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23july2011greenock gp.jpg
View over Greenock and the Clyde
Grid reference: NS275764
Location: 55°56’58"N, 4°45’51"W
Population: 45,467  (2001)
Post town: Greenock
Postcode: PA15, PA16
Dialling code: 01475
Local Government
Council: Inverclyde

Greenock is a port town in Renfrewshire. It forms part of a contiguous urban area with Gourock to the west and Port Glasgow to the east.

Greenock's population was recorded as being 45,467 in the 2001, a decrease from about 78,000 in 1966. It lies on the south bank of the Clyde at the "Tail of the Bank" where the River Clyde expands into the Firth of Clyde.

Sights about the town

The history of Greenock is told in the buildings of the town. It was once a town of great wealth as a port on the Clyde and though those days have passed, much remains to tell of this remarkable town.

Old West Kirk

The Old West Kirk

A church had been established in Greenock in 1591 under the patronage of John Schaw, the first built in Scotland since the Reformation. In 1926, to make way for expansion of the Harland & Wolff shipyard (the present-day location of Container Way), the Old West Kirk was relocated to a new site on the Esplanade where it still stands. The church is notable for stained glass by artists such as the Arts-and-Crafts artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Burne-Jones.[1]

Custom House

The Greenock Custom House building was designed by William Burn in 1818 and is considered by many to be the finest in Britain. It underwent extensive refurbishment which was completed in 1989 and, until closure of the building in 2010, housed a customs and excise museum which was open to the public. In June 2008 HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) announced that the building would close in 2011 as part of a rationalisation project with any jobs being transferred to offices in Glasgow. The building closed and now lies empty.

Victoria Tower

The Municipal Buildings with the Victoria Tower and "Cowan's Corner", and the Mid Kirk spire of 1781 to the left

Greenock's increasing importance and wealth was manifested in the construction of the Italianate Municipal Buildings, whose Victoria Tower, completed in 1886, stands 245 feet tall. Begun five years previously in a competition won by architects H & D Barclay, it exceeds the height of the tower of Glasgow City Chambers by more than three feet. The Municipal Buildings remain uncompleted, as a local businessman called Robert Cowan refused to sell his building in front of the tower for less than his own price, preventing completion of the right hand façade of the southern elevation.


Further evidence of this wealth can be seen in the large villas of Greenock's west end, one time home to the ship owners, industrialists and investors. The area is fronted by the mile-long sweep of the Esplanade with its views across the Clyde to Kilcreggan which almost convinces the visitor that no heavy industry could have been anywhere nearby.

Battery Park and torpedoes

At Fort Matilda railway station the Newton Street railway tunnel emerges near the coast. The excavated material from the construction of the tunnel was used as landfill to the west of the old coastal gun emplacement of Fort Matilda, forming a level area which became the playing fields of Battery Park.

In 1907 the Admiralty compulsorily purchased part of this land and built the Clyde Torpedo Factory, which opened in 1910, with 700 workers transferred from the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. The site was tasked with designing and testing of torpedoes, which were then tested in Loch Long. During the Second World War the site switched entirely to manufacturing torpedoes. The original gun battery site was occupied by the Navy Buildings, the main offices, just to the east of the torpedo factory buildings.


Early history

The area on which Greenock was founded included two estates: Cartsburn and Easter Greenock and Wester Greenock. Cartsburn and Easter Greenock had existed as a single estate since the rule of Queen Mary I. A small fishing village was established there at some time before 1592.

By 1670 a Royal Charter united the estates as the Burgh and Barony of Greenock with the exception of Cartsburn, which in 1669 became a distinct Barony with Burgh of Barony of Cartsdyke or Crawfurdsdyke. Greenock was quickly established as a port, and was the location for the second voyage as part of the ill-fated Darien Scheme. This fleet left on 18 August 1699 arriving at "New Caledonia" on the Darien Peninsula on 30 November with the majority of its passengers diseased or dead. After the Act of Union 1707, Greenock's facilities made it the main port on the West Coast and it prospered due to trade with the Americas, importing sugar from the Caribbean.


In 1827 Loch Thom was constructed as a reservoir with The Cut aqueduct, bringing water to power industry.

Greenock Central railway station at Cathcart Street opened in 1841, for the first time providing a fast route from Glasgow to the coast linking up with Clyde steamer services. The provision of this new line eliminated the necessity of taking the steamer all the way down river from Glasgow. In 1869 the Caledonian Railway was bypassed by the rival Glasgow and South Western Railway which opened a station on the waterfront at Princes Pier. To regain custom, the Caledonian Railway extended (what is now known as the Inverclyde Line) the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway west to Gourock; this line was built to run inland through deep cuttings and tunnels to avoid disturbance to the villas of Greenock's west end. The Gourock line opened in 1889.


Fort Matilda was built as a coastal gun emplacement (now the playing fields of Battery Park). In 1907 the Admiralty compulsorily purchased part of the land and built the Clyde Torpedo Factory, which opened in 1910, with 700 workers transferred from the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. The site was tasked with designing and testing of torpedoes, which were then tested in Loch Long. During the Second World War the site switched entirely to manufacturing torpedoes. The original gun battery site was occupied by the Navy Buildings, the main offices, just to the east of the torpedo factory buildings.

Greenock suffered badly during the Second World War and its anchorage at the Tail of the Bank became the base for the Home Fleet as well as the main assembly point for Atlantic convoys. On 30 April 1940 the French Vauquelin class destroyer Maillé Brézé blew up off Greenock with heavy loss of life following an accident involving two of her own torpedoes. Although this disaster occurred before the Free French Naval Forces were established, many people tend to regard the Cross of Lorraine on Lyle Hill as a memorial to the loss of the Maillé Brézé as much as to the later losses of the Free French naval vessels which sailed from the town.

On the nights of 6 May and 7 May 1941 around 300 Luftwaffe aircraft attacked the town in the Greenock Blitz. A large building housing a drapery business constructed on Cowan's property at the corner of the Municipal Buildings was badly damaged and was demolished, leaving the blank brick corner area still known as "Cowan's Corner". This was later set as a garden for the blind.

The original blank brick of Cowans Corner was covered in 2008 as part of the continuing work to improve the look of the town centre.

Postwar years

Greenock thrived in the post-war years but as the heavy industries declined in the 1970s and 1980s unemployment became a major problem, and it has only been in the last ten years with the redevelopment of large sections of the town that the local economy has started to revive. Tourism has appeared as an unexpected bonus with the development of the Clydeport Container Terminal as an Ocean Terminal for cruise ships crossing the Atlantic. Students who do not travel further afield for study often attend the James Watt College of Further and Higher Education.

Greenock reached its population peak in 1921 (81,123) and was once the sixth largest town in Scotland.


Historically, the town relied on shipbuilding, sugar refining and wool manufacturing for employment, but none of these industries is today part of Greenock's economy. More recently the town relied heavily on electronics manufacture. However this has given way mostly to call centre business, insurance, banking and shipping export.

The Fleming and Reid merino wool mill employed 500 people - mostly women and produced wool garments spun and woven at the mill. This mill was at the corner of Drumfrochar Road and Mill Road


Greenock waterfront from Victoria Harbour

In the early 17th century, the first pier was built in Greenock. Shipbuilding was already an important employer by this time. The first proper harbour was constructed in 1710 and the first well-known shipbuilders, Scott's, was established the following year. It was the oldest shipbuilding business in the world and gained numerous contracts with the Royal Navy from 1806, building ships such as the Glasgow.

Scott's was nationalised in 1969 and merged with Lithgows (founded 1874, later the largest privately owned yard in the world) the same year becoming Scott Lithgow. From the 1800 to 1980 many thousands of people worked to design, build and repair ships. The reduction in shipbuilding in the 1970s and 1980s meant that none of these companies are still trading.

Greenock Shipbuilders included: Scotts, Browns, William Lithgows, Fergusons, Head the Boat Builder (lifeboats). Other marine engineering related companies included engine-makers - Kincaids, Scotts, Rankin and Blackmore (which included the Eagle Foundry) - ship repair (Lamonts) and Hasties for steering gear. Yacht builders included Adams and McLean (at Cardwell Bay). Other yards included Cartsburn, Cartsdyke, and Klondyke - all of which closed during the 1970s and 1980s due to competition from South Korea and Japan.

Part of the site of the Scott's yard, is now a T-Mobile call centre.

Ship repair work continues at the Garvel dry dock and Shipbuilding continues at Ferguson Shipbuilders in nearby Port Glasgow.


Ocean Terminal from the esplanade.

Freight traffic is handled at the container cranes of Greenock's Ocean Terminal, at Prince's Pier which was constructed for the Glasgow and South Western Railway. The same terminal is a regular port of call for cruise liners visiting the west of Scotland.

Greenock's Great Harbour is one of the three main ports providing marine services support to the Royal Navy, in dual site operation with Faslane at HMNB Clyde on the Gare Loch. 240 staff of the former Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service were transferred to Serco Denholm under a 15-year £1bn PFI contract awarded in December 2007.[2] This facility means that "Admiralty" boats and tugs are a common sight on the Clyde.

Greenock's attractive esplanade provides a gently curving riverside walk just over a mile long extending to the west from Ocean Terminal to the Royal West of Scotland Amateur Boat Club sailing, kayaking and rowing facilities and clubhouse at the corner of the Navy Buildings which house a main Her Majesty's Coastguard centre as well as a Royal Naval Reserve establishment, HMS Dalriada.


The Sugar Warehouse dominates the James Watt Dock

Sugar refining began in Greenock in 1765.[3] John Walker began a sugar refinery in Greenock in 1850 followed by the prominent local cooper and shipowner Abram Lyle who, with four partners, purchased the Glebe Sugar Refinery in 1865. Another 12 refineries were active at one point. The most famous of these (and successful, being the only survivor until August 1997) was Tate & Lyle. It was formed from a merger in 1921 between Abram Lyle, who had expanded into Plaistow (Essex), and Henry Tate, who had set up a sugar refinery in Liverpool and had expanded into London.

By the end of the 19th century, around 400 ships a year were transporting sugar from Caribbean holdings to Greenock for processing. There were 14 sugar refineries, including The Westburn, Walkers, The Glebe, Lochore and Ferguson and Dempster, plus a sugar beet factory on Ingleston Street. Tobacco from the Americas also arrived here.

When Tate and Lyle finally closed its Greenock refinery in 1997 it brought to an end the town's 150-year old connections with sugar manufacture. A newly built sugar warehouse continued shipping operations at Greenock's Ocean Terminal. The former sugar warehouse at the James Watt Dock was by then scheduled as a Category A listed building as a fine example of early industrial architecture, with an unusual feature of a colonnade of cast iron columns forming a sheltered unloading area next to the quayside. This building has since lain empty, with various schemes being proposed for conversion and restoration. The photographs show the building still intact in February 2006, but a fire on the evening of 12 June 2006 caused severe damage to much of the building before being brought under control in the early hours of 13 June. The local council confirmed that parts of the building will have to be taken down to ensure public safety, but promised an investigation and emphasised the importance of this world heritage building.[4]

In 2007, contracts to develop the sugar refinery into housing went ahead and the building is slowly being restored to its grand spectacle alongside the ever increasingly developing waterfront of the East end of Greenock.


Since IBM arrived in the town in 1951, electronics and light manufacturing have, until recently, been the mainstay of local employment. National Semiconductor has run a silicon wafer manufacturing plant in the town since 1970.

However, with manufacturing moving to Eastern Europe and Asia, work has shifted to the service sector, especially call centres. T-Mobile and IBM both have major call centre operations in Greenock, while the Royal Bank of Scotland Mortgage Centre processes Mortgage applications from throughout Britain and Ireland.

IBM have in recent years curtailed their operations greatly in the area. Sanmina, another electronics company, took over much of the IBM installation but moved 370 jobs to Hungary in 2006. The Sanmina plant, which consisted of the former IBM AMDC (Automated Materials Distribution Centre) and Modules buildings 1 to 5, has since ceased operation and was demolished in 2009. The Spango Valley site was rebranded as "Valley Park" in late 2009.

Lenovo has also re-located away from Greenock, and the plant is now at 10% of the 1999/2000 capacity

Trade and commerce

Greenock's main shopping thoroughfare was Hamilton Street, which connected West Blackhall Street in the west to Clyde Square in the east. In 1975 it disappeared along with several other streets as the area was pedestrianised as Hamilton Way. In the 1990s it was refurbished again, and The Oak Mall indoor shopping centre now forms the central feature of the town, and provides most of the major retail shops in thee area. A retail estate is located nearby and the streets around the mall provide a large number of smaller shops.


Greenock is home to the world's first Burns Club, The Mother Club, which was founded in 1801 by merchants born in Ayrshire, some of whom had known Robert Burns. They held the first Burns Supper on what they thought was his birthday on 29 January 1802, but in 1803 discovered from the Ayr parish records that the correct date was 25 January 1759.[5]

The Victorian landscape artist John Atkinson Grimshaw depicted a somewhat idealised Greenock in several of his paintings. The Mclean Museum is the largest museum in the Inverclyde area, featuring exhibitions on James Watt and a collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts. The Arts Guild Theatre (Greenock) is a local venue thay hosts many comedians, musicians and plays every year.

Appearance in fiction

Greenock has appeared, in its own name or fictionalised, in a number of works:

  • A Green Tree in Gedde by Alan Sharp (1965)
  • Fergus Lamont by Robin Jenkins (1979) (fictionalised as 'Gantock'
  • 1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray (1984); set in a Greenock hotel room
  • But'n'Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt (a cyberpunk novel) features a submerged Greenock after the effects of global warming.
  • The poems of Douglas Dunn, frequently appearing.

In film

Greenock has featured as the backdrop to several films:

  • Television films:
    • Just a Boys' Game (1979)
    • Down Where The Buffalo Go (1988)
    • Down Among the Big Boys (1993)
  • Cinema:
    • Sweet Sixteen (2002)
    • Dear Frankie (2004)


  • The Greenock Telegraph is the town's a daily evening newspaper. Dating from 1857, it is one of the oldest daily local newspapers in the United Kingdom.
  • Inverclyde FM on line is a community Internet radio station run by volunteers.[6]

Picture gallery

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Greenock)



  • Monteith, J (2004) Old Greenock
  • Snoddy, TG (1937) Round About Greenock
  • Weir, D (1827, r. 2004) History of the Town of Greenock