Port Glasgow


A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Port-Glasgow, a seaport and parliamentary burgh on the Firth of Clyde, occupying the whole of the northern portion of the parish just described. It has a station on the Glasgow, Greenock, and Wemyss Bay section of the Caledonian railway, 19¾ miles WNW of Glasgow. The site is a belt of flat alluvial ground 13 to 20 feet above sea-level, lying along the shore of the Clyde, and as the ground to the S rises by two successive stretches of hill rising to over 500 feet, the appearance from the river is picturesque. The town itself is well built; the principal streets following the line of the bay occupied by the docks, and the minor ones running parallel to these or striking off at right angles. The districts to the W and S are occupied by villas. Founded in the middle of the 17th century, it has none of the ancient historical associations belonging to many of the other burghs along the Clyde. The earlier seaports connected with the trade of Glasgow were situated on the Ayrshire coast, but between 1650 and 1660 the commerce of the great city of the west had so much increased that the distant harbours were found expensive and inconvenient, and the community resolved to have a harbour of their own. The deepening of the bed of the Clyde was as yet unthought of, and after unsuccessful efforts to acquire ground at Troon and at Dumbarton, a deputation of the council reported on 4 Jan. 1668 that they had had ` ane melting yeasternight with the lairds, elder and younger, of Newark, and that they had spoke with them anent the taking of ane piece of land of theirs in feu, for loadning and livering of their ships there, anchoring and building ane harbor there, and that the said lairds had subscryvit a contract of feu this morning: quhilt was all allowed and approvine be said magestratis and counsell, and after this the twa feu contracts made between the saidis lairdis of Newark, elder and yor., and the towne were red and subscryvit, being that the saids Newark, elder and yor., had set ane merk land, as a pairt of their lands of Newark to the towne, in feu for payment yeirlie of four merks feu dewtie, and relieving them of the king's taxatioune effeirand to a merk land. 'On the 13 acres thus acquired the town soon began to grow, as the erection of a pier and docks was set about at once, and the place under the name of Newport Glasgow was by Crown charter constituted a free port and a burgh of barony. From this time until its trade received a very severe check from the deepening of the Clyde and the consequent transference of the greater portion of the commerce to Glasgow, the port prospered steadily. In 1710 it was constituted the principal custom-house port of the Clyde, and soon afterwards the town extended its original limits so greatly that it came in contact with, and practically absorbed the village of Newark-a burgh of barony belonging to Hamilton of Wishaw. Port-Glasgow thus became two burghs of barony subject to two different superiors, a state of matters that was found so inconvenient that an act of parliament was obtained in 1775 erecting them into a separate municipality under councillors called trustees. Besides other provisions, power was given to bring in water; to pave, clean, and watch the streets; to erect public markets; and to repair the quays. Harbour matters have all along been diligently attended to, and the original graving dock, built in 1762, and subsequently improved at great expense, was the first graving dock in Scotland. It was in 1873-74 superseded by a new one of improved construction. The length of its floor is 310 feet, the width at the entrance 45 feet, the depth of water on the cill at low water is 6 feet, at high water of neap tides 14 feet, and at high water of spring tides 16 feet. The original harbour occupied the position now covered by the West and East Harbours, the wet dock to the E, which is capable of floating very large vessels, having been formed, in 1834 and subsequent years, in a bay called Newark Bay. It covers an area of 12 acres, and cost about £40, 000. Farther E still are ponds and enclosures for the storage of timber. All the basins are well sheltered, easy of access, and lie in a convenient position with regard to the fairway of the Clyde, which is at this point somewhat narrowed by shoals, but is clearly and carefully marked out by buoys and beacons. Harbour affairs are managed by a body of trustees, comprising the provost, magistrates, and town councillors of the place, the lord provost and senior bailie of Glasgow, and four members elected by the shipowners and ratepayers. Port-Glasgow is an independent port, having jurisdiction on the S side of the Clyde from the Greenock whalefishery buildings eastward to Blantyre near Bishopton House, and on the N side of the Clyde from the point of Ardmore eastward to the W end of Dumbuck Hill. It includes the navigation of the Leven to Dumbarton. The number of vessels registered in the port with their tonnage has been, at various dates, as follows:—

Year. No. of Vessels. Tonnage.
1818 133 19,133
1843 74 12,952
1845-49 .. 12,860
1854 67 8,464
1868 39 9,671
1875 35 15,133
1884 34 11,321

The great falling off owing to almost the whole of the coasting trade being removed to Glasgow, in consequence of the deepening of the Clyde, and the subsequent improvement due to the natural growth of the port itself, is clearly shown. In 1868, 29 ships, with a tonnage of 8851 tons, were sailing vessels, while 10 with 820 tons were steamers. In 1884, 18 ships of 8570 tons were sailing vessels, while 16 with 2751 tons were steamers. The following table shows the tonnage of vessels that entered and cleared from and to foreign and colonial ports and coastwise, with cargoes and ballast, at various dates:—

Entered. Cleared.
Year. British. Foreign. Total. British. Foreign. Total.
1804 .. .. 25,948 .. .. 32,339
1817 .. .. 28,043 .. .. 32,778
1853 .. .. 44,281 .. .. 33,384
1860 .. .. 29,169 .. .. 19,745
1874 51,344 4429 56,773 62,980 9614 72,594
1883 .. .. .. .. .. ..

The amount of customs in 1864 was £106,925; 1871, £18, 330; 1873, £8008; 1874, £1183; 1883, not given. Part of the enormous falling off is due to the reduction in the duties on sugar. The principal trade is with British North America, and the next with the West Indies, these two branches of commerce employing about three-quarters of the tonnage entering the port. Trade is also carried on with the United States, the Mediterranean, and the East Indies. The North American import trade is chiefly in timber. The principal exports are iron, steel, soft goods, machinery, and coal, the last to the extent of about 20, 000 tons annually.

The industries connected with the town are shipbuilding, saw mills, iron and brass foundries, sail-cloth factories, and establishments for the manufacture of sails, blocks, and rivets.

Public Buildings, Municipality, etc.—The railway line runs nearly parallel to the shore through the middle of the town, and the station is near the centre. The principal streets are Fore Street, fronting the East and West Harbours; Bay Street, fronting the Wet Dock; and King Street and Princes Street parallel to Fore Street. The townhouse is a good Doric building, with tetrastyle portico, erected in 1815 at a cost £12,000, and containing council chambers, town offices, court house, and police station. The clock-spire is 150 feet high. The Public Hall, in Princes Street, was erected in 1873. The parish church, erected in 1823 at a cost of £3000, is a plain quadrangular building with 1200 sittings. Newark church, to the SW, is a plain building of 1774, with 1500 sittings. The first Free church dates from the Disruption, and contains 950 sittings; the second, formerly a church connected with the Reformed Presbyterians, has 300 sittings; and the third, erected in the west end, was opened in 1876, and contains 500 sittings. The two U.P. churches call for no particular notice. St Mary's Episcopal church, at the E end of the town, was built in 1856-57, by Miss Stewart, at a cost of £4000, and endowed by her with a fund of £10, 000. It contains 340 sittings. St John's Roman Catholic church, with 600 sittings, was erected in 1854, and superseded a previous building. The following are the schools, with their accommodation, average attendance, and grants in 1883-84:-Academy Place (337, 234, £180, 7s.), Bouverie Terrace (176, 185, £99, 18s. 8d.), Chapelton (450, 293, £258, 2s.), King Street (217, 230, £127, 7s.), Princes Street (,, 12, £4, 6s.), Beaton's Free (181, 153, £113, 6s.), Episcopal (106, 97, £82, 2s. 6d.), and Roman Catholic (378, 403, £277, 5s.).

As has been already noticed, the burgh acquired municipal government in 1775, and the powers of the then corporation were enlarged by a subsequent act in 1803, when provision was made for the erection of a new court house, a jail, and other public buildings. It was constituted a parliamentary burgh in 1832, and by the burgh reform act of 1833 the number of the councillors was reduced from 13 to 9. Since that time, part of the general police act has been adopted, and there are now a provost, 3 bailies, and 5 councillors. The corporation revenue, in 1833, was £1889; in 1865, £4150; in 1883, inclusive of gas-work, £13, 999. The police force consists of 9 men (1 to every 1473 of the population), and the yearly pay of the superintendent is £143. The town has a head post office, with- money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments; branch offices of the Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale, Royal, and Union Banks; agencies of 31 insurance companies; and several good hotels. There is a Liberal newspaper, The Port-Glasgow Observer (1875), published every Saturday. Among the miscellaneous institutions may be noticed a Volunteer Drill Hall, an Oddfellows Hall, a Public Library and Reading Room, and the usual benevolent societies. There is a weekly market on Friday, and a three days' fair on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the first Thursday of July. There is a burgh -court every Thursday; ordinary justice of peace courts are held on alternate Mondays; and justice of peace small debt courts on the first Monday of every month.

Port-Glasgow unites with Dumbarton, Renfrew, Rutherglen, and Kilmarnock in sending a member to serve in parliament. Parliamentary constituency (1885) 1387; municipal 1847. Valuation (1876) £36,983, (1885) £54,040. Pop. (1841) 6938, (1861) 7214, (1871) 9851, (1881) 10, 802, of whom 5482 were males and 5320 females. Houses (1881) 2166 inhabited, 188 uninhabited, and 1 building. The population of the police burgh, of which the boundary extends farther W and includes part of the parish of Easter Greenock, was, in 1881, 13, 224.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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