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Greenock Cut

The Greenock Cut is an aqueduct which draws water from the Compensation Reservoir below Loch Thom and delivers it to Greenock 2½ miles (4 km) to the north, built not only to provide drinking water to the inhabitants but also to power mills. The work of engineer Robert Thom, between 1825 and 1827, the aqueduct hugs the contours of the hills at 165m (541 feet), completing a semi-circular route of 5 miles (8 km) and collecting water from numerous streams and small balancing reservoirs along the way. Opened on 16th April 1827 with the great spectacle of the dignitaries sailing gently round the hillside watched by a crowd of thousands, the Cut was initially known as the Shaws Water (and indeed is shown as same in John Thomson's Atlas of Scotland, 1832 and the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map of 1864). It was built and run by the Shaws Water Joint Stock Company, which took its name from the Shaws Burn, a headstream of the Kip Water, which was diverted into the scheme.

The Cut fed a pair of continuous mill lades which descended through Greenock to empty into the River Clyde. The more significant was the Eastern Line of Falls, which fell from a height of 156m (512 feet) at the Long Dam at Overton. Individual falls on this Line were rented to separate companies to drive a series of flour, paper, flax and woollen mills, together with a rope-works, foundries and a sugar refinery, which were built on nineteen levels down the hillside each with a guaranteed supply of water, 34 cu. m (1200 cu. feet) per minute, 12 hours per day and 310 days per year. Notable amongst these was the spinning works of Messrs Neil, Fleming and Reid, where the immense 21.3m (70-foot) Great Wheel, weighing 180 tons, drove more than 34,000 individual spindles, together with carding engines and drawing frames. The Great Wheel was replaced by a turbine in 1881, but it was not dismantled until 1918. By 1900, there were still 25 falls let on the lade. The Eastern Line of Falls was still being used to provide a modest amount of hydro-electric power in 1980.

The priority was the supply of water for industry and although the scheme brought clean drinking water to Greenock for the first time, industrial success brought a growth in population and poor sanitation brought series of epidemics. It was not until the town bought the Shaws Water Company in 1864 that the situation improved.

Having suffered from blockages by snow in the winter, deteriorated due to its age and with the potential of contamination, the public water supply was replaced by a 1¼-mile (2-km) tunnel bored through the hillside that opened on 20th October 1971.

The Cut was given protection as a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1972. A popular walking route, it was gifted by its owners, Scottish Water, to Inverclyde Council in 2005. The Council immediately began a £1 million project, in collaboration with the Heritage Lottery Fund, to restore the waterway to its original condition.


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