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History of the Town of Greenock
Part 5


In 1801, the Tontine, which is a substantial handsome building, was erected. It is situated in Cathcart-street, and contains a Large hall, with 12 sitting-rooms and 30 bed-rooms. The subscribers, 400 in number, were procured in the course of two days; making the subscription, which was 25 per share, amount to 10,000. ln consequence of non-payment, 23 were struck of the list, which reduced the members to 377, and at this period about 290 are still on the list.

Nearly opposite is situated the Exchange Buildings, which were finished in 1814, at an expense of 7000. This spacious erection, though rather confined to give it full effect, is a great ornament, to the street. It contains two Assembly Rooms, which are fitted up in splendid manner; and when lighted and decorated, and enlivened with the gay assemblage for an evening party, has a brilliant appearance. The first assembly took place in Alexander's land, William-street, afterwards in the Town Hall, Star Hall, Buck's head Inn, Mason Lodge, and Tontine. In lower lane is a large room occupied as the Coffee Room, which receives a variety of London and provincial papers, besides the periodicals of the day, and works giving information on commercial subjects. The expense is defrayed by an annual subscription of 35s., but strangers are admitted without introduction, and are considered as such for six weeks' residence in town. The first Coffee Room was in the low flat of Wm. Alexander's great tenement of land in William-street; and if then limited in its dimensions, had one great advantage in bringing the subscribers to a close and friendly reciprocity of sentiment. The present Town Hall was also used for a considerable time for this purpose, and from thence to its present situation the Coffee Room was removed in year 1814. The Greenock Bank occupies the western side; and has an extensive business, not only with London and various commercial towns, but also with the Highlands and surrounding neighbourhood. This Bank was established under the firm of Dunlop, Houston & Co., in 1785, and in June of same year their first hank-note was issued. It was at first situated in the land to

the westward of the Town Hall; from thence it was removed to the Bank Buildings, West Breast, where it continued till September, 1820. The sunk-storey has been occupied as a wine-cellar; and, from the coolness and easy access to it, is generally well employed. Behind this building a small neat Theatre was built by the late Mr. Stephen Kemble. Previous to this erection, the lovers of the drama used to assemble near the Rue-end, in that place occupied as a counting-room, &c., by Robert Angus, Esq. here the Theatre used to be much frequented; but of late years the taste for this species of entertainment has been much on the decline, and a full house can rarely be got when even the London stars pay a visit to the town. This is not peculiar to Greenock alone; Scotland in general has ceased to bestow its patronage on amusement which, by its early records, seams to have been any thing but well received.

The old mansion of the Shaw Stewart family stands upon a fine rising ground above the Assembly Rooms, and commands a most extensive view of the Town. This situation, before the buildings encroached upon it, must have been one of delightful retirement and beauty. There must have been various additions built to the house since its first erection. An ancient well close by bears date upon it 1629. Over one of the entrances to the garden is affixed :1635: but the oldest date in connection with the house is over a hack entrance, 1637.— The front and greater part of the building is of modern erection, and is said to have been planned by James Watt. It was here, however, that baronial hospitality spread the board; and from this place John Shaw, with about 200 of his tenantry, marched to the assistance of King Charles II. and fought with that prince at the battle of Worcester, 3d September 1631. The banner which was carried on this occasion, was preserved till about 1796, and hung along with the Town flags in the Coffee Room, but since this period was never seen. It was in consequence of the zeal of John Shaw that he was created a Baronet under the flag on the field of battle. Sir John was residing here in 1715, and on the Duke of Argyles arrival in Edinburgh on the 14th September, he addressed a letter earnestly begging assistance. "From which place and Cartsdyke he was reinforced with somewhat more than 100 men, accompanied by their minister, the Rev. Mr. Turner. These remained under the orders of his grace for 80 days, doing duty all that time the same as the regular troops. Besides the above, that were thus employed abroad, there were 50 men belonging to Greenock, and 25 to Cartsdyke, who kept watch every iiight, bringing all the boats from the south side of the Clyde, to prevent the rebels, especially Rob Roy and his thieves, from transporting themselves across, and plundering the adjacent country." Again ill 1745, Sir John, who remained in this place, was applied to, and in the open green close by the house he drilled the various trades before they went on active duty. About this period the Earl of Kilmarnock and Marquis of Tullibardine called upon him to ask his advice; he earnestly implored them not to enter upon that enterprize, which cost the one his life and made the other an exile for ever, it must appear obvious that during the unfortunate 1715 and 45, the men of Greenock were loyal to the house of Hanover and however we may admire the exalted devotion of the prince's army, and also deplore the fearful winding up of the tragedy, where so many noble victims were sacrificed; yet there can be but one opinion as to the issue of a contest which secured to Britain its civil and religious liberty, and which raised this nation to its present greatness. In the neighbourhood of this house, Sir John mustered the different trades to walk the fair for the protection of property; wihich was often carried off by Rob Roy and his men, as well as other marauders. And though this exhibition latterly became a mere pageant, it was not abolished till 1822.

The following Act of Parliament, granted in 1606 by King William, with the consent and advice of the Estates in Parliament, to Sir John, the Lord of the Manor, will show its importance:- "Grants to Sir John Shaw, his airs and successors for ever, the right and priviledges of three fairs yearly to be held in the Town of Greenock." And after specifying the days in which these fairs should be held, there is the following concluding clause:- 'With the haill priviledges, profits, tolls, customs, and casualties of the said fairs and mercats, with power to the said Sir John Shaw and his foresaids, by themselves and others in their names, to cause proclaim and ryde the said fairs, and to make such orders and directions for the right government thereof as they see fit, and to take, uplift, and dispose upon the said profits, tolls, customs and casualties of the same, with all confiscations and amerciaments arising by any thefts, ryots, bloods and battereis, that may happen to fall out thereat, and to do all other things competent in the like cases to be clone, by any having the right and priviledges of keeping free fairs and mercats within this kingdom."

A very imperfect idea can now be formed of the beauty and extent of the baronial policy. Mr. Alexander Drummond, his Majesty's Consul at Tripoli, takes notice of this place, when speaking of Vabro in Italy:-

"Here the Count de Merci possesses a beautiful house, that stands upon the top of the hill, with fine terraced gardens sloping down to the river side, which yield a delicious prospect to the eye; yet beautiful as this situation is, the house of Greenock would have been infinitely more noble, had it been, according to the original plan, above the terrace, with the street opening down to the harbour: indeed in that case, it would have been the most lordly site in Europe."

From the house there was a fine row of trees, which led to a pleasant retreat at the top of the Whin Hill, containing many apartments; and it is well known that this hill was entirely covered with wood until 1782. Where Regent-street, &c. now stands, was also covered with wood till 1809 when this beautiful ornament to the town also disappeared. The peculiar advantages which the inhabitants of the policy enjoy, in being exempted from town taxes, has made this place, independent of its fine situation, much sought after. The name of this wood was popularly known as Lovie's Wood; and here many a happy school-boy hour was spent, in the intervals between studying Horace, or some teazing Mathematical problem; yet here, amidst all the noisy glee of as rich a scene as can well be remembered —to use Gray's beautiful lines—

"Alas! regardless of their doom,
The little urchins play
No dread have they of ills to come,
No care beyond a day."

Within the limits of the policy, and on the terrace alluded to by Mr. Drummond, it is intended to erect a monument, at once useful and ornamental, to the memory of James Watt, our illustrious townsman. It is to be an elegant building, capable of containing the Greenock Library, instituted in 1783, and containing about 7000 volumes. In a hall, fitted up for the purpose, is to be placed a statue of Mr. Watt, executed in Chantry's happiest manner. The sum for the statue was raised by subscription, and amounts to 1700 and Mr. Watt of Soho intends to give the necessary sum for the erection of the building, amounting to about 3000.

When the Library was first instituted, it was kept in Mr. Wilson's school-room, Royal Closs, who was first Librarian. It is at present in a commodious room above the Green Market. The Rev. John Dunn is at present librarian.

The new Coffee Room, at the corner of the Square, was commenced in 1820, and finished the same year. The reason of this new erection was in consequence of a difference having arisen between a number of the subscribers and the proprietors of the Exchange Buildings. As the secession was almost immediate, or at least before the new room was built, the members were accommodated with a room in the White Hart Inn, then unlet. The expense of this erection amounted to nearly 2.500; and certainly there are few rooms more splendid, having a fine cupola, and otherwise finished in an elegant manner. This room, like the other, is well supplied with various papers, &c., and is equally liberal in allowing privileges to all strangers, without introduction, for six weeks.

In 1810 the Jail, or Bridewell, was built. It is situated behind the Mid Parish Church, in a fine open space, enclosed with a wall; and is built something in the style of an old castle, having two towers in front, with battlements at the top. This is the only place occupied as a prison for criminals; and contains a debtor's apartment, besides a place where the criminals labour. Previous to its erection, the Jail, or Black hole, was in front of the Town's House ; but the first ''durance vile" which was used in Greenock was a thatched house at the bottom of Broad Closs, where the Jugs were hung in terrorem of offenders; and another set of Jugs were hung for the same laudable purpose at the West Quay-head, in a house called the Inspector's Land. The Keep, or, as it was called, massy-more of the Mansion-house, was afterwards used as a prison, and continued to be so till after the year 1765, when the Town Buildings were erected.

In 1818, an extensive building was erected on the East Quay for the customs and excise, but known as the Customhouse. It is a great ornament to the town ; and, from its situation, being on the centre of the quay, where the steam-boats arrive, is seen to much advantage by strangers either visiting or passing the port. It has a fine esplanade in front, from which there is a delightful view of the opposite coast. The structure is handsome, having an elegant portico, in the Grecian Doric order of architecture, supporting a pediment. It has also another front towards the south-east, which is the entrance to the excise department. The rooms are all elegantly fitted up, and the long room of the Custom House is about 76 feet by 42, and 26 high. The building cost altogether about 30,000. As immediately connected with this building, we subjoin the following list, which gives some idea of the progressive rise of the trade of the Clyde in this particular department: -

Opposite the Customhouse, is an elegant cast-iron Corinthian Pillar, cast by Caird & Co., Founders, and lighted by gas, to facilitate the approach of vessels by night, to our harbours. A little distance from this, on the right, a Camera Obscura has been fitted up; and the profits arising from this exhibition are given to the Greenock Hospital.

The Renfrewshire Bank occupies a substantial house, built. in 1811, on the line of Shaw-place. The time of its first establishment was in 1802, and it then occupied the low flat of the house in Hamilton-street, opposite Tan-work Closs. Like the Greenock Bank, its business is very extensive, having various branch banks, independent, of its intercourse with all commercial districts.

Though possessing so large a population, no gas-work was established here till 1828. The building is situated in the Glebe, and is a great ornament to the street. Notwithstanding of the strong prejudice in having works of this kind in a populous neighbourhood, from the offensive smell, no inconvenience has been felt on this score. It is but justice to an individual now in the dust, to state, that the first requisition, calling the inhabitants together, was in his hand-writing and though others finished the work, in a manner which must give satisfaction to every one, both from the handsome structure, and the purity of the gas produced, doing justice to that individual does not at all detract from their merits. The profits arising from the consumption of gas is to aid the town's funds; and the public are well aware that its necessities require every fair and legitimate means of doing so. From a statement published on the 26th June, 1829, it appears that the total cost of works, &c., is 8731 9s. —revenue, 2054 11s. 6d ; which, after deducting outlays and interest, leaves a balance in favour of the town, 981 9s. 2d.

The Flesh Market, which is situated in Market-street, was first built in 1764, and rebuilt in 1815. It contains 16 stalls, and has a most convenient slaughter-house behind. The first cow which was killed there was by James Bartlemore: it was paraded through the town dressed dressed in ribbons, with the town-drum beating before it. The Fish Market is situated at the Mid Quay, is well fitted up, and convenient for this purpose. The Butter Market, or, as it is called, the Green Market, is immediately under the Library, at the east end of Market-street, and is but partially used for this purpose. Greenock possesses no regular Meal Market, &c., but did so many years ago. The first situation was foot of Tanwork Closs, and afterwards at the head of Watson's-lane.

The Post-office has never possessed any building entirely for itself; and consequently, the frequent movements from one place to another have been at the suggestion of the post-master of the day. It has at last settled in the opening at the head of Cross Shore-street, named Watt Place. The revenue from this establishment in 1797 was 2800, and in 1828 the sum of 4183 was collected.

Independent of the public buildings belonging to the town, or those which have been raised by subscription, there are other places, the property of private individuals, which ought not to be omitted. The White Hart, a large and commodious inn, situated near the Square, was built about 1770; but lately it was raised upon, and otherwise much improved: this house contains 9 sitting-rooms and 17 bed-rooms. The Gardeners' hall is situated in Manse-lane; the Buck's Head Inn, and Mason Lodge, in Hamilton-street ; and the George Inn at the East Breast.

About 1740, a Bridge was thrown across the stream which joins the sea near Mr. Scott's building-yard, and is known by the name of Finnart Burn. This was the first erection of the kind in the neighbourhood. Latterly two other Bridges were built across the same water, and have all been improved and enlarged since their first erection. About fifty years ago there was no Bridge at the east of the town; the substitute for this was the old rudder of a vessel, which continued till the erection of Ling Burn Bridge, (not Deling Burn); and in 1777 the Bridge near to Mr. Moscrip's church was erected.

About seventy years ago the roads were wretched, and a Marshal Wade was much wanted, to procure the blessing of a good pathway way to the unshod I travellers. The road to Gourock, for instance, was by the shore-side and if strong gales produced a high tide, an embargo was laid upon all travellers, till the weather moderated, and the joint influences of Boreas and Neptune permitted a free passage. The dates are vague and uncertain, as to the period when the various roads were commenced and finished; and we believe few are anxious to ascertain the point, seeing that the task has been accomplished in a manner which ensures comfort, as well as pleasant and easy travelling.


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