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- the archivist’s treasure


Published by Inverclyde Community Development Trust with assistance from Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland – Heritage Grants No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the permission in writing from the publisher, except for the purposes of review. This book is strictly not for sale or resale by third parties in either physical or digital editions, it has been grant funded by Heritage Lottery Fund to be distributed for free. Inverclyde Community Development Trust generate no income from this publication. Printing co-ordinated by New Vision Print, Jamaica Street, Greenock First published September 2012 Artwork Andy Lee and Andrew Lever Design, colouring and typesetting Dominique McKay and Francesco Ottaviano Project Coordinator Kay Clark Written by Identity Project Team (Pages 3 – 9, 61 & 62) Magic Torch (Pages 20, 21, 46, 47) All other pages by schools from around Inverclyde. A full list of participating schools can be found on page 63 Edited by Paul Bristow Master colouring and typeset, final edit and pre-press trust I design Images reproduced with kind permission of McLean Museum, Kelly Street, Greenock. Thanks to Val Boa for her support and assistance. Additional thanks to Alec Galloway for allowing imagery of his stained glass art. All songs, poems and ballads are traditional The Archivists Treasure was inspired by Alice In Sunderland by Bryan Talbot ISBN 10-0224080768 Various photographic images used under license from SCRAN Every effort has been made to contact the relevant sources for permission for use of all other artwork. Inverclyde Community Development Trust is a Company Limited by guarantee Registered in Scotland No. 116334. A Scottish Charity No. SC007212 VAT No. 809277703 Registered Office:175 Dalrymple Street, Greenock PA15 1JZ 2

is this definitely the library they were talking about, jenna? i knew we should have done that homework sooner...

seriously ... i don’t think i’ve ever seen this place before... that’s cos you don’t read, john!


no.... i would remember BEing here that a dead roman...? let’s just get on with it before it gets any darker.


right... history of st john’s school. let’s get looking!

it feels weird in here...


good evening... welcome to the archive.

rc Jo hiv To b d ist re esc me rip “I mb tio se kee er n: r ... Th ving p si Th ey t -me x ho an eir aug n... nes t an d W nam ht an d H hy es a me a - R d Wh ow a nd re W all I ud o” nd Whe ha kne yar t w; Wh n dK er e ip ling .
eh... hullo... you the one in charge here?

Th e


we’re trying to sort out some homework.

homework? i’m the king of homework! hmmm... actually ... forget that... that sounds rubbish... doesn’t it? the entire history of your town is here! what would you like to discover?


over the centuries we’ve really had all sorts arriving on our shores. being on a river, becomes a passing place. that shapes your community .

the romans were definitely among the first to visit. they were largely here to subjugate the damonni tribe at langbank.

but in later years, they established two outposts in order to protect the antonine wall, one over at skelmorlie and the other on lurg moor.

only last year some roman coins were discovered during some landscaping work in port glasgow and the work had to be stopped for a few days...

...turned out that they were fakes right enough. no-one is quite sure how they got there...


eh... i’ve missed a bit... who were the dominoes at langbank?

damonni... the first iron age tribe to settle here. they owed alliegiance to welsh chieftains.

the whole strathclyde area was a welsh kingdom, in the fifth century , and at that time we would all have spoken old welsh. the seat of the kingdom of strathclyde was dumbarton rock... and its king was ryhdderch hael.

he did! although a celtic king, he renounced paganism, and turned to the church. it’s said that merlin himself was at the court of king rydderch, but later replaced by saint kentigern... who ended up quite popular in glasgow.

he looks like he means business!


many more celtic missionaries passed through the area... st blaine, st fillian, st columba... all still remembered in the names of streets, churches and villages.

and all the while, our little port was growing and growing. fishing was very popular, and so important to the town, that a whole series of superstitions grew up around it. ...don’t go trying to push stones into the river... that’s my advice to you

and the thing is... when you have a big harbour, and a river, lots of different people start passing through the town. some don’t stay long. some stay forever. and that’s when it starts to get really interesting... that’s when we start to see the roots of the community that we are here today .

in 1635, charles i granted sir john shaw of greenock a barony , the first step towards greenock becoming a town. and by 1714 we had a custom house. the extension of the harbour followed soon after.

over the next few hundred years we had highlanders, germans, italians, french, jewish... all sorts of people from all walks of life came here to work and live. and this archive has something to represent and tell the stories of all those people, and how they shaped our town...


For example, during the latter half of the Eighteenth century, and early nineteenth century, smuggling was big business in Inverclyde. The local people were dissatisfied by import taxes and were always on the lookout for ways around them. Wealthy merchants and the poor working classes saw plenty of opportunity in the illegal import of various goods. Local men would use fishing boats to ferry casks of whisky and other alcohol, distilled in breweries found in towns and villages nearing the Clyde.
These men would have to brave the river in the dead of night in order to smuggle these goods using hidden spots and man-made docks throughout Inverclyde; mainly in Inverkip and the surrounding coastal areas between there and Gourock. In fact there’s still a smugglers’ cave up on the Inverkip backroads. The dangers of smuggling weren’t only down to treacherous waters, but also the wrath of the Excise officers, who were always on the lookout for signs of smuggling. Horse chases between the Excise officers andsmugglers were very common, with casualties and deaths on both sides. Smugglers were willing to fight and kill for their goods - it was a very lucrative business. On the 11th of August 1777, the trading ship Blackgrove, laden with cargo, subject to import duties arrived, at the Clyde. As it approached, near Greenock, a rowboat was put off-shore by a band of men and proceeded to row towards the ship...

Some of the ship’s cargo was removed to be smuggled, with the duties evaded by all involved. Everyone’s a winner.

Unfortunately, the transfer of goods didn’t go unnoticed. A boatman, named Hugh MacLachlan, who was one of the crew on a nearby wherry in the Revenue service, had spotted them. He and four other servicemen sailed to apprehend the smugglers. They reached the rowboat and prepared to board, cutlasses in hand, as firearms would prove awkward in close-quarters. The smugglers, consisting six men, James Lade Snr, James Lade Jnr, James Morris, Hugh Morris, John Morris and James Glen had prepared for the attack...
A melee ensued with stones being thrown at the officers, wounding them as they tried to board. Worse still, oars were used to brutally bludgeon the servicemen who after all, were simply trying to perform their duty.

The skirmish ended with all of the Revenue officers bloody and battered, and the spotter Hugh MacLachlan dead.

James Lade Snr and James Morris were later apprehended and brought before the Circuit Court in May 1778. The trial would have caused little sensation locally as Revenue officers were unpopular and few folk would have been upset that one was killed in the line of duty.

nowadays, of course, people are much smarter about avoiding taxes...


here we see the magnificent greenock customhouse, which was built in 1818.

the building was designed by william burn, and is considered by many to be the finest in britain.

it served as the first stop for people and cargo coming into the town, including all of the immigrants who arrived here in the middle of the nineteenth century

the customhouse inspired many artists with its design and location, most famously robert salmon, who painted the building during his time in greenock, before leaving and settling in boston, where he became a prominent figure in american art. he painted some lovely scenes of italy as well.

but greenock didn’t always have a customhouse by the waterside...


1816 on a dark and stormy night, two years before the customhouse was built, at the excise office in nicolson street...

a ladder is stolen from the dock to get over the wall...

the door panel is cut open to get inside... from there the robbers made their way to the clerk’s office, where they found a key to open the rest of the doors in the building...

they then made their way to the chief officer’s room and proceeded to open the cashbox, and liberate the £1200 from within.

the next day , the robbery is discovered. many people were suspects of the crime, mainly a man named murray stewart, who was arrested just because he was deemed suspicious...

the charges were dropped against stewart, as the jury rightly declared that there was a lack of evidence to prove his guilt. very lucky . he could have found himself dangling from a rope. no-one else was ever tried for the crime.

...eyes too close together apparently .


thankfully , ropes around here were usually used for boats, not nooses.

The Port Glasgow Rope and Duct Company originally operated from Bay Street. The Glasgow traders who owned the company sold the business and building to the Gourock Ropeworks Company.

The Gourock company moved to the Port Glasgow site in 1797, which is why it’s called the Gourock Ropewoks, even though it’s in Port Glasgow.

Many local people were employed in the Ropeworks. And it’s a part of our industrial heritage which involved far more women than men.

As well as producing ropes, as the name suggests, a variety of canvas, sailcloth and nets were also made. The PS Comet and the Queen Mary were both fitted out with products from the mill.

By the 1950’s the company was a major UK and international company, operating out of South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, with other production sites at New Lanark, Govan and Aberdeen. The Port Glasgow factory closed in 1976. 14

the building reopened as luxury flats a few years ago, following years of neglect... leaving us hanging onto our memories of “the rope that went around the world.”

everything here has a story ... or sometimes... a song.

The Lady of the Lake
As I walked out one evening down by the river side Along the banks of sweet Dundee a lovely lass I spied First she sighed and then did say “I fear I’ll rue the day” “Once I had a kind sweetheart his name was Willie Brown And in the Lady Of The Lake he sailed from Greenock town With full five hundred immigrants bound for America And on the banks of Newfoundland I am told they were cast away When she made mention of my name I to myself did say “Can this be you stands by my side my own dear Liza Gray?” I turned myself right round about my tears for to conceal And with a sigh I then begun my mournful tale to tell “I own this loss of Greenock Quay for I in that vessel went Along with your true love Willie Brown some happy hours I spent Along with your true love Willie Brown some happy hours spent we He was my chief companion upon the raging sea

“We tossed upon the raging main five hundred miles from shore The nor’west winds and fields of ice down on our vessel bore That night the Lady Of The Lake to pieces she was sent And all the crew but thirty two down to the bottom went” She said “Kind sir if that be true what you relate to me Unto all earthly pleasures I’ll forever bid adieu And in some lonely valley I’ll wander for his sake And I’ll always think of the day he sailed in the Lady Of The Lake “Oh Liza lovely Liza from weeping noe refrain For don’t you see the Lord spared me to see your face again? For don’t you see what you gave me when I left Greenock Quay? In his hand he bore the likeness of his own dear Liza Gray

i love a happy ending. don’t you?


let’s go back a bit and see what was happening away from the river, up on the hills...

The history of Kilmacolm begins with a settlement of Stone-age villagers, setting up camp in the area around 3000BC. In 1500BC, Bronze-age farmers built a fort and settled there.

Nearby , and some time later, around 100BC, was when the Damonni arrived, as I mentioned earlier.

The Romans turned up to give them a hard time, setting up camp in the area before advancing further north to somewhere even colder. The Roman roads can still be found, and I’ve heard it said that you can still hear the Romans march along them.


A church is established in the area in the name of st columba.

the village of kilmacolm is founded.

norman strongholds are set up during the thirteenth century .

the king himself orders an army to march to kilmacolm, in response to an attack in 1489.

there is a spate of witch-hunts in the local area. many women are arrested for allegedly practicing the craft and executed.

in 1869, a train line is built through the village, which brings wealthy merchants from glasgow, leading to growth and prosperity .


kilmacolm did indeed become a prosperous village. but like every other part of the area in the nineteenth century , many people were facing poverty and destitution... destined to find themselves at the greenock asylum and poorhouse.

around 1850, the parish of greenock ran a poorhouse at the corner of wellington street and captain street.

but by the 1870’s it was crumbling and a new building was constructed at smithston, on the inverkip road.

the “smithston poor house” was designed to be one of the best of its kind in scotland... however the good people of greenock rather resented how much it cost, dubbing it “the palace of the kip valley .”

i’m not sure it’s the sort of palace that i’d like to spend time in.


Records say that: the poor house was built for “150 lunatic patients, 450 paupers; while accommodation for the officials is ample and complete. Such a system of classification has been adopted in the poor-house that the dissolute will be disassociated from what may be termed the virtuous poor.”
i wonder what made you one of the “virtuous poor”? people could end up there for all sorts of reasons.

immigrants were especially likely to spend time there...

no longer able to work due to an industrial accident? badly burned in the sugar houses? off to the poorhouse...

too old to work? sleeping on straw or tied up . eating only soup , herring or bread.

dubbed a lunatic by a family no longer able to support you? poor house...

too young? no family? yes. a real palace.


this case contains a piece of rope from the victory ... not nelson’s famous flagship , but a steamship under the command of sir john ross, on his second voyage of arctic discovery ... 1829 to 1832. the rope was discovered a number of years ago from the remnants of the ship at victory bay .

The victory sailed from London in 1829. It was to have been accompanied by the John, a whaling vessel which frequently sailed Following a from Greenock. rendezvous between the The John’s crew had a two ships, a disagreement over particular reputation for how shares in the voyage were to be being difficult. distributed, ended with the John and Victory parting ways. The John suffered an unfortunate fate, with only four of the crew surviving, one of whom would be rescued by the Victory ...

Testimonial of Midshipman “J“”. As there was not enough left of the John to provide any kind of shelter, the four of us that remained had salvaged what we could, and attempted to fashion a bivouac from wood, tarpaulin and ice. There was little protection to be had from it, and we huddled together, each of us taking a turn in the centre, warmed by the others, resting if not sleeping. It was not long before we started to hear the cries. At first we were sure it was Innuit singing, warped on the winds, echoing. But gradually, we became more uneasy about how the shrieking seemed closer every passing hour...

Two letter fragments, purporting to be written by Ross, were taped to the bottom of a wooden case - an account from a rescued crewman with his own notes at the end.


The ferocity of the collapse had knocked “T“ out cold, and as he lay on the ice something jumped upon him. the size of a great bear, but carrying itself like a man. We were in no state for a fight, myself and “H“ ran, but he was not so fortunate as I.

...It was after our first meal of the week that we were attacked. We had gone to the wreck to desparately scavenge for any remaining food and had uncovered some more salted herring hidden away in the bunks. We divided this bounty carefully, and had just finished eating the little we had allowed ourselves for the day, when our shelter was smashed to splinters by a tremendous force.

I could not see more than a foot in front of me, ice cracked wearily under my blistered feet. Behind me I could hear the cries of my colleagues and the strange ethereal howls of the beast. Even over the wails of the Arctic winds I could hear those unfortunate sould crying out across the ice plains. Yet still I ran. I remember nothing else until your men found me...

While I find the Midshipmans story largely incredible, the Innuit do tell tales of a wildman called Saumen Kar - the snow man. I have asked the crew to prepare pits and harpoons in order that we do not suffer the same fate as the last men of the John.

hmmm... i paid quite a lot of money for this old rope.


here’s another letter, this time from a girl who came here to find work. it concerns a different kind of monster.... this one lived in a castle.

Dear Family,

e to aken so long for m t as h it y r r so I am have a chance. I ow n t bu u, yo write to ness and looked er ov G a as b jo a I had found ren. after sixteen child ell, Sir Patrick Maxw is r fo k or w I The man d. Castle in Scotlan who owns Newark een t. there are eight ep k l el w is le st ca The igh standard of h a o t t ep k l al s, room ll-down beds. cleanliness, with pu
lt box, a s a n hing in resh i s f a t w p e r fo is k Meat re is water he and t hen. r tc ons fo e the ki g i p d ves an gs are used o d p e o ke ppin We als d their dro n food, a ent. m for ce


All is not well though. Sir Patrick is an evil man. He once rode out to Skelmorlie...

...and murdered the Laird and his eldest son. He spared the youngest to become the new Laird.

He also hurts his wife. He chased her with a sword and locked her up.

She finally escaped to safety, fleeing to Dumbarton where she died poor and penniless.

I will now also leave, as Sir Patrick lies dying, in his bed. Alone. Isobella Ronark.

he k r t shoc he nd a own e t t w d Af itial off, fou lay llo o t n h e n o i r t a a wo erch lace , in . ry o t m fe p eep ore e s om th nt fr ose rm. sa d sl e sh saw s i he m... n th is rcha , wh sto a e h k a hi o T by aw side me rton nto ard e e a i h be of mba iled nbo t th o hen maid p h o u a e W s D ip er ne xc t, w ed am sh eryo ed, e han ash . w Ev own erc self land dr ky m him an is y luc und on e cave every da he came to th S fo ore f o bringing gifts ash from then on, had ar ye A s. el d jew gold, silver an caught a the merchant passed before ip sailing by. glimpse of a sh was ship and a boat He hailed the come ey promised to sent ashore. Th y and a year and a da back for him in y if nl to land, but o take him back ty as o a sizeable bo he could gather payment. ued to ermaid contin The lovesick m ter d ant gifts, an af bring the merch to d passed, true another year ha ship returned. When the boat once again their word, the came ashore, they worked as fast as they could to get the loot on board, before the mermaid returned... When she did return, and found the cave empty, she angrily swam after the ship demanding her husband and stores be returned. The Captain tricked the mermaid, and they made their way to Gourock where they docked. to return to The mermaid begged the merchant she gave him the cave with her, but he refused, so anded he give the child she had borne him and dem silver he and him a good home with all the gold chant a mer the had taken from her. she then gave d when chil the book, instructing him to give it to he was fully grown.


The child took the name Michael Scott, and grew up in the old castle of Ardrossan; later becoming known as the Devil of Ardrossan. It was by means of his mother’s book that he commanded a foul thief to murder his own father, the merchant.

his screams could be heard all the way to ireland. nasty business.


there’s more than mermaids in the river.

official records show that in the summer of 1942, the carcass of a large, unidentified creature washed up at cardwell bay .

when the creature was found, council officer charles rankin was contacted and immediately went to investigate.

what he found was a creature measuring 27 to 28 feet long, with a long neck, sharp muzzle and large pointed teeth! its body did not seem to contain any bones, other than its spinal column, but the skin bore many six-inch long bristle-like hairs, resembling steel knitting needles. when the monster’s stomach was cut open, they found a small piece of knitted cardigan and a small corner of tablecloth, complete with tassles.

because of the war, no further examination was carried out on the beast, and the remains were chopped into pieces and buried under the playing fields of st ninians school in gourock. let’s hope no-one figures out how to bring it back to life as some sort of zombie sea monster...


during the second world war, there was a much more serious danger than beached monsters... air raids. because the shipyards were involved in the war effort, the area was a target and children were evacuated to nearby rural areas. there were many letters sent home during this period. here’s a few sent between a boy and his sister....

Annie, and met I have arrived safely by train like a by a Mr Wallace. He seems sed to plea e quit was nice man and re the was he w see me. i kne h a sign because he was standing wit even and it, on e nam which had my car. his to bag my ry helped me car t mus He car. a has he That’s right, a s own he e aus bec be very wealthy lot of land, which he and his family farm and look after. You should have seen it as we drove - there was vegetables growing and you could hear the animals in the barn. His family were waiting to meet me - his wife and his daughters, Lauren and Megan. Lauren is about the same age as you and Megan is the same age as me.

Jack, you arrived I’m happy to hear that you will be ily safe and that the fam rd from hea living with are nice. I’ve ilies fam other people that some e. her you aren’t so nice. We miss on ed ope Since the bombs were dr urs hbo neig town, me, mum and the nights in have been spending most late just s the air raid shelter. It’ We love rt. now, so I’ll keep this sho return. you il you and can’t wait unt Wallace Enjoy your time with the family. Annie.


Annie, I was happy to hear from you. the letter made me cry a little when I thought of you all huddled in the shelter. I’m enjoying it here, though some of it is really hard work. I need to get up really early to go to the small schoolhouse nearby with the Wallace children. When I get home I get to feed the chickens, which is quite funny. The Wallaces also have a cow which I sometimes get to

milk. The only thing is that a full bucket of milk is heavy, I sometimes spill some, but I’m getting better at it and it’s good to get some fresh milk. The Wallaces say that Sunday is a day of rest. We go to the church in the morning and in the afterno on Lauren, Megan and me go and play on the hills around the farm, while Mr and Mrs Wallace relax. Jack.

Jack, Did you hear that th e soldiers have landed in France and are driving the Germans back? Hope fully this means that the war will so on be over and you’ll be able to come home, if you’re not enjoying it too mu ch there. It sounds so lovely. When you get back I hope we’ll get to see dad again. I’m sure he’ll have lots of exciting stories to tell us. I love you and mum re ally misses you. she cries sometimes thinking about you and dad. I hope we’ll see each other soon. Annie.


life during wartime taught us all some very hard lessons. for the children of port glasgow however, lessons started in 1832.

it was father john gordon who first suggested a school , due to the increasing numbers of mainly irish migrants. these children attended day school, sunday school and there was an infant school...

pay attention now. this is why you visited the archive in the first place!

...all originally taught in a sail loft.

by 1854, hundreds of pupils were attending, and the school transferred to a site in chapel lane.

a bit draughty .


but the parish kept growing, and a new and more modern school was needed, so a site at balfour street was bought. as the parish continued to expand, and more children were to attend school, the education committee built an annexe on mary street to combat overcrowding. it accommodated 630 pupils.

the new school opened on the 6th of august 1931.

in 1940, father gaetano Rossi arrived on a sabatical from italy to work in St Johns Parish. He was apprehended shortly after his arrival, and interned on the isle of Man.

Father Rossi was not the first, and would certainly not be the last person in Inverclyde to be affected by the internments of World War 2...


over here is where i keep all my hats. including this... the enchanted cap . now... it gets around, this bunnet does...

This is the story of a sailor named Jack. One stormy night, Jack was travelling from Greenock to Largs by foot. He was in a foul mood and it had started to rain even heavier than before, so his mood kind-of mirrored the weather. He kept walking for another half hour, until in the distance, he heard the sound of chanting...

Jack crept towards the sound, which was coming from an old hut, and hid behind a bush that he could get a good look at the unnatural going-on. Inside was a group of witches! the chanting grew louder and louder... then suddenly stopped. Jack wondered whether to wait and see what was to happen next, when one of the witches picked something up from the ground... a hat.


The witches, one by one, put the hat on. “Ho! For Kintyre!” they each called. And, one by one, they vanished into thin air...

Jack ran into the hut and figuring he may have found a quicker way home, pulled the hat on his head and shouted “Ho! For Largs!” He found himself flying through the air, and when he landed he was surrounded by witches and wizards - all dancing and singing. Jack decided just to blend in and enjoy himself... it was a right good party.

The party then headed to the cellars of the King of France, celebrating the night by drinking the King’s own wines and spirits. Jack awoke the following morning to the shouts of the King’s servants. He was arrested for trespass and sentenced to death by hanging.

At the noose, he begged for one last wish - to wear his old hat. The executioner granted his request and placed the hat over his head. At this Jack called “Ho! for Largs!” and vanished. The French crowd were left stunned and a much relieved Jack lived happily ever after, having arrived in his home town.

a very similar thing happened to a mate of mine called tam. anyway ...


here’s the archive gallery - pictures of inverclyde by famous artists, pictures of famous folk, pictures you, your mates and unknown numbers of other kids scribbled in art class. i’ve got them all! can you name all the local places in the pictures?

no? left to right it’s port glasgow, greenock and gourock.

er... inverkip?

yep! and here’s kilmacolm. i’ve got another really good one from there of the duchal castle ruins. i’m convinced that you can see the ghost in it.


well, that one’s james watt.

is that a wig?

Used to get all sorts of famous folk down at Castle Wemyss, Anthony Trollope, General Sherman, Haile Selassie... Very popular.

william kidd. pirate or privateer? famous all over the world, though some folk aren’t convinced that he came from round here at all. but apparently he said he did... right before they hanged him.

that one’s the best i think!

me too. what’s next?


time for another song now... come on... you must know this one... Là is Mi a’ Sràideas ann an Grianaig! No? I’ll translate for you….

One Day While Sauntering Through Greenock

One day while sauntering through Greenock With no thoughts of the ‘beasts’ How they came like hunting dogs And ensnared me mercilessly One of them came on each side of me Carrying their sharp pointy blades And the third one came after me Intending to wound me Since Bennie saw the company Dragging me by the throat He shouted: “What good soldiers, Let’s put him on board” They sent me to the narrow boat And rowed me over to their side Not a man of them was my ally And I had to go along with them

When we reached the ships bow They yelled to me to go up into her On my word it was harder Than cutting the peats

When we came aboard They had now pity for my tears They cursed my sort George’s ranks were short supplied They took me down to the press-room Each one was asking me questions Did I get a fee or did I enlist Or did the press gang take me with them But I told the truth to them That my thoughts were not of going with them Although they had me in their claws I was not one bit willing

And although I got food and drink there And although I had no chores to do I would prefer to be up to my thighs In the peat moor
That one was a song by Donald Currie from Ballymichael in the Isle of Arran, about when he was caught in Greenock by a naval press-gang at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. I’ll tell you another wee story about them later..


i’m guessing you know that this area was famous for shipbuilding?

well, this is how one man, john davidson, a poet who spent much of his life in greenock, celebrated that.

All summer and all autumn: this grey town That pipes the morning up before the lark With shrieking steam, and from a hundred stalks Lacquers the sooty sky; where hammers clang On iron hulls, and cranes in harbours creak Rattle and swing, whole cargoes on their necks; Where men sweat gold that others hoard or spend

john went to the highlanders academy in the 1860’s, and later he taught there. there are many poems and songs about the town... but this one is my favourite.

...This old grey town, this firth, the further strand Spangled with hamlets, and the wooded steeps,..

...Whose rocky tops behind each other press, Fantastically carved like antique helms High-hung in heaven’s cloudy armoury, Is world enough for me

with the area growing in size, and with so many people coming and going, there was bound to be trouble now and again.

here’s some of the times that the trouble ended with the noose.

17th september 1834
John Boyd was hanged on the gallows at cathcart square for the crime of murdering his wife, a crime that he seemed truly repentant about. his execution had been postponed whilst awaiting a reprieve from the King at the behest of local people, but would now have to face the punishment for his crime. Boyd’s hand trembled as he released the white handkerchief, given to him with which to signal that he was ready. The crowd fell silent in those few moments between the release and the white cloth reaching the ground. The executioner, Young from glasgow, pulled the lever on the gallows, releasing the trapdoor beneath Boyd’s feet Boyd’s body was left there, dangling for hours as a warning to others. whilst most who knew him mourned for his loss, others may have felt he deserved his grisly fate..


15th June 1812

moses mcdonald was hanged for the crime of stealing goods and money. although Moses had likely committed this crime with others, he was the only one caught. the crowd waited with a morbid excitement in the air as they and four companies of the ayrshire militia, present to keep peace and order, prepared for the first execution to take place in greenock. however, as it was our first attempt and we weren’t very good at it yet, the rope snapped.. moses was forced to wait inside the mid kirk with his sister.. she tried her hardest to comfort him, reciting verses of the 51st psalm.. In the meantime, another rope was acquired and half an hour later moses was hanged for the second and final time.

10th October 1817
a triple execution took place after brothers bernard and hugh mcIlvogue and their cousin patrick mccristal, all of whom were of irish stock, were found guilty of assault and robert at everton farm. Ten thousand people attended, all eager and in a frenzy to see the men hang for their crimes. there was no pity within the crowd for the three, and the anger toward them required a company of the 40th regiment and a detachment of the 1st royal dragoons to be present in order to keep the peace.

4th May 1827
John Kerr was executed after being found guilty of killing his wife. Kerr was drunk when it had happened, as was his wife, a terrible accident for which he paid with his life. Kerr showed remorse for his actions, writing a lamentation. The poor soul had to be given a drink to calm his nerves before his death. In all the event seemed truly unfair and inhumane, the poor man showed genuine signs of distress and regret. as Kerr had no children, his body was handed over to Dr Jeffray of glasgow University for dissection after it was cut down. It had been left to hang for a few hours, as was custom for people punished in this manner.


as people hanged in greenock, port glasgow was beginning to grow. housing was built in the 1800’s as part of port glasgow’s eastward expansion behind the old mill. the housing was mainly for workers of the port glasgow ropeworks. bouverie housing held the record for the longest continuous street in europe, before the germans bombed and destroyed much of it in world war ii, causing the size of the street to be dramatically reduced. there are marks that can still be seen today where german planes shot at the housing.

i hear that it’s going to be completely demolished soon.

the ropeworks’ air raid shelter held one thousand people. it was built by the birkmyre family in 1938 specifically for the mill.


beneath forty feet of solid rock, the shelter had electric lights, a fresh air system, heating, toilets, sick bays, first aid stations and even telephone communications to allow emergency contact with people above ground. there were five different sections, each with a separate entrance. it cost around £10,000 to build, and has certainly stood the test of time, though all the doors are now safely locked.

we’ve already heard about the rope that went around the world, and how important that was to port glasgow. equally important were the owners of the factory , the birkmyres, who were involved in many of the town’s developments. there was a bell on the roof of the ropeworks building... “birkmyres bell ”... and it was the town bell for many , many years, until it was damaged by fire.

that bell shouldn’t be confused with port glasgow’s other bell... the one which was boiled away by short-sighted council officials. actually , i know a song about that, which also features a rather unfortunate monkey ... i’ll maybe sing it to you on your next visit.


let’s jump forward again now...

italian immigrants, who had been arriving as early as 1890, had become an established community in inverclyde, opening many ice cream parlours and restaurants...

..but that all changed with the outbreak of world war ii, and italy’s alliance with germany .

violent mobs descended on their former neighbours, destroying and looting whatever they could.

a flimsy sort of nationalism, being justification for their actions...


the police eventually had enough of this behaviour and decided to take a stand against the mob.

the only business as-yet untouched was the establishment now known as the cafe continental in gourock.

the police held off the mob, making two arrests and the owner, lawrence toma, turned his keys over to the authorities to save his business.

mr toma gave himself up for arrest and instructed that his inventory be donated to the war effort. he was sent to an internment camp on the isle of man.


another step back in time now, to hear the tragic love story of our national bard and a highland girl, who’d come to live in greenock.

Mary Campbell was born at Auchnamore Farm near Dunoon in 1768. Life was difficult for the Campbells; the legacy of the 1745 defeat hung heavy in the air, and whilst the Highland clearances would not properly begin for another fifteen years, the old way of life was already disappearing.

When Mary was five, her father moved the family to Campbeltown and bought a share in a coal sloop which made runs across the Clyde to Ardrossan and Ayr. Eventually Mary became a house nurse at the Castle of Montgomery.

At the age of eighteen, Mary was living in Charles Street, Greenock with her relations, the MacPhersons. Her brother, Robert, had completed an apprenticeship at Scotts shipbuilders, but developed typhus - a common ailment in the cramped conditions of the time. Mary nursed her brother during the illness.

It is believed that Mary had met Burns sometime before this, in the curch she attended while working at the Castle of Montgomery.

The lover’s whirlwind romance is the subject of much debate, even now.. Many believe the couple were married in a secret Gaelic wedding ceremony, something which Burns suggests in his poetry.. “She has my heart, she has my hand, by secret troth and honour’s band”

Very romantic. Except, of course, Burns was already engaged to Jean Armour at this point, who was pregnant with his twins. Burns had intended to go to the West Indies and many believe that he wanted Mary to go with him to start a new life. We do know that the two exchanged bibles at their last meeting.

But for Mary, a voyage to the New World was not to be. She contracted typhus while nursing her brother and died in late October 1786. Her family could not afford a plot in the cemetery and she was buried in the Old West Kirk yard Her monument was built a mere sixty years later.
of the time, fated to suffer hardship and heartbreak in her search for happiness.


here’s a happier love story from my scrapbook of immigrant’s tales. these ones were written by katie matthews...

at h -gre , Sara att a gre her gre hn My dmot , and er Jo n t h gra Cavit dfat unty n o Mc t gra in C rn a n e gre e bor orth r N we rim, t An and. the n l i e y Ir ed ork ealth w a w hn ah Sar se of d Jo farm n hou er, a n the m far ked o boy. r wo lf as a itse

Wh e Joh n he w a n to b went s old e n t e in 1 come o Belf ough, 902 a a , wh n eng st to com tr in e Belf plete, S n his t eer, an ain r d Sain ast and arah jo aining w i t Pa n t a ul’s hey ma ed him s chu rrie i d in n rch . The i Belf r first h a Stre st flat ouse w , chil et, and in Din as a sm dre t n w here sdale all my g the reat ere b gran orn, ir fou r in dfa The the cludin y lef r g , Jo com t hn. e to Belfa st Gre eno in 1910 ck. to


They lived in Manse Lane, Greenock, for twenty one years, then moved to St Lawrence Street, where they stayed for the rest of their lives. My great Grandfather went to sea when he was fourteen, and sailed to America and Australia. He stayed in Freemantle, Australia for a short time, before returning to Greenock.

He married my great Grandmother in 1935, her name was Anne Bryson. She worked as a confectioner in a small chocolate factory. They were wed in the old Saint Lawrences church, which was destroyed during World War II. Greenock fire station now stands on the site.

just one tiny part of one family story . those stories are always my favourite.


the smallest of things can tell us stories, not just about people, but also about the times they lived in... and this toy hatbox certainly has a rather dark story attached...

Minnie McCulloch was born in Greenock during 1844. By 1862, she had emigrated to New Zealand with her daughter, Ellen, to live with family there. She became a teacher in Southland and married Charles Dean in 1872. The first hints of the darkness, which would envelop her family, came when her daughter Ellen drowned herself and her two young children in the well at their home...

Soon after, Minnie’s husband was declared bankrupt and the couple moved to a cottage in Winton, where Minnie set herself up as a ”baby farmer”, taking on the care of unwanted children for a oneoff or weekly fee. She had as many as nine children at any time. Within two years, two youngsters had died whilst in her care. The authorities were alerted. Although Minnie was cleared of any wrongdoing, people became suspicious of her work and her motives for taking in children.


The laws surrounding ”baby farming” meant that Minnie did not actually have to keep records of the children she took in, so it was difficult to prove if any were missing. But... there were still people who wanted her services, so children kept arriving.

Because of all the negative attention, Minnie began working under assumed names, meeting people who wanted her to take their children in secret. In 1895, she was observed boarding a train with a baby and a hatbox, but left the train carrying only the box. Guards were suspicious and reported this, prompting the police to begin an enquiry.

A Mrs Hornby came forward, claiming that she had given Minnie her granddaughter, Eva, to take care of at the railway station. While clothes belonging to the baby were found at Minnie’s home, the child could not be found. The suthorities searched the railway line and, eventually, Minnie’s garden, where the bodies of three children, including Eva, were found.

At her trial, it was argued that the deaths of all three children could have been accidental, and in fact Minnie was simply covering up their deaths in order to avoid any further suspicion and protect her livelihood.

On 21st June, 1895, Minnie was sentenced to death. She was hanged on the 12th August, protesting her innocence in her final words, before going to the gallows. With an outraged public, traders sold hatboxes like these as macabre souveniers outside the court during her trial. She remains the only woman to have been hanged in New Zealand. In recent years there has been some doubt about her treatment and her crimes. Perhaps she was not the monster that folklore suggests...

one thing is certain - many young children also died in our own town during this period, with several trials for infanticide. these were hard times to live who knows what in, harder still for poor awful choices they migrants coming into may have made... our community .


‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello...

thankfully though, greenock’s developing police force was on hand to deal with all sorts of crimes well... eventually ... at first there was only a handful of officers to keep the peace in the ever-growing town... but those were nicer times, and they weren’t kept too busy .

mostly , they kept the streets clean and solved petty crimes...

...they were also responsible for lighting the street lanterns.

but as greenock grew and the docks arrived, crime began to increase.

The Greenock Police Act of 1865 formally established the force, with six officers... and a few informants on the payroll too. Most crime had been focussed around the docks, and in the close quartered streets of Greenock’s quayside... backalleys like T aylors Close or Drummonds Close, down around Cathcart Square. But as the town began to clear these areas for improvement and the building of a new town hall, crime didn’t disappear... it just spread further out across the town. 48

meanwhile, the increasing population of the rapidly expanding town was also having an impact on the levels of crime... ...especially as many people arriving were already poverty-stricken, hoping to escape to prosperity on one of the boats leaving our port.

crimes became more violent, requiring a larger and stronger police force.

by a happy coincidence, many of the highlanders arriving from the north had been farmworkers, used to hard graft on the land

they were bigger and stronger than the average citizen, and were altogether very suitable for the police force ...from crofts to the cramped streets of greenock, helping to keep their new home safe.


on their journey south, and, for some, onto the new world, highlanders didn’t just bring and share skills. they also brought their tradition and superstition. what do you think of my mask? No? hmmm.. it probably looked better in the shop . let’s go our galoshans...

hallowe’en, originally the celtic celebration samhain, was the last day of autumn... the day before all saints day . it was a time to prepare for winter, for filling the harvest stores for the cold months ahead. but it was also believed to be a time when the veil between our world and the next was very thin...

to ward off evil spirits, the gaels built huge bonfires. on the western isles, people thought that the fair folk had a feast of the dead on halloween.

round here, we were more concerned with bogles and witches - all sorts of wee nasties were out causing trouble... just like now actually ...


elsewhere in britain, the festival was being suppressed, but the kirk took a more forgiving view.

despite its pagan roots, hallowe’en was directly influenced by the christian celebrations of all saints day and all souls day .

it was viewed as a rite of passage for communities, ensuring the celebration survived...

...and as the gaels fled the north, many of the traditions and associations of hallowe’en came with them.

...and all these traditions went with them when they moved to america and elsewhere. wearing disguises, letting the wearer hide from wandering spirits, and then going door to door performing songs or the galoshans from carving play ... lanterns in turnips, to commemorate the souls trapped in purgatory ...

trick or treat...?


let me introduce you to another scary bunch...

In the year 1760, Great Britain was involved with a war with France for protection of George II’s interests in Hanover. Having run out of willing volunteers, the army and navy began recruiting by force.

Groups of men were paid by the crown to “impress” able men into service. They wandered the country’s streets and public houses, looking for candidates.... ...often using violent means to fulfil their duties.

One account tells of Naval off icer George Gentill and a party of seamen from his vessel, anchored at the tail of the bank. A very unprovoked attack had been committed upon Captain Auld and other respectible inhabitants of Greenock. It was such that the authorities - normally reluctant to involve themselves in the Press Gang’s activities - had to act.


Auld told the court how, upon seeing a party of armed men advancing up the street, he and others dashed into a close to avoid them...

...however Gentill’s men found them and assaulted them... Auld was severely injured on the arm by a cutlass. Gentill pleaded that the actions of his men were simple self-defence. A great many respectible townsmen argued that this was not so, and that the gang had acted without any provocation. All fell on deaf ears. No prosecution followed the judicial enquiry. There was no protection or redress to be had against the PressGangs...

...they could kidnap almost anyone they pleased in the name of the Crown.

too often the wealthy and powerful decide what is justice... ...even now.


and here’s another tale of injustice. the story of mary lamont begins as it ends... in tragedy .

After the Clan Lamont of the Cowal Peninsula were massacred by the Campbells in 1646, many of the women and children fled to the south bank of the Clyde.

Mary was a sweet and spritely lass, and she spent many hours helping older members of the community gathering herbs for medicines.

Even so, with her name and speaking the Gaelic, she was viewed as an outsider.

Superstition, jealousy and fear will always run their course...

Mary was forced to stand trial and listen as she was accused of...

...dancing with the Devil at Ardgowan Estate...

...stealing milk from her neighbour’s cows to use in her spells and potions...

...and conspiring to push the Kempock Stone into the Clyde to bring misfortune to sailors and fishermen.

Of course, her interrogation was very... persuasive... She confessed to everything.

...and Mary was put to death for her alleged crimes. ...only sixteen years of age.


poor mary .

clutha, lady of the river, was generous with her gifts... ...plentiful shoals of herring helped the villages of inverclyde grow, building the economy that would expand into ropemaking and shipbuilding.

talking about the kempock stone... for many years, even after mary’s death, fishermen still circled granny kempock seven times before setting sail, gain her blessing and to ask for fair weather and full nets.

i know someone that used to go out with clutha y’know... bit of a temper on her.

It is said that at one point there were over nine hundred fishing ships, or “busses” on the clyde... three hundred from Greenock alone - There would usually be four men per ship, with around twenty four nets. In 1674, as many as 20,400 barrels of fish, mainly herring, were exported to la rochelle in france, with many more barrels going to other French Swedish and Baltic ports
the herring trade was so important that it was even emblasoned on the greenock town crest.

This international popularity was helped by the fact that Clyde herring was especially well suited for curing and exporting “The herring which are caught there being larger, firmer and taking better with the salt than any other the kingdom affords...”
“let herrings swim, that trade maintain”.. god speed greenock, indeed...

of course, they didn’t just stick to catching herring... there were over fifty types of fish caught in the river, but if you wanted a really big payday , you could sail further afield to the greenland whale fisheries. a whaling station was established at cappielow in 1752, and a group of dutch whalers settled at cartsdyke. many believe that “cappielow”, now used by the football park, is dutch in origin.

having european settlers in that area could also explain the pub there having the title “the norseman”... or maybe the owner just really liked vikings...

By 1786, there were five whaling ships sailing from Cartsdyke. The trade slumped, but later revived around 1810, when the Greenock Whale Fishing Co was formed. Famed Arctic explorer William Scoresby was the company manager. They had two ships and a factory at Inchgreen for boiling the blubber... It stank so much that it was closed down for being a public nuisance.

...have i shown you my bit of old rope from the victory? it sailed with the john. oh, i have. that was one of the two whaling ships. they kept a polar bear in a cage on board the ship , you know. no, i don’t know why ... rowdy lot that bunch. but then, whaling was often a good way to dodge the press gang.

someone told me that by 1961, we had fished the clyde so much that there was hardly anything left... and so men worked to replenish the river’s fish stock.


Here’s another fishy story . I’ve heard it told many different ways. Do you know the old saying, ‘a fool and his money are soon parted’. Well here’s one fool who certainly believed in long term savings…

Sometime around the 1570’s, a man came to town with his pockets bulging with gold. Some say he was a thief, others a gambler. Some even thought him to be a spy or revolutionary...

...everyone did agree though that he liked a wee drink...

...and he wasn’t shy of flashing his cash around... not always the best move when in a strange town.

So, it wasn’t long before he was attracting exactly the wrong kind of attention.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he quickly left town and headed up towards the hills for some fresh air...


...he ran up towards the old roads, the locals still giving chase behind him. He desperately needed to hide his gold, or lose it forever...

...and that’s when he saw the ram’s skull.

Acting quickly he snapped off the horn and pushed his bag of coins inside.

on 19th may 1955, three men digging a trench for a new sewer dug up the cow horn. the coins were still there... for a while...

He then pushed the horn into the soft peat, marking it with a stone to make it easier to find later... then he ran. No-one knows what happened to him... or indeed, if this is how it all happened at all, but one thing is certain... the gold lasted longer than he ever did...

you can see some of them in the royal scottish museum in edinburgh, or, better still, in our own mclean museum in greenock. but before the coins made their way to these collections, a few savvy local collectors managed to nab a few as well...

heads or tails...?

tails? time for tea then...


one lump or two?

considering what a major, world-reaching industry sugar became for greenock, we got off to a bit of a slow start..

...most sugar arrived through smugglers.

but in 1865, mark khull, a german immigrant, set up the first major refinery .

as in other parts of britain, expert german sugar bakers and boilers, living and working in the town advised on and developed the refining process.

by 1845, there was about eleven sugar refineries in the town, providing employment for over three hundred and fifty people, producing 14,000 tons of raw sugar every year... ...and, for a while, it just got sweeter and sweeter for the town...

mind you, unlike the shipyards, you can still see evidence of our sugar history around town, like the remarkable sugar sheds at james watt dock the largest brick-built structure in europe. i once went to see quite a good play performed in there... wonderful atmosphere. hope that there’s more to follow... put some life back into the place

...until the bitter end when, in 1997, the world famous tate and lyle, formed in greenock, closed its final refinery here.


so there you go... a quick shuffle round thousands of years of history . a wander down the river... “the road that keeps moving”. i’d actually forgotten what it was like to have someone listen to me...

what’s in that room?

to be honest.... i don’t really like this room...

this is where the forgotten stuff goes. it just falls through that and disappears forever. gets bigger every year this room... i try to remember everything, but i can’t do it all by myself anymore...


very sad. anyway ... i hope you found what you were looking for?

we could help! if i had a list of things to remember, i could put it up in my room.

or online...

it isn’t just about remembering things... it’s about understanding them. but that sounds like a good start. come back anytime and we can talk.

did you get stuff for yer homework then? nope... but i got plenty of stories to tell my mates!

“...they know enough who know how to learn...”

‘The Archivists Treasure’ was produced from October 2011 - June 2012 and is part of the Identity project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project team were employed through Invercyde Community Development Trust’s ‘Future Jobs’ and ‘Graduate Employment’ Programmes, supported by Inverclyde Council. In developing the project, we decided we wanted to give as many local schools as possible the opportunity to be involved in producing one or two pages, and so worked to create a character and story that would allow us to use a selection of very short stories, not necessarily in historical order. We hope you liked The Archivist and his home. Each school had just a few weeks to get their pages together, with our artists coming in to sketch ideas as the class explored their stories; some classes chose to focus on stories related to the area surrounding their school, others worked with family members to find a story, a few came with us to our own local archive at the Watt Library to get some ideas. We all learned things we didn’t know before. Sixteen schools chose to get involved in researching and writing the book, and we thank them all very much for helping us. St Columba’s High School Inverclyde Academy St Stephen’s High School Port High School Clydeview Academy Kilmacolm Primary School St Francis’ Primary School St John’s Primary School Aileymill Primary School St Andrew’s Primary School Glenburn Primary School Gourock Primary School Inverkip Primary School 63

Throughout the book you’ll maybe have noticed QR (quick response) codes. You can download an app for your phone or tablet which will allow you to scan these codes in like a barcode, you will then have the opportunity to watch videos, hear songs or read documents related to the story you’ve just read. All for free. Search for QR scanner or QR reader in your app store. If you have enjoyed “The Archivist’s Treasure”, you may wish to explore these other websites and projects. The Archivists Treasure and all other aspects of the Identity project have been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland – Heritage Grants and managed by Inverclyde Community Development Trust The Identity project blog has been regularly updated, keeping people up to date on the project over the last year. Two of our previous Heritage Lottery Fund supported projects The Bilin o the Bell and We Are Morton produced books, there are limited physical copies still available, but they can also be downloaded from Greenock in Old Photos Facebook Group research share and discuss old images or memories of Greenock and the surrounding area. Very friendly folk and well worth a look if you’re a facebook fan.

The Inverclyde Old and New Project is creating wonderful blends of Old Photos and new views to chart the changes in the town. Local folklore group Magic Torch provided a few pages for the graphic novel, check out their blog and listen to some stories at And you can get involved in our latest heritage project The Dutch Gable House on facebook. 64