History | Culture | Ancestry
William Street is one of the oldest streets in Greenock and sits at the very centre of the old historic centre of the town, near Cathcart Square and the municipal building. It was created in 1751 and is named after William Alexander, the first owner of that particular patch of land. In 1775 Greenock was still a relatively small town, and it was assumed that most people could find their way about without much difficulty. However, as the population increased it was decided at the Town Council meeting of August 1775 that the streets would be given names so that people may distinguish them. Therefore, “the square to the Mide Quay” became known as “William Street”. The docks that once existed at the foot of William Street were completed for a total of £5,555 in 1707 and were one of the oldest on the Clyde.
The junction of William Street and Dalrymple Street in Greenock is famous for two very important reasons. The first reason is that James Watt was born there in 1736. Watt’s improvements to the steam engine predicated the industrial revolution, ultimately making him one of the most influential men in world history. The house in which Watt was born was demolished in 1796, and was later occupied by a pub bearing his name. It wasn’t until 1908 that a fitting monument was erected on his birthplace, with the assistance of a £10,000 contribution from the Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
The William Street junction is also famous for a second, more important reason relating to three men named Neil Hardie. It is where my Grandfather and Great-Grandfather were born, and where my Great-Great Grandfather died.
Like most parts of Greenock, the area around William Street has gone through a number of periods of change. Although it is usually assumed that the Dutch Gable House is the oldest building on the street, having been built in 1755, the building at number 9 William Street is in fact three years older. The Northern end of William Street adjoining the West/East Breast, once the site of the Town’s Fish Market, disappeared completely between 1923 and 1938, as evidenced by the OS map of that year which shows significant changes in the area.
This obviously means that the buildings associated with three generations of my family of Hardies are now long gone. These changes were part of the ‘improvement plans’ which were intended to reduce slum conditions throughout the town and improve the overall functionality of the town centre. The improvement plans had mixed results, and while they undoubtedly improved slum conditions by simply demolishing the buildings, it was also the first step in the gradual destruction of the natural town centre layouts that were finally ruined by the failed short sighted planning projects of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Hardie family appear to have moved to William Street between 1891 and 1894. The earliest record that I am aware of that lists any Hardie at William Street is my Great-Grandfather’s birth record in 1894. In 1891 the family is noted on the census record as living at 50 Shaw Street in Greenock, and they had previously lived on Hill Street and Cathcart Street. The 1901 census shows them present at William Street as do the Valuation Rolls of 1905 ,1915 and 1920. When my Great-Great Grandmother Agnes Hardie (nee Agnes Scott) died in 1931, her place of usual residence is listed as 17 Antigua Street, the same address listed as my Great-Grandfather’s residence in 1932 when he married my Great-Grandmother, Jane Kane. My Grandfather’s birth certificate of 1923 is therefore the last record I have which lists any of my family at William Street and it seems likely they lived there right up until the buildings were demolished in the late 1920s.