Ship Yards, Greenock
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Ship Yards, Greenock

A significant town and sea-port on the south side of the Firth of Clyde in the old county of Renfrewshire, Greenock is situated 23 miles (37 km) west of Glasgow. It now forms the largest settlement in Inverclyde, but retains the accolade as the wettest town in Scotland. Greenock began as a fishing village but by the 17th Century had developed into a port for the herring trade; it became a burgh in 1635 through the efforts of its laird John Shaw, and in the 18th and 19th centuries it became a major centre for shipbuilding and a departure point for emigrants. By the end of the 19th century, ships were bringing raw sugar from around the world to Greenock Harbour and the town's refineries were producing more than 250,000 tonnes of white sugar annually, together with molasses and Lyle's Golden Syrup. Sugar refining in the town continued until 1997.

In the 19th century the town was noted for its poverty and unsanitary conditions along with a high death rate; improvements came in the 1860s with a better water supply and housing. Although the Loch Thom reservoir supplied water to the town via the Greenock Cut, this was used primarily for industry until the Town Council bought the water company in 1864. This same water was used to supply the first hydro-electric power scheme in Scotland, constructed in Greenock in 1885. In 1910 the Admiralty opened the Clyde Torpedo Factory here, and this operated until 1947 by which time production had been moved to Alexandria. The Torpedo Experimental Establishment (TEE) continued in Greenock until 1959. During the Second World War, Greenock was a key assembly point for Atlantic Convoys and a base for the Free French Navy.

Greenock's other industries have included engineering, oil-refining, distilling, paper, pottery, glass and barrel making. The decline of heavy industry since the 1960s has been partly offset by employment in the computer industry and the service sector, and by outmigration. To the southwest of Greenock is the Spango Valley where the multi-national computer firm IBM has operated since the 1950s.

Notable sights include: the Waterfront with the Quay and the Custom House; Cathcart Square; the McLean Museum; and Battery Park. There are superb views from Lyle Hill.

Greenock was the birthplace of James Watt (1736), who invented the steam engine, and is honoured in several places in the town including the Watt Museum, the Watt Scientific Library, the James Watt College (formerly the James Watt Engineering, Navigation and Wireless Telegraphy School), and the James Watt Dock. Also born in Greenock were the pirate Captain Kidd (1645 - 1701), banker James Anderson (1785 - 1863), sugar-refiner Abram Lyle (1820-91), clergyman John Caird (1820-98), shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie (1825 - 1909), social reformer William Quarrier (1829 - 1903), philosopher Edward Caird (1835 - 1908), artist Sir James Guthrie (1859 - 1930), composer Hamish MacCunn (1868 - 1916), poet W.S. Graham (1918-86), comedian Chic Murray (1919-85), broadcaster Jimmy Mack (1934 - 2004) and actor Richard Wilson (b.1936). Greenock has the world's oldest Burns' Club, inaugurated on 21st July 1801 to commemorate the poet Robert Burns (1759-96).

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