The Tree of a Son of Skye

History | Culture | Ancestry

Then and Now – William Street, Greenock

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.

Greenock as it appears on Roy's Military survey of Lowland Scotland, 1742-1755. William Street can clearly be seen running from Cathcart Square to the Mid-Quay.

Greenock as it appears on Roy’s Military survey of Lowland Scotland, 1752-1755. William Street can clearly be seen running from Cathcart Square to the Mid-Quay.

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 James Watt Pub, in the 19th century, a sketch by R P Leitch.

The James Watt Pub, some time before the building was demolished in 1887 to make way for the James Watt College, a sketch by R P Leitch.

A photograph of the same location in 1870.

A photograph of the same location in 1870.

Approximately the same view today with the James Watt statue marking his birthplace.

Approximately the same view today with the James Watt statue marking his birthplace.

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.

The birth record of my Great-Grandfather, Neil Hardie, born at 1 William Street in 1894. My Grandfather, another Neil Hardie, was born at 3 William Street in 1923.

The death record of my Great-Great Grandfather, Neil Hardie, who died at 1 William Street in 1905.

Thomas Hardie, an Irishman and progenitor of the Hardie family in Greenock, gave our family a connection to Greenock long before the family lived there.

Thomas Hardie, an Irishman and progenitor of the Hardie family in Greenock, gave our family an interesting connection to William Street and the Mid-Quay many years before his descendants were born there. (Greenock Telegraph 23rd August, 1862)

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 map on the left shows Greenock in 1896 with the approximate location of 1 and 3 William Street marked in red. The map on the right is Greenock in 1938, showing that 1 and 3 William Street had been demolished and Dalymple Street widened.

The map on the left shows Greenock in 1896 with the approximate location of 1 and 3 William Street marked in red. The map on the right is of the same view in 1938, showing the widening of Dalrymple Street and that much of the waterfront area was now demolished, including the birthplace of my Grandfather.

This photograph shows the junction of Dalrymple Street and William Street as it looked in the early 1900s. All of William Street to the right-hand side of this picture was demolished between 1912 and 1938. The two Glasgow-bound lanes of the modern day Dalrymple Street are now situated where the buildings at the right of this photograph once stood.

This photograph shows the junction of Dalrymple Street and William Street as it looked in the early 1900s. The buildings on the right hand side of the picture were demolished between 1912 and 1938. The two Glasgow-bound lanes of the modern day Dalrymple Street are now situated where these buildings once stood. Ferguson’s Butcher on the left hand side of the picture is listed as 5 William Street on the 1905 valuation roll.

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Andrew Carnegie unveils the Watt Statue at the opening of the Watt Memorial Engineering and Navigational School. The statue was sculpted by Henry Charles Fehr. (Greenock Telegraph 6 June 1908)

This is the location of where 1 William Street once stood. The road to the left marks the same line as the former Mid-Quay, showing that much of the waterfront of Greenock is now on reclaimed land.

The location of 1 and 3 William Street today. The road to the left is where the Mid-Quay once entered the water, showing that much of the waterfront of Greenock is now on reclaimed land.

Some of the original cobbles still exist at what was once the East Breast. The Lidl and carpark is on reclaimed land on what was once the West Harbour.

Some of the original cobbles still exist at what was once close to the East Breast. The Lidl carpark is on reclaimed land which was previously the West Harbour. The Customs House can be seen in the background.

The view looking towards Cathcart Square at the end of the 19th century. 1 William Street can be seen directly in the centre of the picture on the left hand side of William Street.

The view looking towards Cathcart Square at the end of the 19th century. 1 William Street can be seen directly in the centre of the picture on the left hand side of William Street.

Roughly the same view today.

Roughly the same view today.

The West Harbour at the end of the 19th centre. This would have been a view familiar to the Hardies and 1 William Street can be seen directly in the centre of the picture.

The West Harbour at the end of the 19th century. This would have been a view familiar to the Hardie family and 1 William Street can be seen near the centre of the picture.

The same view today.

The same view today.

William Street, Greenock

1 William Street can clearly be identified here, directly below and to the left of the Victoria Tower.

1989_2

Approximately the same view in 1989.

Roughly the same view today.

Roughly the same view today.

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.

Extract of the 1911 census showing my widowed Great-Great Grandmother, and my 16 year old Great-Grandfather as a shipyard worker.

Extract of the 1911 census showing my 16 year old Great-Grandfather as a shipyard worker living at William Street. It also shows my widowed Great-Great Grandmother Agnes Scott.

Extract of the 1901 census shwoing my Great-Great Grandfather working as a Railway Carter shortly before his death. My Great Grandfather is listed as a school boy.

Extract of the 1901 census showing my Great-Great Grandfather working as a Railway Carter shortly before his death. My Great-Grandfather is listed as a school boy.

 

Useful Sources

Greenock in Old Photos Facebook Page

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One comment on “Then and Now – William Street, Greenock

  1. Pingback: Demolished Heritage | The Tree of a Son of Skye

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This entry was posted on November 22, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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