Victorian Professions


Greenock lies on the south banks of the River Clyde where it expands into the Firth of Clyde. The fishing trade has featured heavily in its history and by the turn of the 18th century it was rapidly becoming a major port and shipbuilding centre. Residents raised their own funds for a harbour and in 1714 Greenock became a custom house port as a branch of Port Glasgow.

In the 19th century Greenock continued to develop its harbour. A new pier had been added in 1791 at the East Quay and in 1812 PS Comet began using it for Europe's first steamboat service, with frequent sailings between Glasgow and Helensburgh. As trade built up the pier became known as Steamboat Quay. This was followed by a new Custom House (1818) designed by William Burn (1789-1870) – a grand neoclassical design featuring a Grecian Doric portico looking out over the quayside. The Gourock Ropeworks Company in Port Glasgow owned by the Birkmyre family from 1814 and once the biggest in the world accompanied Greenock's booming ship building industry. Water-powered mills processed imported goods: paper, cotton and wool. These were powered by the innovative Shaws Water scheme, which created Loch Thom reservoir out of a freshwater lake and constructed the long aqueduct Greenock Cut to provide water pressure for power generation. By the end of the century there were also 14 sugar refineries, including Abram Lyle & Sons (1865), which in the 20th century merged with Henry Tate's Liverpool Company to become the famous Tate & Lyle. Greenock's industriousness was further stimulated in 1841 with the opening of the Central Railway Station, providing a fast route between Glasgow and the coast.

The population of Inverclyde was 48,787 in 1851, up from 23,774 at the turn of the century. It had reached around 100,000 by the end of the 19th century. The wealth and importance of Greenock itself can be seen not only in the Custom House but also the Italianate Municipal Buildings and H.& D. Barclay's Victoria Tower (1886), which at 75m tall was over a metre higher than the tower of the Glasgow City Chambers. Many middle-class families lived in impressive villas situated in the west end of the town, overlooking the Esplanade and also in the prosperous middle class community of Gourock a couple of miles along the coast to the west.

These are the people in Greenock we are interested in: