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Greenock (; , ) is a town and administrative centre in the Inverclyde council area in United Kingdom, and a former burgh within the historic county of Renfrewshire, located in the west central Lowlands of Scotland. 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 census, 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.




The origin of the town's name is uncertain. It is generally accepted, however, that the town is named after the Gaelic "Grianaig" meaning a sunny place. The suggestion that the town's name comes from the words Green Oak is merely folk etymology, but the image has been taken as a logo for the town's main shopping centre, The Oak Mall and was once emblazoned on the local Co-operative Society emblem. The myth that 'Greenock' derives from 'Green Oak' is also perpetrated in a local song (The Green Oak Tree). Significantly, no green oak appears on the town's coat of arms which features three sugar caskets, a sailing ship in full sail and three herring above the motto God Speed Greenock.

Early history

The Cut - visitor centre. The Cut aqueduct.

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 Mary, Queen of Scots. A small fishing village was established there sometime prior to 1592. By 1670 a Crown 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 Crawfurdsdyke or Cartsdyke. 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 August 18, 1699 arriving in Panama 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.

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. In response, staff, their union PCS and local politicians organised a campaign to oppose HMRCs plans. Despite this widespread opposition HMRC announced in December 2008 that the closure would definitely go ahead. In the event, the building closed ahead of schedule in August 2010 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 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 a metre. 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 fa ade 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 (1.6 km) 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 constructed 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. These 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.

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 Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. The Church has a website.[1]

Second World War

Free French]] Memorial on Lyle Hill overlooking Gourock The original James Watt Memorial College building Greenock Town Hall

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 Maill Br z 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 Maill Br z as well 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 reinvestment and 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.


Until 1974 Greenock was a parliamentary burgh in its own right. It was merged with Port Glasgow to form Greenock and Port Glasgow constituency. In 1997 it became Greenock and Inverclyde. After the redistribution of Scottish seats it was merged into an enlarged Inverclyde constituency- the first time in political history that Greenock has not been named in a parliamentary seat. Greenock and Inverclyde remains a Scottish Parliament constituency.


The Inverclyde Royal Hospital is located in Greenock serving the population of Inverclyde, Largs, Bute and the Cowal Peninsula.[2] Ravenscraig Hospital deals with psychiatric, day patients, referrals and specialised prescribing.[3]


Areas and suburbs

Arran View, Bogston, Bow Farm, Braeside, Branchton, Bridgend, Broomhill, Cartsburn, Cornhaddock, Fancy Farm, Fort Matilda, Gibshill, Greenock West, Grieve Hill, Hole Farm, Larkfield, Lyle Hill, Lynedoch Overton, Pennyfern, Strone, Strone Farm, and Whinhill.


Historically, the town relied on shipbuilding, sugar refining and wool manufacturing for employment, but none of these industries are 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

Nowadays Greenock, Inverclyde has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the UK with a average of 12.5% of locals claiming unemployment benefits [30].


Greenock waterfront from Victoria Harbour to Ocean Terminal, the skyline dominated by Victoria Tower. The Inchgreen Dry Dock at Greenock, opened in 1964, is one of the largest in the world at 305m long and 48m wide. It was previously used to fit-out the QE2 and re-fit the RMS Queen Elizabeth. Ocean Terminal seen from the esplanade.

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, Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, 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.

In 1967 Scott's was merged with Lithgows (founded 1874, later the largest privately owned yard in the world) the same year becoming Scott Lithgow, which was later nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders in 1977. 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 and Inchgreen dry docks and Shipbuilding continues at Ferguson Shipbuilders in nearby Port Glasgow.


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.[4] 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 (1.6 km) 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 A covered arcade sheltered sugar unloading.

Sugar refining began in Greenock in 1765.[5] 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, 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.[6]

Fortunately in 2007, contracts to develop the sugar refinery into housing went ahead and the building is slowly being restored to its grand spectacle along side the ever increasingly developing waterfront of the East end of Greenock. Many new and exciting housing projects combining new environmentally friendly technologies along with historically fashioned architecture are restoring Greenock's Waterfront facia to its once glorious former self.[7]


Since IBM arrived in the town in 1951, electronics and light manufacturing have, until recently, been the mainstay of local employment. Texas Instruments (Formally 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 the UK & 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.[8] 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 Inverclyde, with approximately 85 units, with main anchor stores including Marks and Spencer, Boots, Primark and a newly opened New Look store. Marks and Spencer is in its original building (dating from 1936) which was simply built round during the first phase of pedestrianisation.[9] In addition, two major supermarkets Tesco and Morrisons are sited near the mall. A retail estate is located nearby, in front of the Waterfront swimming pool and leisure centre, and the streets around the mall provide a large number of smaller shops. Small groups of shops in most of the areas of the town provide for day to day needs, but most of the specialist shops are in the town centre. The town contains one diplomatic mission, an Italian consulate.


Greenock Central]]

Greenock's most significant transportation connection is the Container Terminal (see above).

Greenock is Scotland's best served town in terms of railway stations. It boasts nine: Bogston, Cartsdyke, Greenock Central, Greenock West, Fort Matilda, Whinhill, Drumfrochar, Branchton and IBM Halt. Only Glasgow has a much greater number of stations and Edinburgh possesses only one more. Greenock has the longest bored railway tunnel in Scotland at in length - the cut and cover tunnels of the North Clyde Line and Argyle Line beneath Glasgow City Centre are considerably longer. Located directly under Newton Street in the town, the tunnel allowed for the extension of the railway to Gourock.

Greenock is served by a number of local bus routes covering the majority of Greenock, Gourock and Port Glasgow. Long distance services travel regularly to Glasgow, Largs and Dunoon. The majority of routes are run by McGill's Bus Services. The Largs to Glasgow corridor is served by three services, the 901, 906 and 908, which provide a bus along this route every 15 minutes for most of the day. Route 907 offers a service from Glasgow's Buchanan bus station to Dunoon via Braehead, Port Glasgow and Greenock every 2 hours. The X7 service also offers travel from Greenock to Glasgow, serving the Slaemuir area of Port Glasgow before travelling through Kilmacolm, Bridge of Weir, Houston and Linwood, then joining the motorway to Braehead before heading into Glasgow City Centre.

Greenock is located at the end of the A8 road/M8 motorway which begins in Edinburgh. It is also the northern terminus of Euroroute E05 which heads south through England, France and Spain, ending at the Spanish port and container terminal of Algeciras.


Mclean Museum and Art Gallery

Greenock is one of the settings for Alan Sharp's 1965 novel A Green Tree in Gedde. It is fictionalised as 'Gantock' by Robin Jenkins in his 1979 novel Fergus Lamont (The Gky shoal in the Firth of Clyde nearby, just off Dunoon). Alasdair Gray's 1984 novel 1982, Janine is set in a Greenock hotel room. Matthew Fitt's cyberpunk novel But'n'Ben A-Go-Go features a submerged Greenock after the effects of global warming. Greenock featured in several of the poems of W.S. Graham (evoking his childhood) and Douglas Dunn. 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.[10] 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.

In television

As of 2012, Greenock will be the setting for BBC television drama Waterloo Road, after the series will be relocated from Rochdale, Greater Manchester. The series will be shot at Greenock Academy, a former secondary school in the west end of town.[11]

In film

Greenock has featured as the backdrop to several films: the television films Just a Boys' Game (1979), Down Where The Buffalo Go (1988) and Down Among the Big Boys (1993)[12] and the cinema films Sweet Sixteen (2002) and Dear Frankie (2004). "Leaving" 1988 by Danny Boyle


The town has a daily evening newspaper, The Greenock Telegraph. 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.[13]

Notable Greenockians

A statue at the original James Watt College building marks the site of his birthplace. Greenock's most noted son is the engineer James Watt. He is remembered in the name of the local college, at the library instituted in his memory, by the original James Watt Memorial College building on the site of his birthplace in William Street which incorporates a commemorative statue and a pub.

Other famous Greenockians include: the composers Hamish MacCunn and William Wallace, musicians John McGeoch and Thomas Leer, poets Denis Devlin, W. S. Graham and Jean Adam, merchant Matthew Algie, actors Richard Wilson and Stella Gonet, artist William Scott, playwrights Bill Bryden, Neil Paterson and Peter McDougall, comedian Charles 'Chic' Murray, opera singer Hugh Enes Blackmore, broadcaster Jimmy Mack, American football player Lawrence Tynes, Antarctic explorer Henry Robertson 'Birdie' Bowers, and footballers Ryan McWilliams and Gary Harkins.

People associated with Greenock

Pirate William Kidd claimed on death row that he was born in Greenock, however subsequent evidence has shown that he was born either in Belfast or Dundee.[14][15][16]

Robert Burns' love Mary Campbell (Highland Mary) and her father sailed from Campbeltown to visit her brother in Greenock early in October 1786. Her brother fell ill with typhus, which she caught while nursing him. She died of typhus on 20 or 21 October 1786, and was buried in the Old West Kirk graveyard. In 1842 increasing interest in their romance led to a monument being erected by public subscription to mark the grave. In 1920 when the church site was needed to expand Harland and Wolff s shipyard, the monument was moved to its present site in Greenock Cemetery, with her remains being transferred to a casket and re-interred with due ceremony. The church itself was moved and rebuilt in its current location at the west end of the Esplanade in 1926.[17][18]

The novelist John Galt, noted for founding Guelph, Ontario in 1827, lived in the town and based some of his work, most notably Annals of the Parish (1821), on Greenock and surrounding towns. He is buried in the Inverkip Street Cemetery. The mother of American comedian and writer Jay Leno, Catherine Muir, was born in Greenock and emigrated to the US as a child. The American actress Julianne Moore is the daughter of the late Anne Love, a former psychiatric social worker who emigrated from Greenock. The Rev William C. Hewitt (minister at Westburn Parish Church in Greenock), Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 2009-2010, is the first serving minister at a church in Greenock to be appointed.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the Lockerbie Bombing was incarcerated at Greenock Prison from 2005 until his release on 20 August 2009.


Cappielow Park, home of Morton F.C. Greenock Morton F.C. are the local senior football team who currently play in the Scottish Football League First Division.[19] Founded in 1874 as Morton F.C., they play their home matches at Cappielow. At lower levels of the game, Greenock Juniors F.C. play in the Stagecoach West of Scotland junior football league.

Greenock hosts a rugby union team, Greenock Wanderers RFC,[20] and is the home town of the Greenock Cricket Club.[21]

Public Sports and Leisure Facilities

Leisure facilities in Greenock are primarily provided by Inverclyde Leisure. There are several sports facilities in the town and surrounding area managed by Inverclyde Leisure:

  • Waterfront Leisure Complex
  • Greenock Sports Centre
  • Lady Octavia Sports Centre
  • Boglestone Community Centre and Fitness Gym
  • Ravenscraig Sports Centre
  • Battery Park Pavilion
  • Gourock Fitness Gym
  • Gourock Outdoor Swimming Pool
  • Birkmyre Park Fitness Gym (Kilmacolm)

As of 2009, there are plans to build a new multi-purpose facility at Rankin Park.[22]


Mean monthly temperatures (click to enlarge) Looking north west over Greenock in winter

Greenock s climate is temperate maritime having mainly cool summers but with relatively mild winters. Its location means that the heat retentive properties of seawater help keep winter temperatures higher. Additionally, the effect of the Gulf Stream on the Clyde helps Greenock's average temperature stay approximately one degree above that of eastern coastal towns on the same latitude. Indeed Greenock's latitude (55.94 degrees north with a longitude of 4.75 degrees west) places it at the same latitude as the Moscow area. The warming effect of the Gulf Stream however, keeps the winter weather in Greenock much milder than that of Moscow.

Greenock anecdotally has the reputation for having higher than average rainfall (the song The Green Oak Tree comments on this) but this is not statistically true; northwest of Fort William has the highest average rainfall in Scotland.[23] Greenock's location gives long hours of daylight in midsummer with the opposite true in midwinter. On the longest day, 21 June, the sun rises at 04:31 and sets at 22:07. In midwinter, 21 December, the sun rises at 08:46 and sets at 15:44.

Twin cities

Greenock's twin cities are:


Image:Greenock harbour01.JPG|View from Greenock East India Harbour over the River Clyde Image:Greenock Sheriff Court.jpg|Greenock Sheriff Court in baronial style, by architects Peddie and Kinnear Image:Caribbean_Princess_Greenock_Docking.jpg|MS Caribbean Princess docking at Greenock Image:Greenockwest2011.JPG|View over West Greenock towards The Gare Loch. Image:Loch_Thom_13Apr12.JPG|Loch Thom, seen from the south


External links

Further reading

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

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