Tuesday 30 April 2024

Brawling in the Vennel

On a Saturday night in July 1909 a large crowd gathered in the Vennel in Greenock where two “pugilistically-inclined” women were having a fight.  The brawl only came to an end when one of the women pushed the other through a window. 

The women were arrested and ordered to appear at Greenock Police Court before Bailie Lemon where they were charged with creating a breach of the peace.  Only one of the women, Jane Hamilton or Keenan (whose address was given as East Breast, Greenock) actually appeared, the other, although charged instead of appearing, forfeited a pledge of 20 shillings.  .

One of the witnesses was an egg merchant in the Vennel who gave evidence in court.   The local newspaper summarised his account in their own words– “for fully half an hour the two women waltzed around each other in a spirited face-disfiguring and hair-pulling competition – perhaps not under the approved Queensberry rules, but yet with all the enthusiasm and energy of enraged femininity.”

The merchant stated that when the woman was pushed through the window, which happened to be his premises, “pyramid upon pyramid of eggs came toppling down in a heap.  Altogether about 30 shillings worth of eggs were hopelessly smashed”.

Jane Keenan denied that she had been the one to push the other woman through the window as several of her friends swore when giving evidence in court.  One stating that “it was the crood that broke the window”,  another giving an alternate theory – “the ither wumman took a wake turn and fell through hersel”!

Source - Greenock Burns Club

Bailie Lemmon pronounced Keenan guilty of taking part in a disturbance and handed down a sentence of a fine of 20 shillings or ten days in jail.  Later in the year she was again in court charged with assaulting two women and sent to prison for thirty days.

It was not Mary Hamilton or Keenan’s first brush with the law since 1903 she had several breach of the peace court appearances, had been charged for using obscene language and in 1907 she had been charged with riotous and disorderly behaviour.  Just another Saturday night in Greenock's closes!

Want to read more about what went on in the narrow and overcrowded streets of Greenock?  Then you might enjoy the following posts, just click on the links:-

The Greenock Ripper
Greenock's Dunghill Problem
Mince Collop Close
Cartsdyke's Problem Piggeries

Sunday 28 April 2024

Workers' Memorial Day

Workers' Memorial Day, 28 April, has been marked in Greenock by the laying of wreaths at the Men of the Clyde sculpture in Clyde Square.

The sculpture represents "an industrious Greenock", and was designed by Naomi Hunt, the sculptor was Malcolm Robertson.

The special day is in remembrance of those workers who were killed, injured or otherwise made unwell by their work.

Read more about Workers' Memorial Day here.

Saturday 27 April 2024

Welcoming Visitors to Greenock

It is the start of the cruise ship season here in Greenock.  Over the next few months many thousands of visitors will arrive hoping to explore what the area has to offer.  They couldn't have come to a better place!  Not only does the area boast the most amazing scenery, but we have a lovely, friendly community who are only too willing to help visitors find their way around and tell them about what they should visit locally.

Maps of the area are available at many venues, but if you are planning your visit in advance then you can download a map from the Inverclyde Council website - just click on the link.  (Inverclyde is the name of the local authority area which includes Greenock, Port Glasgow and Gourock.)  Here you will find lots of interesting information for visitors - maps, walks, trails and information about local historical figures - well worth a visit.

"Ginger the Horse" a local landmark!

The Greenockian Blog has lots of local information.  Try a self-guided walk in Port Glasgow or if you are interested in architecture, then my Greenock West End Architectural Ramble might be just what you are looking for.  If a short stroll is more your thing then try out my Waterfront Walk - especially useful if you don't have much time in the town, but would like a glimpse of what Greenock is all about.  All these self-guided walks have maps and can be downloaded from this blog - just click on the links.

If you are interested in local history or genealogy, check out The Greenockian Guide to what resources are available locally.

For more information about places of interest then check out this local information page on my blog.  Have a wonderful visit.  If you have any questions, please get in touch using the "Message" link on the right column of this page.

Have a wonderful visit!

Friday 26 April 2024

A Bow Street Runner at Greenock 1796

Just as the Amsterdam Packet was about to set sail from Greenock bound for New York on 7 April 1796, John Rivett, a police officer from Bow Street (known as Bow Street Runners), London arrived and arrested a passenger as he was about to board.  


The man was John Miller, a linen draper wanted by the police in London.  Miller was suspected of having wilfully set fire to his house at 2 Great Newport Street on the morning of 26 February 1794, intending to defraud the Sun Fire Office.  He had insured the premises for £1200 shortly before the fire.  Fortunately the fire had been put out before too much damage had occurred.

Miller had appeared before the magistrate at the Public Office in London.  John Simmons of Goswell Street, a surveyor gave evidence that he had examined the house on the morning of the fire and “from every appearance of the papering in the parlour, he had no doubt of its having been set on fire wilfully, the paper being burnt in two separate places, as though lighted with a candle”.  Other witnesses also spoke to the fact that the fire looked deliberate.  John Miller did not help himself in any way.  He absconded and made his way to Greenock where he booked a passage using the name John Laing, on the Amsterdam to go to America.  Rivett managed to trace him from London and got to Greenock just in time to apprehend him before the ship sailed.  Miller was taken back to London for trial.

The arrest of Miller on the quayside must have given one of the other passengers on board, David Downie, quite a start as he was being transported from Scotland for the crime of high treason.

Thursday 25 April 2024

Banished - a letter from America

On 7 April 1796 the Amsterdam packet left the harbour of Greenock on a voyage to New York.  On board was David Downie and his four young children (Charles Stewart (born 1774) Mary Anne (born 1776) James Drummond (born 1787) and Margaret (born 1781)).

David Downie, Edinburgh

As the ship left port, Downie knew that he would never be able to set foot in his native land ever again.  He had been sentenced to be transported from Britain, never to return.  His crime - high treason!

An Edinburgh goldsmith with premises in Parliament Square, David Downie had been tried in 1794 along with a co-conspirator Robert Watt (a government spy) for being part of what became known as the Pike Plot.  Downie and Watt had joined a radical group called the Society of the Friends of the People and had planned to take Edinburgh Castle by force.  They were both tried, found guilty and sentenced:

"The judgment of the Court was, that you Robert Watt, and you, David Downie, be taken from the Bar to the place from whence you came, and from thence to be drawn upon a Hurdle to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck, but not till you are dead, for then you are to be taken down, your Hearts to be cut out, and your Bowels burned before your Faces, your Heads and Limbs severed from your bodies and held up to public view, and your bodies shall remain at the disposal of his majesty, and the Lord have mercy on your Souls."

Both were imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle.  Watt was hanged and beheaded.  Downie, after a year in prison, had his sentenced commuted.  On Saturday 19 March 1796 it was reported that Downie had been released from Edinburgh Castle by a remission granted by the King on the recommendation of the Jury.  The conditions were that he “shall depart from His Majesty’s Dominions of Great Britain and Ireland within ten days after being set at liberty, and never be found therein during all the days of his natural life, under pain of the former sentence being put into execution against him; unless he shall obtain a licence for that purpose under the Royal Sign Manual."

Downie was taken to Greenock to board a ship to America.  His family met him in the town.  He wrote to a friend after arriving in New York and the letter was published in Bell's Weekly Messenger.

"From Mr David Downie, late Goldsmith in Edinburgh.  (Who was found guilty of High Treason) to a Friend in Perth, dated New York, June 22, 1796.

“Dear Sir.

On the 7th April, when I had the pleasure of writing you from Greenock, we set sail in the Amsterdam Packet, Captain Charles Henderson, a humane good man, and a prudent sailor, to whom we were much obliged for his attention on the voyage.  After clearing the land, with a fair wind in eight days we had the wind a-head for 21 days; notwithstanding which, by coursing to the N. and S. we made 800 miles, the wind still against us; but on the 9th of April, we were obliged to lie-to for 24 hours, lash the helm, and leave the ship to the mercy of the wind and waves.  At this period we experienced sundry trials, but all kept perfect health, except my eldest daughter, who was sea-sick.
After this, we experienced great vicissitudes of fair and cold, according to the different latitudes we were in. From the 1st of May we had tolerably fair wind; and arrived on the 28th just at the very spot the Captain wished.
Finding the necessaries of life at an exorbitant cost occasioned by the demand of the Powers at War, we found a room, and furnished ourselves ... I have been at Philadelphia, partly by land, and by water, to enable me to judge of the country, where I shall finally settle. By the assistance of Mr. Napper Tandy, a keen old man, about 70, I have found my good friend, Mr. Stock ... By his kindness my eldest daughter is gone to the family of Mr. Dallas, Secretary to the State of Pennsylvania, to teach his children music, French, &c. I have hopes too of young Charles a situation here. The other two and my wife go to Georgia, where I can both exercise my business, and purchase from 300 to 500 acres, which I will improve as ability may permit. They are called prime or first-rate lands, to be disposed of at 5s. per acre.
You will judge me ill qualified to give an opinion of America, being only 24 days an inhabitant; but this I venture to affirm, that it is a poor man’s country. ... A dollar is not valued here more than a shilling is in Britain.  The body of the People have the whole power of management.  They can put in and put out whom they please, without control.  An instance of this we have just now, a Carman, or, as you call them in your country, a common Carter as a Representative of this city; his name is Lamb.
Please remember me to all your good neighbours, who have been my trusty friends.  
I am, etc
David Downie"

David Downie settled in Augusta, Georgia and died there in 1816.  Read more about David Downie here.

Just before the ship Amsterdam sailed from Greenock, a Bow Street Runner arrested an arsonist from London who was trying to evade the law and sail to America!  Read about it here!

Monday 15 April 2024

Greenock's first pillar boxes

 In January 1856 Greenock got its first Post Office pillar boxes.  

They are described as “octagonal in shape and about three and a half feet high.  The letters will be deposited in a box placed beneath the slit, which is guarded inside by valves from any attempt to abstract letters”.  The first three pillar boxes (or letter boxes) were placed at George Square, Brougham Street and Rue End Street.

The postmaster at the time was Thomas McMillan (1820-1889).  Thomas McMillan, born in Kilmacolm, worked in Robert Cowan’s drapery business at Cathcart Square, later going into business with another draper at premises in Hamilton Street.  A strong supporter of Viscount Melgund in the 1847 Parliamentary election when he became Greenock's MP, it was said that it was through this influence that he was appointed Postmaster for Greenock in 1848.  He remained in that office until May 1888 when he retired through ill health.

Some of the Greenock Post Office staff in 1872.

When he first became Postmaster, the post office was in Church Place (at the west side of the Mid Kirk), it was later moved to William Street then the lower floor of the Customhouse.  Later a new building was opened in Wallace Square (now Greenock’s central library)where a large staff were employed.  He was a member of Trinity UP Church (now Lyle Kirk, Union Street).  He married Janet Suttie in 1844.  The family lived at Maybank, Finnart Street, Greenock. 

Photo source - Greenock Burns Club

Janet Suttie (wife of Thomas McMillan, postmaster) was one of the daughters of Thomas Suttie (1788-1857) and his wife Janet Brown (1791-1857).  Thomas Suttie was a smith in Greenock with premises at 18 Cathcart Street.  He was a manufacturer of, among other things, post boxes.  In 1857 Suttie & Co received a large order from the East India Company to supply pillar boxes for India – 20 for Bombay and 50 for Bengal.  They were quite ornate, standing at five feet and surmounted by a crown.  Suttie also made pillar boxes for other parts of Britain.  Thomas Suttie also designed a Range Boiler which was put in use in heating Greenock’s gaol.  He provided railings for many local buildings and was employed to install a new safe in one of Greenock’s banks.  They made grates and boilers for many local premises.

Another of Suttie's daughters, Robina Suttie (1826-1896), married Hugh Macfarlane, bank agent and justice of the peace of Paisley at Innellen in 1859.  You can see a needlework sampler made by Robina in 1839.  It is now in the possession of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  

Thomas Suttie died while on a visit to his daughter in Millwall, London in 1857.  His wife, Janet, died just a few months later.

Charles Suttie (1816-1897) was the son of Thomas and took over the company on his father’s death.  He married Susan Clark (1839-1899), daughter of John Clark, jeweller in Greenock in 1859.  They had a large family of seven sons and three daughters and lived at 40 Forsyth Street.  Their eldest son, John Clark Suttie died in 1882 at Cradock, South Africa.  The family emigrated on the P and O ship SS Clyde to New Zealand in 1883 and settled at Onehunga, Auckland.

You can see a photograph of a Suttie Pillar Box here.