Greenock Harbours


The Harbours of Greenock. Robert Murray Smith’s book 1921. Exhibition in Inverclydeheritage Library,Greenock September 2017.

Greenock Docks and Harbours.

West Harbour , Begun ; 1707, completed 1710, Cost £5,555. 11 S. 1d

Graving Dock, Completed 1786, Cost about £4,000

East India Harbour, Foundation stone ; 1805, completed 1809, Cost exclusive of ground £43,836,

 Graving Dock ; completed 1818, Cost £20,000

Victoria Harbour; Begun 1846, completed 1850, cost over £20,000 

Albert Harbour, Foundation Stone; 1862,  Completed 1850, Cost fully £250,000

Prince’s Pier, Begun 1862 ; completed 1870, cost about £100,000, extension 1921, cost £ 14,000.

West Quay, completed 1885, cost £40,774

Custom house Quay, completed 1985; cost £40,774

Gravel Graving Dock, Foundation Stone 1871, completed 1874; Cost £u9,000

James Watt Dock, Begun 1878; completed 1886, cost including price of land £850,000

Greenock as a Centre of effort in trade and commerce was begotten of her harbourage. In later times shipbuilding was the staple of her existence, but it was as a haven of the sea and a port of ocean carried traffic that she grew in stature, captured her place in the markets of the world, and spread her name abroad. To the docks and shipping therefore, must we look to find the vital forces that stimulated and sustained the town during greater part of her history.

Several dominant impressions remain after a research of the official records of the Harbour undertaking. Chief of these is a persistence sense of a continuous struggle against great odds-against the obstacles and restraints imposed by the geographical situation, the recurrent shrinking of financial resources, and the sleepless opposing energies of a powerful rival (Glasgow). Greenock harbours were brought forth in poverty, were nourished on doles, and for a considerable period had a precarious existence.

A century and a half ago , and for long after, there was an almost incessant call for aid: appeals to Government Commissioners, to Shipping associations, to men of money, and most pathetic of all, to the impecunious  inhabitants themselves. Those appeals had in the main but meagre results, and the line of zealous citizens who bore the burden of administration must have had many moments of despair. 

West Harbour.  With the exception of repairs, improvements, and dredging, this accommodation (The West Harbour) had to meet the demands of the Port for half a century. In 1751 the first local Act of Parliament  was passed, which addition to harbour extensions sought powers works. The Bill set forth that;

‘ whereas the town of Greenock is a very advantageously situated for carrying on both foreign and coasting trade , and whereas the Superior of said town, with the inhabitants thereof , did about the year 1805, begin to raise money by a voluntary subscription for building a harbour there, some  progress hath from time to time been made in erecting of the same, which if completed would be a great advantage to the said town and to the trade and navigation of these parts’ but the produce of said subscriptions has been found insufficient to answer that purpose and to defray the expense of cleansing the said Harbour and of performing other works in relation thereto which are absolutely necessary to be done to render the said Harbour useful and commodious;

And so on. Powers were given to impose a duty of two pennies Scots for a period of thirty-one years upon every pint of ale and beer brewed, brought in, tapped, or sold within the town.

By this Act nine persons named therein were appointed Trustees of the funds arising from the Impost, and power granted to them to elect their successors in office. 

In 1751 the first new feud granted by Lord Cathcart for harbour extension was given in favour of the Magistrates and Town Council for behalf of community. This was upwards of 106 falls, and the Council were empowered to enclose and gain off the sea by Stone dykes, weirs, breasts, and bulwarks, and zoo build Office houses, cellars, dwelling houses. This feu extends eastwards along the north side of what is now Dalrymple street on the line of shore to the north end of the passage between the shore and the fennel foot. At the end of 1754 anchorage dues were imposed, two large anchors having been placed at the East and West Harbours to, prevent accidents through the fouling of vessels.

Much of the West Harbour was filled in c1920 after Harland and Wolff acquired Cairds Yard and wanted to expand. The site was then occupied by the Boom Defence during WW2. The west Harbour (incorporating the East, West and Mid Quay) was situated at the foot of William Street and covers the area now taken by the Watt College Waterfront Campus, and the Waterfront leisure and retail complex.  

Prince’s Pier, Built into the Bay of Quick was completed in 1870 at a cost of £100,000, with an extension in 1921 costing a further £14,000. In the days of the railway companies and small steamer companies was at its heyday. However from the 1920’s the competition provided by Gourock Pier resulted in a steady decline in numbers using Pric=nce’s Pier.

Following the closure of the railway line in 1959, and diversions of Steamers to Gourock and liners to Southampton, it was decided by the Greenock Harbour Trust in 1965 to implement a £13 million development scheme. This resulted in the demolition of Prince’s Pier and the construction of the existing Container Terminal, which was opened in 1969.

During the Second World War the Pier, used as a terminal for troop transport, was rebuilt and kept in good condition. Post War it was heavily used by tenders to the trans-Atlantic liners calling at the Tail o’ the Bank. In 1952, 2,253 passengers landed at Greenock from Canada. By 1958 it had increased to 8,421. The berth at the Pier was deepened in 1957 from 20 ft. To 28 ft. At low water which meant that small liners could lie alongside the Pier.

Albert Harbour in June 1861, it was resolved to construct a Pier in front of of Albert Quay, at an estimated cost of £60,000 according to plans submitted by Provost Grieve. This was the beginning of the costly undertaking of Princes Pier. A, report of the time stated that the debt of the Trust had increased by £5,700 in ten years, and that the amount owing to the Trust had decreased by £16,784, but they had expended £38,000 on renewals and upwards of £38,000  in purchasing grounds for extensions/ Trade had greatly Improved, and it was believed, and it was believed that the additional facilities in contemplation would be amply justified. Messrs. York were selected as contractors for the Pier at £64,212 the first section to cost £17,640. An application was made to the Board of Trade for £150,000. This was accompanied by planes showing (1) a harbour of 7 acres within the new Pier, (2) additions to the Pier westward, and (3) a Dry Dock 450 ft. In length, 80ft. In width, and 18 ft. On the dill-total cost, £150,000 on condition that, while the mortgage did not affect the right of priority held by the existing creditors, it gave the Commissioners a right of preference next to and immediately after them, and that any borrowings after the date of the mortgage would not rank pari pass with it. A minority opposition headed by Mr Robert Neil, a very prominent figure in local the politics of his time, objected to the unwise expedient of a Government loan, argued that to complete the works it would take £100,000 to £150,000 more than the sum to be borrowed from the Commissioners, and contended that such a loan would prejudice the rights of the Trust in any future loan from the general public.

The majority decided, on the strength of this promise, to proceed with the Albert Harbour, the foundation-stone of which was laid in 1862 by Provost Grieve. Messrs. Bell & Miller, Glasgow, were the engineers, and the entire undertaking, inclusive of land and shed accommodation, cost over £250,000. The formation of Princess Pier was also decided upon, to extend west ward about 200 ft. The outlay, owing to the necessity for deep piling through soft strata, finally reaching £100,000

Victoria Harbour by slow degrees, and with an apparently justifiable hesitancy, the Trustees were at length brought face to face with the problem that Now called for an absolute and speedy solution. Merchants, ship owners, traders, and other inhabitants were pressing by means of memorials and public meeting. Once more the order of preliminaries as eat agoing : ground to the eastwards was to be scheduled and purchased for a tidal, harbour, and an engineer to prepare fresh plans. In January, Provost Adam Fairfield’s 1845, reviewing the surplus revenue of the previous ten years, said that it would not be proper to expend more than £60,000 on harbour improvements, including the price of the ground, and that with this expenditure, their resources being very limited it would be necessary to increase the rates on shipping. Pressure also being brought to bear by the Superior, who in the strength of his offer of ground was insisting that the work should begin not later than the spring or the summer.

In February it was decided by a majority of five to build a tidal harbour, to which the Commissioners unanimously agreed. An offer of £67,00 was accepted, but in the contractors discovering a miscalculation in their specification new plans were prepared and an offer of £90,000 concluded. The works of the Victoria Harbour were thus begun in 1846, and were completed in 1850 at a cost of over £120,000. On the East side was placed a crane to lift 70 tons, convenient for the engining of Steamers, and the depth of water allowed the largest ships of the day to remain afloat while being fitted out. The debris is taken from the spot was used to form the Albert Quay at the Bay if Quick,- where 4 1/2 acres were reclaimed between low and high water marks. In digging out this new harbour a stone was turned up containing two small glass bottles, coins and a plate inscribed to the effect that these articles had been deposited with the foundation-stone of the East India Quay in 1895. They were re-deposited  in the foundation stone of the Victoria Harbour.

Victoria Harbour was well known as the base for the man tugs that worked from the port. 

James Watt Dock