones are taken from the heaps of rubbish lying on the seashore and at the quarry”. 

Quarry Quay, Gourock

I wonder if any of those roads are still in existence?

Saturday 9 March 2024

Crawfurd of Cartsburn window

This beautiful stained glass window is to be found in the Old West Kirk in Greenock.

It shows the arms of the Macknight Crawfurd family and the motto -  quod tibi hoc alteri  - nil durum volenti - "do to others as you would have them do to you nothing is hard for the willing".

The Old West Kirk had a laird's loft especially for the Crawfurd family and a vault where many of the family were buried.  You can read about some of the memorials to the Cartsburn family on a previous post here.  

This stone can be found in the wall of the Old West Kirk, Esplanade, Greenock marking the Crawfurd burial vault.

On wall of Old West Kirk, Greenock

The Crawfurd coat of arms from the original Cartsburn House in Greenock can now be seen at Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh.  The Castle was owned by Thomas Macknight Crawfurd (1820-1909).

At Lauriston Castle, Edinburgh


Tuesday 5 March 2024

Greenock's dunghill problem - 1842

In 1842 the Poor Law Commissioners set up an enquiry into "Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Scotland".  Epidemics of cholera had swept through the country in the 1830s and highlighted the insanitary state of many towns throughout the country.  Local doctor, William Laurie was responsible for reporting on conditions in Greenock.  It does not make for easy reading:-

"The great proportion of the dwellings of the poor are situated in very narrow and confined closes or alleys leading from the main streets; these closes end generally in a cul de sac, and have little ventilation, the space between the houses being so narrow s to exclude the action of the sun on the ground.

I might almost say that there are no drains in any of these closes, for where I have noticed sewers, they are in such a filthy and obstructed state, that they create more nuisance than if they never existed.  In these closes where there is no dunghill the excrement and other offensive matter is thrown into the gutter before the door, or carried out and put in the street".

"There are no back courts to the houses, but in nearly every close there is a dunghill, seldom or never covered in; few of these are cleaned out above once or twice a year; most of them are only emptied when they can hold no more; to some of these privies are attached, and one privy serves a whole neighbourhood".

Dr William H Laurie had his office at 15 Hamilton Street in Greenock, but despite that, conditions there would seem to be no better: -  "Behind my consulting rooms, where I am now sitting, there is a large dunghill with a privy attached.  To my knowledge, that dunghill has not been emptied for six months."  In 1841 he lived at 79 Brougham Street, well away from the problem central area.

The report from 1842 continues:- “Market Street – a narrow back street almost overhung by a steep hill rising immediately behind it.  It contains the lowest description of houses built closely together, the access to the buildings being through filthy closes.  The front entrance is generally the only outlet.  In one part of the street there is a dunghill, yet it is too large to be called a dunghill.  I do not mistake its size when I say that it contains 100 cubic yards of impure filth, collected from all parts of the town.  It is never removed.  It is the stock in trade of a person who deals in dung; he retails it by cartfulls; to please his customers he always keeps a nucleus, as the older the filth is the higher the price."

Market Street is now called King Street and once also housed the town's slaughterhouse and flesh market - see map above.  Today you can see the remains of the Telephone Exchange and look south towards the railway line.

King Street, Greenock

It is difficult these days to even imagine the problems caused by lack of proper sanitation.  "The proprietor has an extensive privy attached to the concern.  This collection is fronting the public street.  Enclosed in front by a wall; the height of the wall is about 12 feet and the dung overtops it; the malarious moisture oozes through the wall and runs over the pavement.  The effluvium all round about this place in summer is horrible; there is a land of houses adjoining, four stories in height; and in the summer each house swarms with myriads of flies.  Every article of food and drink must be covered, otherwise if left exposed for a minute, the flies immediately attack it and it is rendered unfit for use from the strong taste of the dunghill left by the flies".

The slaughterhouse caused many problems too: -"But there is an even more extensive dunghill in the street which is attached to the slaughterhouse and belongs to the town authorities.  It is not only the receptacle for the dung and offal from the slaughterhouse, but the sweepings of the streets are also conveyed and deposited there.  It has likewise a public privy attached. In the slaughterhouse itself the blood and offal are allowed to lie a long time and the smell in summer is highly offensive".

It took until the 1870s before many of Greenock's overcrowded closes were eventually cleared.  You can read about Dr  James Wallace and his part in this effort here.  Read more about Greenock's closes here.

Friday 1 March 2024

Death of the Divine Miss Markland

In September of 1851 the death of a woman woman in Greenock was announced in newspapers both locally and much further afield.  It was not usual in those days for the death of an ordinary woman to be announced in such a way, but Jean Findlay was different.  She was well known to many because, in her youth she had been one of Scot's poet Robert Burns' Belles of Mauchline.  She was the "divine" Miss Markland (sometimes written Murkland).

Jean Markland was the daughter of George Markland and his wife Agnes Shaw.  The couple married in 1761 and Jean was born in 1765.  Burns poem “Belles of Mauchline” was written in 1784 - 

In Mauchline there dwells six proper young belles,
The pride of the place and its neighbourhood a';
Their carriage and dress, a stranger would guess,
In Lon'on or Paris, they'd gotten it a'.
Miss Miller is fine, Miss Markland's divine,
Miss Smith she has wit, and Miss Betty is braw:
There's beauty and fortune to get wi' Miss Morton,
But Armour's the jewel for me o' them a'.

On 16 September 1788 at Mauchline, Jean Markland married James Findlay a customs officer.  He worked at Tarbolton, Ayrshire and later, in 1792, moved to Greenock where he was a tide surveyor.  James Findlay died in 1834 (age 80) and was buried in the Inverkip Street cemetery in Greenock.  Jean died in 1851 and her death was reported in newspapers throughout Britain.

Plaque in Mauchline marking the home of Jean Markland

It is curious to note that in reports of her death it was stated “In ordinary circumstances, the departure from this life of a respectable lady, ripe in years, would not have afforded matter of general interest, but it happens that the deceased was one of the very few persons surviving to our own times, who intimately knew the Peasant Bard in the first flush of his genius and manhood …”. 

Jean Markland's home in Mauchline

James Findlay as an Excise Officer in Tarbolton was asked, in a letter dated 31 March 1788 to “instruct the bearer, Mr Robert Burns, in the art of gauging, and practical dry gauging casks and utensils; and that you fit him for surveying victuallers, rectifiers, chandlers, tanners, tawers, maltsters etc; and when he has kept books regularly for six weeks at least, and drawn true vouchers and abstracts therefrom (which books, vouchers, and abstracts, must be signed by your Supervisor and your self, as well as the said Mr Robert Burns), and sent to the Commissioners at his expense; and when he is furnished with proper instruments, and well instructed and qualified for an officer, then (and not before, at your perils) you and your Supervisor are to certify the same to the Board, expressing particularly therein the date of this letter; and that the above Mr Robert Burns hath cleared his Quarters, both for lodging and diet; and that he has actually paid each of you for his instructions and examination; and that he has sufficient at the time to purchase a horse for his business”.  The note was signed by A Pearson, Excise Office, Edinburgh.

James Findlay was employed as a customs officer on the River Clyde and would have been involved in looking for smugglers up and down the coast.  Robert Burns also spent some time as a "gauger" (customs officer) and you can find an interesting article about his time in that employment on the website of Alexandria Burns Club.

Picture courtesy of Greenock Burns Club

When James and Jean Findlay lived in Greenock, the had a cottage at the Bay of Quick - might even be the one in this picture.  (Bay of Quick was approximately where the Container Terminal is now, at the east end of the Esplanade.)