Saturday 29 June 2024

Boys' Brigade at Greenock's Arts Guild 1969

This programme dated 1969 is from a show called "Bon Bon" by Greenock Battalion of the Boys' Brigade.  It was held in Greenock's Arts Guild Theatre in March 1969.  (The Arts Guild in Campbell Street was demolished in 2020.)

Inside are some wonderful advertisements for local businesses.  Some are no longer trading, but some are still doing business in the town.  Aulds the bakers has several shops locally and their pies are favourites with many people.  Their cakes, especially fudge doughnuts and strawberry tarts are superb!

Smiths sports shop is still doing well in West Blackhall Street, Greenock.  At the moment they have a wonderful selection of vintage Greenock Morton Football Club tops.

Some of the shops are no longer with us, but are remembered by many older Greenockians like Sheila Simpsons and Hodges.

These advertisements will certainly bring back some memories for those who lived in the town in the 60s and 70s.  Check out this short film on YouTube showing Greenock town centre as it was before it was destroyed in the name of progress in the early 70s.

Here are some more advertisements from this wonderful programme.

"Bon Bon" must have been a great night of entertainment for the parents and friends of the boys taking part in the show.  The Arts Guild in Greenock was a wonderful place for local entertainment.

Arts Guild, Campbell Street, Greenock - Demolished 2020

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Lady Octavia

Lady Octavia Grosvenor (1829-1921) was, as her name suggests, the eighth child of Richard Grosvenor (1795-1869), 2nd Marquess of Westminster and his wife Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, younger daughter of George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquess of Stafford who would later become the 1st Duke of Sutherland.

Source - Greenock Burns Club

Born in 1829, Lady Octavia was one of 13 children all of whom married into the British aristocracy. On 28 December 1852 she married Sir Michael Robert Shaw Stewart (1826-1903), 7th Bart of Ardgowan at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London.  Of her seven bridesmaids, three were her sisters - Agnes, Jane and Theodora.  The bridegroom’s best man was his brother Stewart Nicholson.  Later that evening, Sir Michael’s aunt, the Duchess of Somerset held a reception for some of the guests at Somerset House (Park Lane, not the main Somerset House) in London. 

Gossip columns of the time remarked on the marriage celebrations: “The crowd in the church was great, but this only served to render the general meagreness of the demonstration more apparent.  There was no wedding dejeuner; the chimneys of Grosvenor House were cold even on the occasion of the betrothment of one of its fairest daughters.  What was wanting in the hospitalities of the morning was however amply made up in the evening by a magnificent entertainment given to the relatives of both families by the Duchess of Somerset, the aunt of the bridegroom.

The bride's dress of satin and Brussels lace was fully described in the newspapers.

In early January 1853, Sir Michael and Lady Octavia travelled from London to Glasgow and from there by a coach drawn by four horses to Port Glasgow where they were received at the town buildings by the magistrates and councillors of the town.  They then proceeded towards Greenock where they were met by members of the Caledonian Railway Lodge of Freemasons in their insignia accompanied by a band, flags and banners.  Sir Michael was the Provincial Grand Master.  The procession marched in front of the carriage through Cartsdyke where there were various gun salutes from batteries at the works along the route.  All the way into the town crowds had gathered, cheering as the procession passed.  At various places in Greenock, flags were flown and the harbours decked with bunting.  The banners of the crafts and trades were also on display in the town.  

Source - Greenock Burns Club

The procession proceeded to Brachelston Toll (where the Cemetery Gates are now).  An elaborate evergreen arch had been constructed by townsman Robert Thorne of Greenbank.  After this, the bridal carriage continued to Ardgowan.  People gathered at various points along the way to welcome the happy couple.  

Ardgowan House, Inverkip

At Ardgowan the tenants had gathered and the church bells at Inverkip rang out in welcome.  The couple appeared on the roof of the portico of Ardgowan House, and it was noted that the bride was wearing a large shawl in the Stewart tartan.  It was reported that Lady Octavia: “notwithstanding the fatigue of travel looked remarkably well and beautiful".  Refreshments were served to the crowd and the young couple again appeared and were addressed by several of the local dignitaries, congratulating them on their marriage and welcoming Lady Octavia to Ardgowan.  The official ceremonies over, the couple retired indoors.

One of the new bride’s first “official duties” locally was the naming of the ship Atrato which was launched from Caird & Co’s yard in April 1853.  Atrato, a paddle wheel steamer was built for the Royal West India Mail Steam Navigation Company. 

Launch of the "Atrato"

Throughout their lives, Sir Michael and Lady Octavia spent time at Ardgowan and took an active part in local affairs.  They also had homes in London and at Fonthill in Wiltshire.  They had several children.  Sir Michael died in 1903 and was succeeded by his eldest son Michael Hugh Shaw Stewart (1854-1942).  He was known as Sir Hugh Shaw Stewart.

After the death of Sir Michael, Lady Octavia’s preferred home was Fonthill which had been bought by her father, the Duke of Westminster in 1825 and bequeathed to Sir Michael.  Fonthill’s previous owner had been William Beckford.  On Lady Octavia's death in 1921, her son Walter Richard Shaw Stewart had to sell some of the Fonthill estate to pay death duties.  He died in 1934 and left Fonthill to his widow Mary Beatrice Sydney Lane.  Their son, Walter Guy Shaw Stewart became the 9th baronet of Ardgowan.

Children of Sir Michael and Lady Octavia -

Michael Hugh Shaw Stewart (1854-1942) married Lady Alice Emma, daughter of the Marquis of Bath.  Succeeded Sir Michael, his father (became 8th Bart).
Charles Robert Shaw Stewart (1856-1932) married Ida Fannie Caroline Alfken.  Became a Church of England clergyman.
Helen Shaw Stewart (1859-1939) married Charles Pierrepont, 4th Earl Manvers (later, Lord Newark).
Walter Richard Shaw Stewart (1861-1834) married Mary Beatrice Sydney Lane.  Captain Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
Agnes Caroline Shaw Stewart (1862-1935)
Archibald William Shaw Stewart (1865-1927)
Houston Michael Shaw Stewart (1871-1901) DSO, Captain 17th Lancers, drowned on way home from Boer War.
Two daughters died in infancy - Evelyn Margaret Shaw Stewart born 1859 and Eliza Mary Shaw Stewart (1856-1875). 

There is a plaque commemorating Houston Michael Shaw Stewart in St John's Episcopal Church in Greenock.  He was Captain 17th Lancers, known as the "Death or Glory Boys" and died in 1901 after falling overboard from the transport ship Canada on his way home from the Boer War in South Africa.

Monday 17 June 2024

John Rennie's plan for Greenock's East Harbour

On 29 May 1805 the foundation stone was laid for what was to be Greenock’s East Harbour which stretched from what is now known as Customhouse Quay eastwards to the Dailing Burn (Dellingburn).  The foundation stone was laid with full masonic honours by the town’s chief magistrate, Hugh Crawford.  There was the usual procession of the trades of the town accompanied by the Freemasons for the ceremony.

John Rennie, Engineer

The contractor for the East Harbour was Andrew Brocket (1756-1832), mason from Glasgow who was also responsible for the Nelson Monument on Glasgow Green and the locks on the Crinan Canal.  The Harbour was designed by John Rennie (1761-1821), civil engineer and designer of many major waterways and bridges at the time.  He worked for a while with Greenockian James Watt and his partner Matthew Boulton at the Soho Works in Birmingham.

This is a copy of the written details of the plan which Rennie sent to Hugh Crawfurd and Walter Ritchie, senior magistrates of the town in 1802:-  

The plan which has occurred to me, is nearly the same as was proposed by Mr Ainslie, (John Ainslie (1745-1828), surveyor and cartographer) in his former survey; namely, to build a quay or pier 100 feet wide, parallel to and close by the Deling Burn, which is the boundary of the powers granted by the Act of Parliament, and extending about 240 yards from the bridge. From the extremity of this pier, I propose another nearly at right angles and parallel to the great bank, of 60 feet in width and 150 yards in length. 

I propose the new quay to be extended about 66 yards behind the present pier and of the width of 40 feet, this will leave an opening between it, and the other 50 yards wide which I propose as the entrance or opening of the harbour.  It may be asked, why not have extended the eastern pier 66 yards further, and made the entrance to the harbour at the end of the present new quay?  To this I answer, that in the first place the harbour is so narrow at the present pier, that there is very little room for ships to get out and into it – and in the second place, that it is so narrow there is not sufficient room for the waves to spend their violence before they reach the breast of the inner quay, which would render the harbour very unquiet, and of course detrimental to the vessels lying in it.

I propose a breast wall to be built from the east end of the east quay, to that at the Deling Burn, which will close nearly nine statute acres of water, and give about 1000 yards in length of quay.  The quay next the town is proposed to be one hundred feet wide, as well as that parallel to the Deling Burn; the bottom of the harbour, which is not dry at low water, is proposed to be deepened to about 2 feet under it.

The space between the breast or quay wall, and the shore, is intended to be filled with earth, and the piers are proposed to be formed by an out and an inside wall, with counterforts, having the space between filled with earth and paved over; this filling will consume about 112,000 cubic yards of earth more than will come out of the harbour; this earth must be brought from some other place not very distant from the harbour.

I do not propose to have any middle quay or tongue in this harbour, as upon comparing the extent of quay with the quantity of water, the one seems fully equal to the other.  A harbour should always have some room for those ships which are in ballast, or such as are laid up for the winter or are waiting for repairs, and after the whole quays are occupied by such vessels as will be loading and discharging their cargoes; there does not seem to be more space left than is necessary for the accommodation of such vessels, as I have before mentioned, and others moving to and from the quays.

A dry dock was proposed by Mr Ainslie in the southeast corner of this new harbour.  I have however thought proper to leave it out here, as a dry dock in this situation would occupy nearly 130 yards of the best part of the quay, and would be a great inconvenience to the harbour, besides there would not be sufficient room around it to contain timber for such vessels as may want repair.

The second part of the plan is that of enlarging the present quay by an outside wall which is also parallel to Greenock bank and filling the space between it and the present piers with earth.  The stones in the outside walls of the old piers will be of considerable use in forming some of the new works and will occasion a saving for which I have made no allowance, because in every work of this kind, there are accidents and expenses which can seldom be foreseen, and therefore the amount of this saving will probably be expended in such unforeseen matters.

I have also shewn that an enlargement may be made in the present harbour, by forming the inside of the north piers parallel to those of the outside; but, were this even done, although it would be a considerable improvement to the harbour, yet I think the experience would be greater than the advantage gained by it, I therefore do not advise its being done, nor have I made any estimate for it.

The quantity of earth wanted to fill the spaces between these walls and the piers, will be about seventy thousand cubic yards, which must be got from some other place same as the new harbour.

The expense of the works, for the new harbour as per estimate, amounts to £35,392.  For enlarging the east quay of the present harbour, and what is called the new quay as per estimate, £8,444

This appears to be a larger sum than the gentlemen of Greenock may have been led to imagine, but I doubt it will not be done at less than is here stated, for as all these outer walls must be laid considerably under low water, they can only we done with certainty of caissons, which are very expensive, and they must be of large dimensions to resist the action of the sea.  I have therefore given such dimensions, as appear to me public works of this sort ought to have; when they are done slightly, they are in constant want of repair, and very inconvenient in their use which such repairs are in hand.

Thus, Gentlemen, have I pointed out what appears to me the best plan, for the present and future improvement of the Port of Greenock – a plan which has not been formed without much consideration.  That it is perfect, I will not pretend to say, perfection does not belong to mortals; but I flatter myself, you will find sufficient in it to demand your attention; and I doubt not you will give it that candid consideration the importance of the subject requires and appreciate its merits accordingly.

I am, Gentlemen, with much esteem,
Your most obedient Servant
John Rennie
London July 12, 1802.

Over the years the harbour was adapted to suit the times and fortunately we still have its presence in the town of Greenock today and is known as the East India Harbour.  

East India Harbour, Greenock (1966)- source Watt Institution

East India Harbour looking west

When workmen were constructing the foundations of the adjacent Victoria Harbour, they uncovered a metal plaque containing an inscription, along with several coins which had been deposited when the foundation stone of the East Harbour was laid.  The inscription read:

In the Forty Sixth year of the Reign of our most gracious Sovereign George the Third.

And under the auspices of Hugh Crawford Esq, Chief Magistrate, Robert Bannatyne, Treasurer, Alexander Dunlop, Thomas Ramsay, Andrew Thomson, Alan Ker, Duncan McNaught and John Laird, Councillors.  

Pursuant to the Sanction of a Provident Legislature, This stone was laid on the 29th day of May in the year of our Lord 1805 and of the Era of Masonry 5850.  John Rennie Esq, Engineer.  John Aird, Superintendent.  Andrew Brocket, Contractor.

Saturday 8 June 2024

Gourock Jubilee Fountain

This is the beautiful Jubilee Fountain which is situated along the Promenade in Gourock.

It was erected to celebrate the diamond jubilee, or 60th year of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1897.

Made at the Saracen Foundry, Glasgow it bears the words "Macfarlane's Patent Saracen Foundry".

Interesting decoration of lizards around the base.

It is a lovely ornament on the Promenade at Gourock.

Find out about some other local fountains -

Duncan McPherson Fountain, Gourock

Cardwell Bay Fountain, Gourock

Galt Fountain, Esplanade, Greenock

Esplanade Fountain, Greenock

Lyle Fountain, Greenock

Thursday 6 June 2024

The Soldier's Return

These words from the poem “The Soldier's Return" by Scottish poet, Robert Burns is a fitting tribute to acknowledge the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944.  Part of the poem is quoted on a little artefact which is on display in the Greenock Burns Club's Exhibition and Archive Room in the Custom House, Greenock. 

For gold the merchant ploughs the main,
The farmer ploughs the manor;
But glory is the sodger's prize,
The sodger's wealth is honor:
The brave poor sodger ne'er despise,
Nor count him as a stranger;
Remember he's his country's stay,
In day and hour of danger.

Source - The Soldier's Return

This poem tells the story of a soldier returning from abroad and looking for the girl he loved.  It also pays homage to those of his colleagues who did not return and those family members left behind:-

When wild war's deadly blast was blawn,
And gentle peace returning,
Wi' mony a sweet babe fatherless,
And mony a widow mourning;
I left the lines and tented field,
Where lang I'd been a lodger,
My humble knapsack a' my wealth,
A poor and honest sodger.

The legend on the wooden plaque in the Greenock Burns Club Exhibition and Archive room reads –

Made of Wood From
Burns’s Trysting-Thorn
Mill Mannoch, Near Coylton
“At length I reached the bonnie glen,
Where early life I sported
I pass’d the mill and trysting-thorn
Where Nancy aft I courted.”

A trysting thorn is a meeting place, usually romantic beside a tree.  The wood here comes from the trysting thorn tree (hawthorn) at the Mill of Mannoch in Coylton in Ayrshire where Burns had romantic meetings.  The actual tree died and the wooden artefact at Greenock was probably made from the wood of that original tree.  There are many similar pieces of Burns' trysting thorn around the world.   A sapling for the original was planted in its place and is now protected.  It can still be seen today.  

The poem has a happy ending when the returning soldier meets the lover he left behind and she still has feelings for him.  You can read the whole poem below -

When wild war's deadly blast was blown,
   And my gentle Peace returning,
Wi' mony a sweet babe fatherless,
   And mony a widow mourning,
I left the lines and tented field,
   Where lang I'd been a lodger;
My humble knapsack a' my wealth,
   A poor and honest sodger.
A leal light heart beat in my breast,
   My hands unstain'd wi' plunder;
For fair Scotia hame again,
   I cheery on did wander.
I thought upon the banks o' Coil,
   I thought upon my Nancy;
I thought upon the witching smile,
   That caught my youthful fancy.
At length I reach'd the bonnie glen,
   Where early life I sported;
I pass'd the mill and trysting thorn,
   Where Nancy aft I courted.
Wha spied I but my ain dear maid,
   Down by her mother's dwelling?
And turn'd me round to hide the flood
That in my een was swelling!
Wi' alter'd voice, quoth I, Sweet Lass,
   Sweet as yon hawthorn's blossom,
O! happy, happy may he be,
   That's dearest to thy bosom!
My purse is light, I've far to gang,
   And fain wad be thy lodger,
I've served my king and country lang:
   Tak' pity on a sodger.
Sae wistfully she gazed on me,
   And lovelier was than ever;
Quote she, A sodger ance I lo'ed,
   Forget him shall I never.
Our humble cot and hamely fare,
   Ye freely shall partake o't;
That gallant badge, the dear cockade,
   Ye're welcome for the sake o't.
She gazed - she redden'd like a rose -
   Syne pale as ony lily;
She sank within my arms and cried,
   Art thou my ain dear Willie?
By Him, who made yon son and sky,
   By whom true love's regarded,
I am the man! and thus may still
   True lovers be rewarded.
The wars are o'er, and I'm come hame,
   And find thee still true-hearted;
Though poor in gear, we're rich in love,
   And mair we'se ne'er be parted.
Quoth she, My grandsire left me gowd
   A mailin' plenish'd fairly;
Then come, my faithful sodger lad,
   Thou'rt welcome to it dearly!
For gold the merchant ploughs the main,
   The farmer ploughs the manor;
But glory is the sodger's prize,
   The sodger's wealth is honour.
The brave poor sodger ne'er despise,
   Nor count him as a stranger:
Remember he's his country's stay,
   In day and hour o' danger.

Remember D-Day 80
Commemorating the heroes of the Battle of Normandy.

Saturday 1 June 2024

The Incredible Greenock Exhibition of 1891

The Marine, Industrial, and Educational Exhibition was opened in Greenock on Thursday 24 November 1891.  It was advertised as under the Patronage of the President, Vice-Presidents, and Directors of the Greenock Infirmary and Captain Bouverie Clark RN, HMS Superb.  5% of all money received was to be given to the Infirmary.  It ran for ten weeks, closing on 5 February 1892.

The building housing the exhibition was located next to Princes Pier Station with its main entrance on Brougham Street. The interior was described as a “Palace of Delight” had been decorated by M Albert who had been responsible for the decoration of exhibitions in Paris, Moscow, and many other places throughout the world. One of the main differences in Greenock was the lighting - “when viewed under the brilliance of the electric light, the main hall of the Exhibition will represent a scene of great magnificence.”  The light was provided by 16 Gulcher lamps of 2000 candle power.  The Gulcher New Electric Light and Power Company of London under James Hollingham, superintendent.

Source - Greenock Burns Club

It was officially opened before a large crowd by Louson Walker, Chairman of the Directors of the Infirmary accompanied by the band of the 1st Renfrew Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.  After which was a programme of musical entertainment with various international artistes.

There was also to be a winter garden laid out with a great variety of plants and shrubbery and offering a quiet area away from the main arena.  Albert Jennings of the Imperial Restaurant Greenock secured the contract for refreshments.  A football match was to be "played by Electric Light" with Greenock Morton playing Port Glasgow Athletic on the evening of Monday 28 November.  The result was a 4 all draw! Special trains were put on from Princes Pier to Glasgow during the ten weeks of the Exhibition.


The popular Brescian Family musical entertainment filled the hall till mid-December when they had other commitments. They were replaced by “Dainez’s Bijou Circus of educated ponies, mules, dogs, and goats”.  Also performing were “the elephant “Gipsy” and the performing donkey “Smiler”.  The Pompadour Band consisting of “18 ladies” was, not surprisingly, very popular.  Other entertainments included the Paganini Orchestra and Lyons the ventriloquist.  All this took place in the “bijou theatre” specially built for the occasion.

Pompadour Band

Among others appearing at the Exhibition were local company John Walker & Co, sugar refiners who put on an exhibition showing the various stages of sugar refining.  A potter’s wheel was lent by Mount Blue Pottery, Camlachie, Glasgow to show how vases etc were made.  Dr Harley’s Fairy Fountain previously exhibited all over Europe was to make an appearance in the main avenue of the Exhibition. 

Corlinda Lee “Queen of the Gypsies” and her uncle George Smith “King of the Gypsies”.  Their tent was carpeted and furnished with beautiful quilts and decorated by the people themselves.  Visitors could have their fortunes told.

In another area was the “Artizans’ and Women’s Industrial Section” displaying an “attractive display of specimens of the handiwork of local exhibitors” as well as works from the Artizan Associations of Edinburgh and Glasgow.  The Castle and Union Steamship Lines and others showed a collection of ship Models, marine pictures,etc.  Robert Mills of Greenock showed ships pumps.  There was even a full-sized specimen of a second cabin from an Allan Line steamer.  

The Centre Avenue seems to have been the main attraction as this quote shows - “Passing down the Centre Avenue, spectators who have visited Constantinople or the East Indies would imagine that they were walking through a bazaar in some of these Eastern cities from the magnificent display of Turkish and Indian wares and fabrics, and curiosities in bronze, silver and iron.  There are Italian marble busts and antique roman furniture, oil paintings sent from Milan, and several stalls of French manufactured articles”.  Various exhibitors were A Santamaria & Co of Hatton Garden with a show of Bohemian glass and Italian jewellery, Ardeshir & Byramji of Oxford Street, London displayed Indian silks, carpets and Suzucki exhibited Japanese curiosities.

The exhibition seems to have been a great success with many people travelling to Greenock to see the sights.  The ever-changing entertainment would also have proved popular with customers.  At the end of the Exhibition prizes were awarded to the best of the exhibitors. The Exhibition closed on Saturday 5 February 1892 after ten weeks. 

One unusual story came out of the Exhibition.  In the Sheriff Court, Peter Scott, grocer, of West Blackhall Street sued the promoters of the Greenock Exhibition for £2 10s for damages to a pony.  He alleged that he was driving along on his pony and trap when at the corner of Patrick Street and Brougham Street when the pony was startled when the elephant Gipsy was being marched through the town with a boy on its back distributing handbills threw some near the pony.  The Exhibition representative assured the court that no leaflets had been distributed between the Exhibition and the Theatre-Royal bar (West Blackhall Street) where Gipsyhad been refreshed with a bottle of beer”.  However the Sheriff, Henderson Begg found in favour of the grocer.

With the ending of the Exhibition, many of the exhibits and even the floorboards and other fixtures and fittings, were auctioned off locally.