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Greenock  is situated on the south bank of the River Clyde about 22 miles from Glasgow. The origin of the name of the town is thought to derive from the Gaelic ‘grianaig’ meaning ‘sunny’, and this has been translated as ‘sunny place’ or ‘sunny knoll’.  Another more romantic theory is that it takes it's name from a 'Green Oak' tree that grew in the town centre. A horseshoe marks the spot where the tree was deemed to have grown. It would certainly ensure the correct pronunciation if this were true, as it is commonly mispronounced as 'Gren - ock' when it should be 'Green - ock'. 

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The population of Greenock was estimated to be 57,643 in 1992.

It is thought that the original village of Greenock grew up around the religious establishment which gave it's name to the Bay of St. Lawrence. This was the chapel of St. Lawrence, which was situated at the west corner of Virginia Street, and of which traces remained until 1760. 

The castle of 'Wester Greenock' was formerly located on the site of Well Park and was the residence of the Shaw family who exerted considerable influence on the development of the town. The Shaw family has a long connection with Greenock.

The Shaw Family

 In 1635 John Shaw obtained a charter from King Charles I which conferred upon Greenock the rights and privileges of a burgh of barony. Until 1741 the laird superintended the burghal affairs of Greenock. The feudal superior or by a baron-baillie appointed by him. As a result of a charter dated 30th January 1741 and another in the year 1751. Sir John Shaw gave power to the feuars and sub-feuars to meet annually for the purpose of choosing nine feuars residing in the town to be managers of the burgh funds.

The municipal government and jurisdiction of the town continued to be administered under the charter of 1751 until the Burgh Reform Act of 1833. As a result of that Act the Town Council began to consist of a provost, four bailies. a treasurer and ten councillors. Greenock continued to exist as a burgh until 1975, when the last provost demitted office as a result of the reorganisation of local government in that year, when Greenock became part of the District of Inverclyde within the Strathclyde region.  


Shipbuilding in Greenock was formerly of great importance. In 1764 Peter Love built the first square-rigged vessel. This vessel was appropriately named the ‘Greenock’. In 1840  xxx vessels were built with a total tonnage of 7,338 tons. 

Shipbuilding at Greenock

During the years from 1875 to 1914 there was considerable development of the shipbuilding industry in Greenock. Tonnage figures had increased to 20,000 tons by 1876 and 52,744 tons by 1882. In 1958 Greenock yards built nine ships of a total gross tonnage of 60,015 tons.  

The industry was affected by the depression after the First World War. 

 Prominent persons in shipbuilding included John Wood (1788-1860), John Denholm (1853-1937), Sir James Lithgow (1883-1952), and John Scott (1830-1903). 


The development of Greenock as a port can be seen by the fact that the total tonnage of sailing vessels registered as belonging to Greenock increased from 29,054 tons in 1825 to 168,644 tons in 1881. The total tonnage of steamers rose from 2,012 tons in 1853 to 50,572 tons in 1881.  The number of harbours in the town stood testimony to Greenock's importance as a major world port.

By the early 1880's a wide range of manufacturing companies had been established in the town and surrounding area. There were sail cloth factories, sail-making establishments, rope works, woollen factories, a flax mill, and a paper mill. 

There were also sawmills, grain mills, a large cooper work, a distillery, breweries, soap and candle works, a pottery, a straw hat manufacturer, and chemical works.

The Press

The ‘Greenock Advertiser’ was the first newspaper to be published in the town in 1802. 

The ‘Greenock Herald’ commenced publication in 1852. 

The ‘Greenock Telegraph’ was founded in 1857, and continues to be published at the present time. It was the first halfpenny evening daily paper in Britain. 


For a considerable period the people of Greenock were almost totally involved in the promotion of industry and commerce and  literature and science suffered.

This is evident in the case of the poet John Wilson, who was appointed as master of the grammar school of Greenock in 1769. A condition of his employment was, that he should abandon ‘the profane and unprofitable art of poem-making’. 

The first book was not printed in the town until 1810, this being undertaken by William Scott. John Mennons began the printing of books in 1821.  

Greenock has associations with the poet and novelist Patrick McGill (1890-1960)

Novelist John Galt (1779-1839), known chiefly for his novels of Scottish country life, e.g., The Ayrshire Legatees (1821) and The Entail (1823), he also wrote a biography of BYRON (1830) and founded (1827) the town of Guelph in Canada.

Novelist George Blake (1893-1961).  

Jean Adam was born in Greenock 1710, died in Glasgow 1765. She was the daughter of a shipmaster, and was orphaned at an early age. She became a governess, and founded a girls' school in Greenock. Her only collection is the "Miscellany Poems" of 1734, and she lived in poverty in London, before eventually dying in a Glasgow poorhouse. "The Song of the Mariner's Wife", also known as "There's nae luck aboot the hoose" and published in David Herd's collection of 1776 is attributed to her. 

Famous Sons & Daughters


Captain Kidd


     William Kidd (Captain Kidd) born 1645 in Greenock, died 1701 in London. He was a 17th century British privateer and semi-legendary pirate who became celebrated in literature as one of the most colourful outlaws of all time. Fortune seekers have hunted his buried treasure in vain through succeeding centuries. The the name of Captain Kidd has become inseparable from the romanticised concept of the swashbuckling pirate of Western fiction. 




Without question James Watt has to be Greenock’s most famous son.  He invented the separate condenser for the steam  engine in 1765, and was granted the patent for a ‘New method of Lessening the Consumption of Steam and Fuel in Fire Engines’ in 1769.                       

                                                                                                                                                James Watt

       The Steam Engine

He was responsible for carrying out improvements to Greenock Harbour in 1772.

 His name is commemorated throughout the town in a variety of ways and is also perpetuated in the scientific world by the fact that the unit of power called the ‘Watt’ is named after him.


 Neil Dougall  was born in Greenock in 1776 and died in 1862, is mainly remembered for his musical arrangements for the Scottish Metrical Psalms and Paraphrases. 

George Burns (1795-1890) of G and J Burns, was responsible for establishing the town as the main port of embarkation for sending mail to Ireland.


William Quarrier         

     William Quarrier, born in Cross Shore Street in Greenock - 1829, and founded   

     the Orphan Homes of Scotland, which started operation near Bridge of Weir 

     from 1878.  Now known as Quarrier's Homes at Quarrier's Village, they 

     continue  their valuable work today.



 Patrick Downie the artist born 1854 and died 1945 was the first Greenock man to have a painting  exhibited at the Royal Academy. 

John Caird, born 1820 and died 1898 was Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow from 1826 to 1873. He was also appointed as Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Glasgow in 1873 and occupied this position until 1898. 

His brother - Edward Caird born 1835 and died 1908, was also a distinguished academic. He was Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow from 1866 to 1893, and Master of Balliol College, Oxford, from 1893 to 1907. He was one of the key figures of the idealist movement that dominated British philosophy from 1870 until the mid 1920's.

The Caird brothers were the sons of blacksmith John Caird, who was one of the founding partners of the shipbuilding firm of Anderson, Caird, and Company.  

'Highland' Mary Campbell (1763-86), 'lover' of Rabbie Burns is buried in Greenock Cemetry.

Richard Wilson born in Greenock 1936 star of stage, television and screen. He worked as a research scientist, before becoming an actor. Particularly noted for his portrayal of Victor Meldrew in the

Richard Wilson - Actor                       Richard in typical 'Victor Meldrew' pose              

 long-running BBC series One foot in the Grave (from 1990). Victor's catchphrase - 'I don't beelieeve it', follows him wherever he goes. He has also appeared in TV's 'Tutti Frutti'. His film appearances have included The Four-Minute Mile (1988), Soft Top Hard Shoulder (1992) and Women talking Dirty (1999) set in Edinburgh. He was awarded an OBE in 1994 and was Rector of the University of Glasgow from 1996 to 1998.


There are many fine buildings of architectural interest to be seen in the town. These include the Municipal Buildings, Custom House, Sheriff Court, Watt Monument Library,  mansions of the West End and a large number of impressive churches. 

The town has gained a modern image with the building of the present town centre in the 60's and 70's. Links with the past have not been forgotten and the residential West End of the town has been designated an Outstanding Conservation Area. There is also a Conservation Area, which is located in the area of William Street and Cathcart Square.

More recently the 'Waterfront' development has provided a sports and leisure complex and attracted new shopping outlets for the shoppers of Greenock


Religion in Greenock must also warrant a mention. The diversity of religious opinion within Greenock was evident by the fact that in 1883 there were 38 places of worship within its boundaries. These belonged to eleven denominations, which included the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the United Presbyterian Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Episcopal Church.


 Greenock has played a great part in the history of the nation in times of peace and war. Shipbuilding and manufacturing have declined and made way for the new industries of electronics, computers, and microchips

Although Greenock has changed considerably over the years and its importance as a seaport has declined. 

Steamers no longer call at the now demolished Princes Pier however it has been replaced by the the Container Terminal with container and timber ships calling on a weekly basis.