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History of the Town of Greenock
Part 12


Among the oldest establishments is the rope-work possessed by the Messrs. Ramsay, near the old battery. It was begun by Robert Donald in 1725, and was in different hands till purchased by its present possessors. Besides this, there is a variety of works, where excellent ropes of all kinds are manufactured. There is the Gourock Rope-work Co., as also Messrs. Quintin Leitch & Co., Messrs. M'Nab & Co., and some smaller works.

In connection with these, Messrs. Ramsay, and M'Nab & Co. manufacture sail-cloth; the latter of whom have erected a large mill for this purpose on one of the falls of the Shaws Water. The appearance of this building from the water near Gammell's Point (formerly known as Garvel Point) is very interesting.

Ship-building, from an early period, has been carried on with great success; but previous to the breaking out of the American war, almost all the large vessels belonging to the Clyde were built in America. Peter Love was the first in Greenock who built a square-rigged vessel; this took place in 1764: she was launched near the spot where Messrs. John Maclellan & Co.'s counting-house is situated. Walter M'Kirdy built the next, the same year she was launched from the shore at the bottom of Charles-street. Both of these vessels went to the West Indies. Shortly after, John Scott (father to the present Mr. Scott) built a large vessel for the town of Hull, most of the timber for building which was got from Hamilton. The building-yard of Messrs. Scott & Sons is allowed to be the most complete in Britain, excepting those which belong to the Crown. It has a fine extent of front from West Quay to the termination of West Burn, and has a large dry dock, which was altered lately to the plan of the new dock. All the stores and different lofts are entirely walled in; and, independent of the building premises, they have an extensive manufactory of chain cables. The number of vessels launched from this place has been very great; but the largest ever built here, or in Scotland, was the Caledonian, of 650 tons, in 1794, for the purpose of supplying the Royal Navy with masts, &c.

Messrs. Steele and Carsewell began business at the Bay of Quick (formerly known as the Bay of Wick) in 1796. The first vessel built by them was the Clyde, commanded by the late Quintin Leitch. Mr. Carsewell took a branch of this business to Port-Glasgow, where he died in 1815, at which time the partnership was dissolved. During this co-partnery they built 24 square-rigged vessels, and 11 fore-and-aft-rigged vessels. One of the former class was the Bengal; which vessel was launched in Feb. 1815, and was the first vessel built in Scotland for the East India trade. Messrs. Robert Steele & Co. entered the present premises at the east of the town in 1816, and have built 30 square-rigged vessels, and 14 14 fore-and-aft-rigged vessels. In April, 1826, they launched the United Kingdom, which is the largest and most most splendid steam-vessel built in this country.

Messrs. R. & A. Carsewell commenced in 1816, at the Bay of Quick. The first square-rigged vessel built by them was the brig Maria; and the largest launched there was the Clydesdale, of 584 tons.

Messrs. William Simons & Co. began in 1817, (near to R. Steele & Co.) The first vessel built by them was the brig Christiana; and the largest the ship Madras, of 550 tons. Since the time they commenced, they have built 13 square-rigged vessels, 3 large steam-boats, and 5 fore-and-aft-rigged vessels. The whole tonnage of these vessels, British measurement, amounts to 5,220.

Messrs. M'Millan & Hunter's building-yard is situated still nearer the west. They lately built the brig Borealis. Boat-building used to to be carried on along with the other branches ; but, for a number of years back, has been almost a separate branch. The boats of Mr. Thomas Niccol have been Iong famed; and the most of those which have won the prizes, during the regatta races, have been built by him. Mr. Niccol gives an accurate idea of the number of boats he has built, by mentioning, that they would now reach about 24 miles in length. —Mr. Nicol M'Nicol also carries on the same business with much success, and builds excellent boats.

Another prominent branch of our manufactures, is sugar refining. This has been carried on with great success. The chief markets are Ireland, North America, and the Mediterranean. The situation of Greenock is peculiarly calculated for this business; the raw material being brought to the door direct.—The following are the different houses employed, or that have been employed, in this trade.

The first sugarhouse built in Greenock stands at the foot of Sugarhouse-lane. It was built about the year 1765, by Mr. Mark Kuhill, for a company, of whom a part were gentlemen in Glasgow, and was an extensive undertaking for the time. It was enlarged in 1798, and is now the property of James Atherton, Esq., Liverpool.

The second sugarhouse was built, or rather a good substantial dwelling-house was altered to a sugarhouse, at the head of Sugarhouse-lane, in the year 1788. The partners were all of Greenock. This house was also for two pans, and afterwards greatly enlarged, after being burned in the years 1703 and 1795. It is now the property of Messrs. M'Leish, Kayser, & Co.

The third sugarhouse was built in 1802, in Bogle-street, by Messrs. Robert Macfie & Sons, for two pans. Enlarged to three pans in 1810,

Fourth sugarhouse—Built at Crawfordsdyke Bridge in 1800, by Messrs. James Fairrie & Co., and latterly greatly enlarged.

Fifth—Glebe Sugarhouse, built in 1811 or 1812, for two pans. Enlarged, and now the property of William Leitch & Co.

Sixth—Angus, Balderston & Co. built their sugarhouse near the High Bridge, in 1826.

Seventh —Tasker, Young & Co. built their sugarhouse, as situated on the last fall of the Shaws Water, cast, in 1820.

James Fairrie & Co. first altered their sugarhouse to work on Howard's steam patent principle in 1810; and was the first in Scotland, and the second patent sugarhouse out of London. Since then, all the sugarhouses in Greenock have been adapted to the patent process.

The straw-hat making has been carried on in town, for a considerable time, by Messrs. James & Andrew Muir: and they have done much good in employing the young girls, and giving them habits of industry while, by this means, the female part of the community have been often enabled to provide for aged parents, to assist poorer relations, and also to appear clean and genteelly dressed. Greenock is under deep obligations to these enterprising individuals; and the extent of the good they have done cannot be fully known. They commenced the manufacture of straw-hats in 1808. The pipe-straw was sent from Bedfordshire to Orkney, where it was plaited; then sent to Greenock, and made into hats. This manufacture they still continue; and, in addition to which, they, in 1823, began the manufacture of Leghorn hats from rye-straw. In the following year they received from the Society of Arts, &c., Adelphi, London, "their silver Ceres-medal for specimens of plait in imitation of Leghorn;" in 1820, ''their large silver medal on March, 1827," their large silver medal, or twenty guineas at their option, for hats of rye-straw in imitation of Leghorn; and on 10th May, same year, "their silver medal, or ten guineas at their option, for plait from British materials." In 1826, the Highland Society of Scotland voted them a silver medal, richly ornamented, and having in the centre the following inscription, in testimony of their approval of their exertions in the manufacture of Leghorn plait and bonnets:-

On 10th Dec. 1828, the Secretary of the Board of Trustees wrote them as follows:- "I have it now in my power to inform you, that you are allowed 28; being the premium of 14 offered for Article 31, and an extra premium of 14 added, on account of the extraordinary beauty and excellence of the manufacture. (Signed) " Wm. ARBUTHNOT."

The number of workers employed at the commencement was small; but it has annually increased, and may now be reckoned, in Orkney, at about 2000, and in Greenock, at from 200 to 300.

In 1824, they invented light elastic water-proof silk hats on Leghorn bodies, which, for durability, lightness and elasticity, surpass any manufacture of silk hats that has yet been produced. These hats have met very general approbation, and have been found well adapted for warm climates.

Mauufactories for silk and felt hats are carried on to a considerable extent by A. & H. Patten, as also Blackadder & Orr. The articles produced by them and Messrs. Muir are considered equal to the finest English manufacture, and have even commanded a preference in the foreign market.

The Clyde Pottery Co. was begun in 1816. They manufacture all kinds of goods, from the commonest to the finest tea and breakfast services. In connection with this, a mill was erected above Cartsdyke, for the purpose of grinding flints, &c., and they generally employ about seventy persons.

The Flint Glass-works were commenced about nearly the same period, and manufacture every description of crystal-work, both plain and fancy, which is considered equal in quality to anything done in Britain. They, as well as the Pottery, have an extensive foreign as well as home trade; and the latter supply every principal town in the country.

A most important branch, though but recently established here, is that of the manufacture of steam-engines, &c. Messrs. Scott, Sinclair & Co.'s is situated near Cartsburn house, and occupies a large space of ground: indeed, this work is considered as complete as any in the kingdom, and to the visitor has an interesting appearance. This work was first commenced by Burrow & Lawson, as a foundry, in 1791.. It was bought by Wm. Brownlie in 1796 or 1797, and continued in his possession as such, till purchased by the present proprietors in 1825. In the short period which has elapsed, they have manufactured some splendid engines; and, what is more to be looked to them the appearance, they have wrought well. They have in hands the largest engine ever made, which is to consist of 200 horses' power, and is intended for a vessel building at Bristol. The number of men employed amount to about 200, while the weekly distribution of wages is 180.

A little farther east is a similar work, belonging to Messrs. Caird & Co. It was first begun as a foundry in 1809, and extended for the purpose of manufacturing machinery in 1826. This work is on almost a similar style of magnificence to the other, while the engines which have been made here are nothing inferior. They employ about 200 men; and consequently the amount of wages paid weekly cannot be far behind. To the stranger who has it in his power to visit these works, we can hardly imagine a finer treat. Every operation for producing that noble engine, which has done so much for this country, can be seen in a short time; from the most minute, up to the prodigious boiler, which gives life and animation to the whole. Two of the most splendid monuments which Greenock can ever rear to the memory of our illustrious townsman, James Watt, have been already completed; and no where can his unrivalled skill be seen to greater advantage than in the places now alluded to, which must have been the boyish haunt of those early days, when his mighty genius was breathing itself into existence.

There is an extensive Brewery in Cartsdyke, possessed by Mr. James Watt, (it originally belonged to a Mr. Knox,) which is carried on to a great extent. There is also another brewery on a smaller scale, carried on by Messrs. M'Farlane & Rodger. The first brewery ever erected in Greenock was opposite Mr. Scott's building-yard; and here the inhabitants used to brew the beverage which, from the malt-tax imposed on every sack of malt, gave rise to our quays, and consequently to our present importance. Many a one has wondered how such a revenue could be produced at the early period of 1701, when the inhabitants were so limited; but this will cease to be a wonder, when we consider that little ardent spirits were then used, and ale was considered as almost an essential necessary of life. Our forefathers, in those days, discussed our burgh politics over this healthy but exhilarating draught; and, having parted from each other with all the kindness of neighbours, they, like honest Boniface, having ''talked over their ale," retired in peace to "sleep over their ale."

It was not till of late years that Greenock possessed a distillery. The first that commenced was close by Mr. Hill's mill another was begun near to the low west bridge; while another was carried on in Charles-street. But the most considerable was that erected in 1824, at the bead of Tobago-street, by John Dennistoun. This is allowed to be a complete work, while the spirit which has been produced has been pronounced of an excellent quality. About twelve months ago the Shaws water was introduced into the work, and has greatly improved the flavour of the spirit. Some idea may be formed of the extent of business, from the fact of upwards of 7000 being paid for duties annually.

Besides the mill for grinding corn which is possessed by Mr. Hill, Mr. Thomas Fairrie has also an extensive building of the same kind, for the twofold purposes of grinding wheat and oats. Previous to the opening of the Shaws water, and to be ready for the first falling of this stream, the bakers of Greenock erected a mill for grinding their own flour. This was the first erection ever begun on this extensive undertaking; and to this spirited body the inhabitants are under deep obligations, for having set the laudable example of encouraging a company, whose future usefulness to the community at large can be but very inadequately appreciated.

Independent of the manufactures alluded to, Greenock possesses a bottle-work; a chain cable-work; the extensive tanworks of Messrs. Park and Mr. Marshall; two soap and candle works; the steam saw-mill; brass foundries; sail-lofts; and, among other apothecary halls, there is that of Mr. D. Brown, in Hamilton -street, where various chemical preparations of writing and durable inks, &c., have been most successfully carried on. A responsible person is kept here for the making up of medicines, the same as in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London. The Messrs. Macfie, Lindsay & Co., have of late brought into great perfection the preservation of salmon, in a fresh state, capable of being kept for years, and in every climate.

We had almost omitted to mention the existence of a business, which has been one of the earliest, and those engaged in which have done much good, in consequence of the number of men employed. We mean the coopers of Greenock, who carry on a most extensive trade, both in the foreign and home market; independent of those who make barrels for curing herrings, and are in some degree connected with the fishing. The most extensive are Messrs. John Buchanan & Co.; Messrs. Baine; Mr. Robert Class; Mr. William Chisholm; Messrs. Abram Lyle & Co.

Mr. Robert Jamieson, and others. All the wine merchants have cooperages attached to their premises.

Printing, which was invented in 1430, and has done so much good in diffusing knowledge, was, till of late years, carried on here almost entirely in hand-bills, jobbing, &c. It was not till 1765 that any printer domiciled amongst us. This was a Mr. Macalpine, who was also the first bookseller. ln 1802 the "Clyde Commercial List" was begun, and is still carried on by Mr. William Johnston. It is printed every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The same year the "Greenock Advertiser" was begun, and was printed by J. Chalmers S,- Co. In 1817 the "Greenock Herald" was commenced by Mr. Mentions; but was discontinued, or rather merged into the ''Advertiser," when Mr. Mentions became the proprietor in 1819. It is published every Tuesday and Friday. ln 1827 when the rage for cheap papers was abroad, and when attempts were made to evade the stamp, by printing them once a-week under four different names, Greenock became possessed of one of these, under the name of the "Independent," &c., but it was soon discontinued. Immediately after, another paper was begun, entitled the "Greenock Iris;" but, like its own name, became invisible in a few weeks. Mr. William Scott, late bookseller, who was also a printer, was the first who printed a book here: this was "Hutchesoa's Dissertation," in 1810; ''Fisher's Catechism," in 1812; and two editions of ''Hervey's Meditations," in 1813 and 1816. Mr. Mennons has since produced a number of elegant volumes. The first book printed by him was the "Literary Coronal," in 1821, which has been continued; and been followed by many other works, original and selected, selected, all of which have been well received by the public.

Many of the manufactures which we have had occasion to mention are but of recent date. And though Greenock may be said to be chiefly dependent on shipping, yet she cannot be too soon considered less so, and more dependent on her own resources; while, at the same time, it will make the shipping as much obligated in entering the port as we call to them. Our sugarhouses, for instance, employ an immense tonnage in carrying the raw and refined material. It is in consequence of Liverpool being, as it were, the centre of an extensive manufacturing district, that she has risen to her present height of prosperity.


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