Greenock is a town and administrative centre in the Inverclyde council area in Scotland 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.
The 2011 census showed that Greenock had a population of 44,248, a decrease from the 46,861 recorded in the 2001 Census. 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 name of the town has had various spellings over time. It was printed in early Acts of Parliament as Grinok, Greenhok, Grinock, Greenhoke, Greinnock, and later as Greinok. Old Presbyterial records used Grenok, a common spelling until it was changed to Greenock around 1700. The origin of the name is unknown, suggested sources have included the Common Brittonic "Graenag", a gravelly or sandy place which accurately describes the foreshore before the docks and piers were constructed, or Gaelic meaning a sunny place, which Grenockians have thought an improbable description. It has also been suggested that "Grian cnoc" or sunny hill could refer to the hill on which the castle and mansion house stood, but this has not found much support.
The spelling "Greenoak" was found in two factory accounts dating back to 1717, and a legend developed of a green oak tree at the edge of the Clyde at William Street being used by fishermen to tie up their boats. This has been generally dismissed as imaginative folk etymology, but the image has frequently been used as an emblem or logo, carved on public buildings, used on banners and badges, and was once emblazoned on the local Co-operative Society emblem. The town's modern indoor shopping centre is called The Oak Mall and uses a green tree as its logo. The name is also recalled in a local song (The Green Oak Tree). Significantly, no green oak appears on the town's coat of arms which features the three chalices of the Shaw Stewarts, a sailing ship in full sail and two herring above the motto God Speed Greenock.Anecdotal evidence suggests that there was a 'Green Oak Tree', situated in Cathcart Square,at the top end of William Street, close to the Oak Mall – indeed, a horseshoe set into the cobblestones, between the 'Mid-Kirk' church and the central feature of the square, was where it once, supposedly, grew.
Early history: baronies and kirks
Hugh de Grenock was created a Scottish Baron in 1296, and the seat of the feudal barony of Greenock was apparently what became Easter Greenock Castle. Around 1400 his successor Malcolm Galbraith died with no sons, and his estate was divided between his two daughters to become two baronies: the eldest inherited Easter Greenock and married a Crawfurd, while Wester Greenock went to the younger daughter who married Schaw of Sauchie. Around 1540 the adjoining barony of Finnart was passed to the Schaw family, extending their holdings westward to the boundary of Gourock, and in 1542 Sir John Schaw founded Wester Greenock castle.
The Scottish Reformation of 1560 closed the chapels in the parish, and as the parish church was some distant at Inverkip over a difficult route which was impassable in winter, in 1589 John Schaw obtained a charter from King James VI to build a kirk for the "poor people upon his lands who were all fishers and of a reasonable number". Later known as the Old Kirk or the Old West Kirk, it was constructed on the west bank of the West Burn estuary and is reputed to have been the first Protestant church built in Scotland after the Reformation.
Fishing villages and harbours
The coast of Greenock formed a broad bay with three smaller indentations: the Bay of Quick was known as a safe anchorage as far back as 1164. To its east, a sandy bay ran eastwards from the Old Kirk and the West Burn as far as Wester Greenock castle. The fishing village of Greenock developed along this bay, and around 1635 Sir John Schaw had a jetty built into the bay which became known as Sir John's Bay. In that year he obtained a Charter raising Greenock to a Burgh of Barony with rights to a weekly market. Further east, Saint Laurence Bay curved round past the Crawfurd Barony of Easter Greenock to Garvel (or Gravel) Point. When a pier (or dyke) was built making the bay an important harbour, the fishing village of Cartsburn gained the alternative name of Crawfurdsdyke. In 1642 it was made into the Burgh of Barony of Crawfurdsdyke, and part of the ill-fated Darien Scheme set out from this pier in 1697. This town was later renamed Cartsdyke.
The fishing trade grew prosperous, with barrels of salted herring exported widely, and shipping trade developed. As seagoing ships could not go further up the River Clyde, the Glasgow merchants including the Tobacco Lords wanted harbour access, but were in disputes with Greenock over harbour dues and warehouses. They tried to buy the Garvel estate for a harbour when Easter Greenock lands were put up for sale to meet debts, but were outbid by Sir John Schaw who then got a Crown Charter of 1670 uniting Easter and Wester Greenock into the Burgh Barony of Greenock. A separate Barony of Cartsburn was created, the first baron being Thomas Craufurd. In 1668 the City of Glasgow got the lease of of land upriver close to Newark Castle, and construction promptly started on Newport Glasgow harbour which by 1710 had the principal Clyde custom house.
Custom house and steamboats
In 1714 Greenock became a custom house port as a branch of Port Glasgow, and for a period this operated from rooms leased in Greenock. Receipts rose rapidly from the 1770s, and in 1778 the custom house moved to new built premises at the West Quay of the harbour.
By 1791 a new pier was constructed at the East Quay. In 1812 Europe's first steamboat service was introduced by with frequent sailings between Glasgow, Greenock and Helensburgh, and as trade built up the pier became known as Steamboat Quay. The custom house needed larger premises, and in May 1817 the foundation stone was laid at the quay for a Custom House building designed by William Burn, which was completed in 1818. Its gracious neoclassical architecture features a Grecian Doric portico looking out over the quayside, which was given the name Customhouse Quay. In 1828 the Custom House was praised as "a grand National Structure" in "the highest stile of elegance". By then there were scheduled steamboat sailings to Belfast, Londonderry, Liverpool, Inverness, Campbeltown, the Hebrides and "all the principal places in the Highlands".
The Custom House 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, and despite a campaign to oppose these plans, the building closed in August 2010.
Riverside Inverclyde arranged further refurbishment works, and in 2013 announced that space had already been let to companies including Toshiba which had planning permission to form meeting rooms and an executive office in the building.