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History of the Town of Greenock
Part 7


Having noticed our principal public buildings, it may be proper to enter at some length into the rapid rise of a town, which has become, in so short a period, to be possessed of so many. From the smallest beginnings, the mightiest cities on earth have entirely sprung a time was when the surface of the globe contained but one dwelling; when Babylon, with its extensive walls, and imperial Rome, with its palaces, showed no vestige of their future greatness. Greenock, about 200 years, ago, had no symptoms of ever having been any thing more than the straggling hut on the margin of the Clyde, or a few fishing-boats on the bosom of its sunny bay. It never was the scat of any royal residence; it has had no parliamentary influence in sending a member to parliament; and though Pennant says, "that Somerled, Thane of Argyle, raised a banditti in Ireland, which was lauded at the Bay of St. Lawrence, to oppose Canmore, King of Scotland," we are not aware that here any mighty conflict ever occurred.

In 1630, we have already said, the first feu was ever granted and it must have ''progressed very slowly," (as Jonathan says,) for in the year 1700 Greenock and Crawfordsdyle did not contain 1000 inhabitants. Crawfordsdyke, at this period, was of snore importance—it contained a pier, which this town could not boast of front village part of the unfortunate expedition to the Isthmus of Darien, in 1697, was fitted up. In connection with Cartsdyke, we may also state:—A little above the house of Cartsburn stood a cottage, that gave birth to the celebrated donor of the equestrian statute of King William to the City of Glasgow, James M'ltae, who was long herd to the tenant of I lill-end, the great grandfather of the late II. Crawford. Tradition says, that M'Itae offered to place the statue in Cartsdyke but the then laird of Cartsburmi (a very godly man) rejected it, wishing, in preference, that the influence of Mr. M'Rae might be exercised to have Cartsdyke made a parish. This Mr. M'Rae became the ancestor of the families of Glencairn, Orange- field, Houston, and Don. he lies interred in the churchyard of Moukton.

Some idea may be formed of how cheaply the African Company, &c., held our town; for they do not even mention it in the following correspondence: -

"AT the Court of Directors of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies, holden at Edinburgh, the 12th day of March, 1697, upon a Motion then made for directions bow to conclude with the several Proprietors concerned in the Bay of Ardmore, for the Company's intended Salt Works,

Resolved, That Mr. William Dunlop, with the advice and assistance of Sir John Shaw, or any other of the Directors at Glasgow, be hereby empowered to conclude Nvith the Heritors and Proprietors of the said Bay of Ardmore, and to take either a Feu or Tack of the next adjacent Lands and Yaire, equal to a perpetual sight, at the present yearly remit. And if the present Mr. William William Dunlop cannot agree on reasonable terms with the said Proprietors, to agree with Sir John Shaw for his Bay, &c. Ordered, That the said Mr. William Dunlop do, at the same time, with advice aforesaid, agree with such Proprietors of Coals in those parts, as will give tire most reasonable conditions to the Company for such quantities thereof as the Company shall have occasion for." [Extracted by Order of the said Court.]

"Edinburgh, 25th March, 1697.

REVEREND Sir—The Directors are now of the belief, that it is the Company interest to have ill their hands all the Lands which the hen tons can pretend to he any manner of way damnified by the Company's Works; Since probably they cart always have it tenanted to better advantage than the present yearly rent. Sir John Shaw would have you bring every thing to a readiness for signing upon the 9th or 10th day of next month, at which time he resolves positively to meet you at Glasgow, and questions not but he would help to bring all those gentlemen to reasonable terms.

I am, Reverend Sir,
Your most humble Servant."

"Edinburgh, 25th March, 1697.

Reverend Sir—You may remember, that the naming of Sir John Shaw's Bay in the Order of Court was put in by Sir John Shaw's own direction, for a blind to the jest, in order to get the better bargain. I could wish I was to act your part in this matter; for Mr. Cragg told me, and some few others, that Sir John's Bay was a very little thing, and excellent ground, fit for the work, and wished the Company would fall upon a way to hedge it from him handsomely. He was once resolved to have spoke of it to Sir John openly before the Directors; but, upon second thoughts, considered Sir John as a man that loved his interest, arid, being master of money, would not part readily with a thing on easy terms, if once he was possessed of art opinion of its goodness. So that were I in your place, be should get leave to be in jest, but I would be in earnest for the Company; and when I had completed his jest, would laugh at him, and tell him I had bitten the biter. This I communicated to Sir Francis Scott, Sir Patrick Scott, Newton Drummond, and Mr. Robert Blackwood, only, who were all mightily pleased with the thoughts of it; the three former of whom went out of town this week. So this 1 thought fit to let you know, to the end you may act as you please.

I am, Reverend Sir,
"Your most faithful humble Servant."

Greenock, about this period, consisted of it row of houses, which commenced about East Quay Lane, and terminated at Ruc-end, (a corruption of Row-end). A wide space intervened, and another row of' houses commenced about Bell-entry, with their gables towards the shore, and terminated near the Old, or West Church. A specimen of the appearance of' these houses may still be seen, nearly opposite to Mr. Clarke's Land, West Quay-head, which bears date, above the door-way, 1667. Independent of these, a range of houses stretched up the Vennel, and little groups occupied the space between the head and foot of Taylor's Closs and Burn-street westward; and a number of thatched houses were scattered about various parts of the town. The first slated house that ever was built in Greenock was about 1712, and was the property of a Bailie Butcher. It was situated at the corner of the lane leading from the foot of Highland Closs to the East Harbour. In 1716 there were only four houses covered with slate, one of which has been already noticed as at the corner of Cross Shore-street. About eighty years ago, it was occupied by one M'Grigor, and was the principal, perhaps the only, inn in town. The sun-dial, for ascertaining the hour of the day, yet retains its place in the western corner; and the windows, despite of school-boys and careless maids, are surprisingly entire, and still form a faithful, though brittle record, of the love effusions of its wayfaring inhabitants. Who can doubt that la plus belle en Bourdeaux est Mademoiselle Belfont, or that Miss S—y S—h, or Miss N—y B—d of Irvine, and several others, whose names are there inscribed with the keen point of the diamond, were thought by their respective admirers the fairest of created beings? Their great grand-daughters, the toasts of the present day, will not take offence at the publication of these fondly cherished recollections, nor fastidiously dispute the line of propinquity which may recognize them as the representatives of the reigning beauties of 1749.

Opposite to the inn, and near the foot of the Broad CIoss, stood the Prison—an ill-looking thatched house of one storey, and consequently of one apartment. This was one of the places in which Jugs were displayed. In a word, the space described was the nucleus of the town of Greenock, Shaw-street being then the High-street of the town.

In the space betwixt the foot of Cross Shore-street and the foot of Broad Closs, was the ancient Market Cross of Greenock. The usual places of resort for coal vessels, and other small craft bringing supplies to the town, was in the space occupied by the Tar Pots; hence the present Cross Shore-street—so named on account of its proximity, at once to the shore and the cross. The cross was formed in the pavement, most probably by delineating the cardinal points of the compass within a circle, as appears at present in the Square; at all events, it bore the figures 1669, formed of while pebbles.

About 1735 the population reached 3300, and from this period increased rapidly. In consequence of this, buildings made their appearance in all directions, but more particularly in the new street which was opened from Rue-end to the Square. The first house built in the street was on site of Mr. Brownlies new land; and the first built in Hamilton-street was at the foot of Watson's-lane, and corner of the Venue!. At the period of opening these streets, and long after, they had no names. The first land in the latter was built by a tailor, and the second by a smith. Like Tam O'Shanter and Souter Johnny, they were like ''very brithers,"

"And had been fou for days thegither."

In their cups, the name of the street was often brought above board: the tailor insisted it should be called Needle-street, and the smith hammer-street. Things remained thus in status quo till the 8th August, 1775, when the Magistrates and Council, having met, various representations were made regarding the streets having no names Dalrymple-street being then known as the High-street; the Vennel as the Vennel; Cross Shore-street as Cross Shore-street; East Quay-lane as the lane leading to Sir John's Barge and all the others, New-street, Nos. 1, 2, and 3. It was therefore ordered, that the Laigh-street from Row-end be called "Dalrymple-street;" from Row-end to Square, "Catheart-street;" from Square westward, "Hamilton-street;" Square to Mid Quay, "William-street;" from Poultry Market, &c., westward, "Mercate-street;" and from Laigh-street to Vennel, "Charles-street." At this period no other Places had names. To trace the opening of streets in other directions, would be absolutely superfluous, as this is in the remembrance of almost all. Where the town stands was formerly gardens, or covered with wood; and in the neighbourhood of what is known as "Lover's Lane," but a few years ago, some beautiful trees stood. Near to the Slaughter-house, and all along Tobago-street, were trees and rich gardens. In the garden about the foot of Ann-street, a singular anecdote is told of the nightingale, a bird which has almost never been known to come farther north than Lancashire; yet it would appear to have been, for a time, a nocturnal visitant in this quarter. The authenticity of the following communication on the subject call depended upon :-

Betwixt forty and fifty years ago, and for many subsequent ones, the space of ground bounded on Cowgate by the east, the Venuel on north, the foot of and approach to Ann-street., &c., on south and west, and which now forms the east end of Tobago-street, the whole of Buccleugh-street, and is, besides, the site of several stately tenements of land, wrights' shops, &c., was a large and elegant garden, belonging to and possessed by the deceased Mr. James Scott, some of whose descendants, I believe, still reside in Greenock.".-________"My parents," continues the writer, ''who are now also deceased, occupied a house in the immediate vicinity of Mr. Scott's garden; and I have been assured, a thousand times I dare say, by them both, that a nightingale, at least a bird that sung by night, visited the garden about the period above-mentioned, for two consecutive summers, to the great entertainment of the neighbours, and indeed of the major part of our worthy town's folk, who used to assemble in crowds about ten at night, and continue delightedly listening to the warbling stranger until the rising of the sun, which had invariably the effect of rendering him mute."

The fact, as now stated, is highly interesting, as regards the natural history of this singular bird. We have no feathered warbler that sings by night, except itself; although it is perfectly certain, that, in the neighbourhood of the Carron Works, music has been heard front the adjoining grove; the birds mistaking the blaze of light for that of the rising sun.

After what has been mentioned of the almost talismanic appearance of this populous town, it must convince every one, that, however rich it may be in its resources, however extensive in its manufactures, that it is indeed but a few years since any importance could be attached to it. Washington Irving has given a most ingenious account of Rip Van Winkle's sleep among the Kaatskill mountains, for a period of twenty years and by this means has brought to view the changes of a most important period of American history. Let us, therefore, suppose some honest Greenockian to have indulged in a similar nap and, on his various scenes of infancy, &c., would he not, like Rip, be apt to say, ''This is not me—this is not my town;" but, pointing significantly to Gourock or Port-Glasgow, that's it yonder?"

The principal streets are those already mentioned; and though the town has rather an irregular appearance, it contains many excellent buildings. It is evidently stretching towards the west; and many places, which were considered quite retired and in the country, form part of streets. Those streets which have been planned lately are spacious, and forming rapidly. A number of beautiful villas are scattered from east to west, and give the stranger a highly favourable idea of the wealth, as well as the taste, of the inhabitants. The population in 1791 had arisen to 15,000; in 1801, it had increased to 18,400; in 1811, to 20,580; in 1821, to 23,500; and in the present year it amounts to about 27,600, including seamen, which must always be considered as forming an efficient part of the population of any seaport town. The increase of population is the most accurate means of ascertaining the extension or improvement of a town and, judging by this, Greenock cannot be said to be falling off. One branch of its commerce may be depressed, or another may be influenced by changes or circumstances but when it gradual rise takes place in the number of its inhabitants, something must be the cause; and that must be, more or less, a degree of prosperity.


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