Greenock is a town and administrative centre in the Inverclyde council area in Scotland, 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 the three chalices of the Shaw Stewarts, a sailing ship in full sail and two herring above the motto God Speed Greenock.
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.
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.
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.
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 façade of the southern elevation.
Further evidence of this wealth can be seen in the large villas of Greenock's west end, one time home to the ship owners, industrialists and investors. The area is fronted by the mile long (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.
Second World War
Greenock suffered badly during the Second World War and its anchorage at the Tail of the Bank became the base for the Home Fleet as well as the main assembly point for Atlantic convoys. On 30 April 1940 the French Vauquelin class destroyer Maillé Brézé blew up off Greenock with heavy loss of life following an accident involving two of her own torpedoes. Although this disaster occurred before the Free French Naval Forces were established, many people tend to regard the Cross of Lorraine on Lyle Hill as a memorial to the loss of the Maillé Brézé as 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.
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.