Greenock, Then and Now

Ann Street, Greenock, 1967
Ann Street, Greenock, 1967 | Source

Greenock, Not 'Gren-ock'

My mother grew up in Greenock, Scotland. She was born there, at The Rankin Hospital, and lived in the town until she was nineteen years old. She still remembers the exact addresses she lived at during her two decades there. 151 Cathcart Street, 10 Ann Street and lastly, 8 Peat Road. These were the homes that my mum grew up in. These were the places that shaped her; the places that shaped who she is today.

Born in Greenock, Scotland in 1955, she was an only child, but remembers growing up surrounded by a close-knit family. A family whose people I am bred from but know only from the memories of my mother.

I see the old, worn photos, sent to my email inbox and I study them, looking for the features that I might recognize. I see my grandmother's father and mother and I wish fervently that something will make sense. That some character trait will jump out of the photo and into my lap and scream at me, saying, 'This is who you are! I am who you have come from!'

But I only see a grand old couple, their handsomeness chiselled by age and lore. I see their children, looking like any other children would at the camera, waiting for the go-ahead to run about...to be released from holding their positions...my kin...did they ever think of me? Did they ever think that one day, a little girl born of their kind would write of them and think of them and look for any memory of them?

View from Peat Road, 1968
View from Peat Road, 1968 | Source
My mum and her Granny, at Granny's croft, Scotland, 1956
My mum and her Granny, at Granny's croft, Scotland, 1956 | Source
My great grandfather, Greenock, Scotland
My great grandfather, Greenock, Scotland | Source
Source
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GREENOCK, THEN

Treats & Fare

The Saturdays my mum had growing up were often spent at Granny's house and they would begin with rolls & bacon. My mum and her daddy would go to my mum's granny's for this delectable breakfast, before heading into town, where my mum would often spend her pocket money on a hairnet for her Granny.

After the town, where she and her dad would likely visit one or two of the several local stores like Neil Service - Fruit and Veggie Shop, Neil Caskie's Groceries, Denny the baker's or Jimmy Maitland the butcher, she and my granddad would travel back to Granny's for a lunch of pie and peas. Back then, my mum tells me, lunch was the main meal of the day and at suppertime, fish & chips or cold meat with a salad of some sort was common. In fact, my mother's childhood meals were quite regular, to the point of being routine:

Mondays - Fried Slice (square sausage), potatoes and turnip

Tuesday - Mince & potatoes, and peas

Wednesday - Corned beef, potatoes and cabbage

Thursday - Fried links & potatoes, and peas

Friday - Beef stew & stewed links, and mashed potatoes

Saturday - Pie & peas

Sunday - Roast beef or boiled chicken

Although this menu rarely changed from week to week, sometimes on Thursdays, for a treat, they would substitute mince patties for the links. Mince patties are wee rolled balls of hamburg and chopped onion, flattened, dipped in flour and fried. As she tells me this her mouth is watering at the recollection. Another favourite 'treat' of hers, and one that my siblings and I enjoyed throughout our own childhood, were cheese toasties (similar to a grilled cheese sandwich, a cheese toastie is a piece of bread with slices of cheese on the top side, broiled in the oven on the rack just until the cheese begins to bubble).

Sometimes on her Saturday outings her dad would splurge and buy her a little bottle of Orange Crush Soda from Willie Gibson's Sweetie Shop. Of course, as this was one of the few sugary treats she would get, my mum would savour it, rationing the soda out at a wee sip each day, to make it last until the next Saturday.

I pause here in my writing to reflect briefly on the wealth of 'treats' my own children are given to enjoy on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and am reminded of how easily the pleasure of receiving those treats can fade into expectance when they become commonplace. I suppose that it's because my mum's childhood held such rare (and insignificant to those of us raised with so much more) gifts that she now showers her grandchildren relentlessly with sugar. And I know that it's not the candy itself, but the delight my children take in it, that fuels her.

In comparison to my childhood and that of my kids, as a young girl, my mother's gratuitous intake of sweets was pretty much limited to that bottle of orange soda pop, and on occasion a wee bag of sugar with a big rhubarb stalk dipped into it or if she was really lucky, a 'wee, pokie hat' -- an ice cream cone. No wonder she can't pass a shelf of chocolate bars or a display of the latest candy without grabbing a few to dole out at the next family visit.

School & Recreation

My mother attended Grosvenor and Mearns Street Elementary Schools and graduated from The Finnart Secondary School (where her uniform skirt could measure no higher than an inch and a half above the knee, and was checked with a ruler by the head teacher almost daily) at the age of fourteen. Yes, fourteen. The school system then, in Scotland was obviously very different than it is now, here in Canada and now in Scotland itself. Kids there now finish school at eighteen or nineteen years old, as opposed to fifteen or just under as it was years ago.

She once told me a story that took place while she was in school and I remember as a child feeling immense humility while listening to it (even at my young age); humility both within myself but directed more so towards my mother. It may have been the first time I actually looked at my mother as someone who had had a life previous to the one I shared with her. One that included life lessons and emotion and troubles and all the things that made her the glorious example of grace that she is. One school day, she and some other older students were charged with escorting some of the smaller children through the town but these 'poor weans', said my mother, had to go on the trip with their heads covered in a crude, mustard paste as the school had just found head lice on them all. Mum explained how sorry she felt for the 'poor wee souls' as she held them by the hands and walked them through town looking this way, and she a child herself at the time. She's always been a bleeding heart.

My mum and Elspeth, in Greenock, Scotland, around 1962
My mum and Elspeth, in Greenock, Scotland, around 1962 | Source
Mearns Street School, 1968
Mearns Street School, 1968 | Source

A typical Greenock day for my mother would see her at school before going to her Granny Kay's for an afternoon visit, then off to piano lessons and after completing her homework and attending choir practice, a wee bit of tele in the evening. Her family's first television set was black and white, to be replaced in 1962 with a colour TV, complete with 2 channels! In 1970 came the third channel, and these were called: ITV, BBC1 and BBC2. Again, I smile to myself as I spot my own daughter flicking through the stations and checking the TV guide listing channel frequently, before finally settling on four programs, which she will switch back and forth from whenever her concentration is broken by an irritating commercial.

My mum's people weren't poor but they certainly weren't wealthy and they all knew how to stretch a pound note as far as it would go. Perhaps lending some truth to the notion of the stereotypically stingy Scot? Mum recalls, "We usually got the Daily Record to read on a weekday along with the local paper, The Greenock Telegraph, and on Sundays we'd get to read The Sunday Post...though each family member would usually buy a different newspaper and then we'd all trade. It saved on buying them all," she ends with a wink.

At the completion of high school my mother got a job at the Corporation of Greenock (the equivalent of our City Halls), where she was a shorthand/dicta-typist for the Town Chamberlain. She still lived with her parents at this time, but to make extra money would babysit for her boss at his mansion in the 'West End' of Greenock. Like most teenagers she spent her free time with pals, going to the movies and frequenting her favourite local hot spots of the time; Rio Stakis and Aldo's (restaurants), or the Cafe Continental in Gourock, a nearby town. Normal adolescent activities were enjoyed, as she reminisces, and the thought of her smoking cigarettes, drinking bottles of Carlsberg and being reckless have me chuckling to myself. Who'd have thought that she may have given her own parents as much grief as I gave her?

Marriage & A New Home

In 1974 my mum and dad were married in Greenock, and I used to ask them to retell their wedding anecdote over and over. On their impossibly foggy wedding night their vehicle crashed into a brick wall while they were driving. No one was injured, and they continued with their honeymoon before deciding very soon after, to both move back to Canada. My father had been born in Scotland, but had come to Canada as a baby with his mother and her young family, to meet his father who had immigrated first to find work and a home. He had been visiting family in Greenock when he and my mum met, and in the same year they were married, they travelled by airplane to Hamilton, Ontario where they would raise three children, my brother, sister and I, and remained married for almost twenty years.

GREENOCK, NOW

Mum's first home at 151 Cathcart Street is now a parking lot, 10 Ann Street was knocked down to build new, modern flats and 8 Peat Road is still standing there, but with a new roof. It had been built originally with flat roofs, not a brilliant thing to do, laughed my mother, in a country often pelted with rain and high gales. She remembers sitting in the living room after work one night when the gales became so strong that they blew the roof right off of the building so that it was hanging down over the living room window.

The only local shop still standing from those she visited as a child is Maitland's, but there are still a few of her childhood hangouts still operating, like Aldo's and the Continental Cafe. Greenock is home now to its own local McDonald's, KFC and Burger King, and although pizza is a big favourite these days (and had been a long awaited addition to Greenock's emerging fast food trend, Mum tells me that it tastes horrible and nothing like it does here.)

When my mother lived in Greenock there was just one taxi for the longest time, but now there are a lot more and although there are no subways, public transportation is comprised of many more accessible buses and trains. I asked her about the 'young scene' there today though her most recent visit was about nine or ten years ago now, and she says there are the regular pubs and lounges, but mainly (and especially for the tourists) the places that offer the beautiful views that Scotland is famous the world over for are where you can find the most traffic. Wellpark, Cross of Lorraine, and Cloch Lighthouse, to name a few along with the old churches in town have always been and will probably always be the 'hot spots' of Greenock, Scotland, though decades old and virtually timeless in my mind.

Well Park, Greenock, 1964
Well Park, Greenock, 1964 | Source

Comments 43 comments

Druid Dude profile image

Druid Dude 5 years ago from West Coast

fifi! You drive me bonkers! SCOTLAND! Ancestral home for my "clan" I don't have an E-mail for you. Would like one, if I'm not being too forward. You are a gem! At Niagara, you are next door to my hometown in upstate NY. Currently on the Pac Coast. Recently uncovered my family name in Gaelic, so this hub really hit well!


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Lol, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I had a blast writing this one for obvious reasons...and could have gone on for pages more if I had nothing else to do ;) Just writing about it all makes me feel at home, though I haven't had the chance to visit since I was 5 or so. Soon again, I hope. Thanks for reading and the great comment.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Druid Dude - Revised my profile to reflect my contact email :)


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

Your mum was born the same year as me. I was not familiar with Greenock until today. Thank you for your grand story telling. I enjoyed reading your writing immensely.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

James A Watkins - Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the piece :) Happy New Year.


Yvonne 5 years ago

WOW!!! Thoroughly enjoyed that Fiona!! Had to laugh, I think the "menu" was what we all ate!! (Even here in Canada) Going to Glasgow this year!!!


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Yvonne - LOL...so glad you enjoyed! You lucky thing, Glasgow!...have a great trip and let me know how it was when you return :)


Winsome profile image

Winsome 5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Hi Fiona, hearty meat and potatoes and peas, you won't find the French eating such sturdy and delicious fare--not enough cream sauce and foie gras. Your parents sound like lovely folks (if you can survive a brick wall on your honeymoon everything else is easy) =:)


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Winsosme - Agreed! Lol.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Nice one. I was born just 3 years before your mother, in Ayr, not so far away. The routine of weekly meals is something I can relate to completely. Not a lot of variety, maybe, but at least everything was fresh food, nothing processed. My dad was a keen fisher, so we had quite a lot of trout and salmon from the rivers Ayr and Doon to add variety to the mince, stovies and toasted cheese!


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Paraglider - Thanks for visiting! The thought of fresh food at every meal is far more appetizing than the thought of routine meals is boring ;)


lyndre profile image

lyndre 5 years ago from Scotland

Hi Fi fi

I was born and still live in Port Glasgow, which you of course know is the posh end of Greenock :lol:.

I was born in 1954 my wife born in 1956 went to finnart secondary.

I think you might be looking at Greenock through rose tinted glasses, but don,t we all when we look back nostalgically at our past.

Check out my hub about living in a tenement in Port Glasgow. I am sure your mother would like it.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

lyndre - I'm sure I am painting a rosier picture in my mind than should be there ;) I'm definitely sending your hub over to my mum and will check it out myself shortly! Thanks for stopping by and commenting :)


wee_peggy 5 years ago

weird.. My dad lived on Ann Street in Greenock as a kid. He's only a few years older than your mom... You should ask her if she knew anyone with the last name Swan.. LOL No horrible or shocking story would surprise me!


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

wee_peggy - Lol, it is weird. You're the second person to contact me with similar reponses. Someone in Australia read this a while back, and knew of a friend who had attended the same school as my mum...a few emails later, my mum and the woman who lived in Greenock realized they both now live in the same city of Ontario. They're meeting up soon. Wild :) She said she knew of a few Swans while she lived there...and to find out a first name and/or address of your dad on Ann, she was at #57, right beside 'Billy Campbell's' wee shop.


grianaig 5 years ago

Hi, I have just finished reading your posting. I was born in 1952 in Greenock where I still stay. I see you have found the McLean Museum,s collection of Eugene Mehat,s of Greenock in the 1960s. I have taken photos of those same scenes as they look today and if you or your mother would like to see the changes in the town since those days just go to the first pic on volume 1 and click on photos under my name (grianaig) and it should take you to my albums. Regards. Robert.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

grianaig - Thanks so much! I can't wait to check out your photos :)


grianaig 5 years ago

Your welcome. The albums match photos number for number although I was unable to replicate some due to various reasons. If you have any problems with finding the link just let me know and I will forward the address.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

grianaig - No problems, the photos are beautiful!


grianaig 5 years ago

Hello again, I am glad you like the photos. I have made slideshow videos which contain the originals and my updated versions. If you would like to view then go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OM737SkQ6iY

This is part one. I eventually made 15 in total.

I am sure I have a recent photo of Finnart school if you are interested. My email add is grianaig@hotmail,com


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

grianaig - I'll definitely check out your link, thank you for sharing :)


Mairi45 5 years ago

Hi

I attended Finnart School same time as your Mum. I enjoyed reading your story and can relate so much to it. Thanks for the memories..


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Mairi45 - It's a small world! Thanks for reading and commenting...and you're welcome :)


Liz 5 years ago

I was born the same year as your Mum and also attended Finnart School and I was great reading your story. Brings back many memories, especiall Maitlands the Butchers in Lynedoch Street. My Granny only bought her butcher meat from here.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 5 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Liz - Hello, Liz and thanks for your comment! I've really enojoyed all of the feedback on this article and have, of course, been sharing it with Mum :)


Amaryllis profile image

Amaryllis 4 years ago from New Hampshire

Hi. I really enjoyed your hub. I was born in Greenock just a little after your Mum, though I don't remember it quite the same way she did. My memory is mostly of the picnics we had at weekends when we'd take the Erskine ferry across and go driving to Inverary and beyond. I certainly do remember seeing our deputy head measure the length of girls skirts, though I didn't go to school in Greenock. Where is your mum now? I'm a long way from Scotland, in New Hampshire, but one of the reasons I came here was because the scenery reminds me of home.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 4 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Amaryllis - Hello and thanks for stopping by. We're in Ontario, Canada....Thanks for reminiscing with us! I've never been to New Hampshire, but photos of that area are just lovely :)


Frances Ciccone 3 years ago

Enjoyed reading especially the menu, I guess we were all the same. I was born in Greenock in1951 lived on Sinclair St, Kilblain St, and Port Glasgow Road.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 3 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Frances - Lol, I'm glad my mum raised us with some of her old school menu items ;) Can't beat 'em. Thanks for visiting!


edshelfm@msn.com 3 years ago


fi fi profile image

fi fi 3 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

edshelfm@msn.com - Awesome! Thanks, I'll definitely check them out :)


christinequirk(Calder).co.uk 3 years ago

Hi there, I was born and brought up in Lynedoch Street a bit before your Mum (1940) however It was great to be reminded of Jimmy Maitland (Butcher) Neillie Service (Greengrocer) Campbells the Baker Caskie the Dairy, Cuthbertsons sweetie shop what memories they have brought back, Lynedoch Street was like a little village in its own right I'm sure your Mum would enjoy a visit back home, but don't expect too much, there are big change here now.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 3 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

christinequirk(Calder).co.uk - Hi Christine, I'm so glad you enjoyed the article! I'm sure things change a lot from year to year, as they do everywhere, but one of these days mum and I will get there :)


francis donnelly 3 years ago

Enjoyed your testimonial to your mum and her family, as for the menus for daily food consumption,beef stew was a no no for us on fridays ( catholic u see) so it was fish cakes or fish and chips, still very enjoyable,I was born in '51 ,married a lovely lassie who did not go to the finnart,(st mary's loretto helen hanley finch rd ) an absolute sweetheart of a ghirl,we were only 20 when we married in st josephs r.c church bow rd mar 17 th 1972 and moved to canada 6 mnths later in aug '72. love canada very much have 3 lovely kids and 9 grandkids they are all now the big items in our lives,miss the old town, cross of lorraine, the cut ,esplanade, and the view from the beith dam , i was born in duncan st opposite the old infirmary,now live in the telephone city I.E BRANTFORD ONT CANADA, have a good day and take care god bless francie fae crawberry rd


fi fi profile image

fi fi 3 years ago from Niagara, Canada Author

francis Donnelly - lovely! I think I recall mum mentioning The Cross of Lorraine...hmm, will have to ask her about that! Thanks so much for reading and sharing :)


james mc laughlin 23 months ago

james mc laughlin born rankin m hosptil 1940 mother elizbeth mclaughlin ne mc creedy eney help would be greatfull


DAVID MCINTOSH 16 months ago

Hi my name is David McIntosh and I went to mearns st school 1951 to1957 then went to Australia where I live now


sandra (whiteford) williams 14 months ago

I was born in 1955 went to Finnart the same year as your mum. my gran lived in 9 ANN STREET were I spent a lot of time (MCLOONES) I remember the times and town very well , now live in Adelaide . The school was a nightmare .Mabel Irvine as well. Your menu is a cracker still have slice once a week here. I came from Clynder Road . Happy memories or not?.


fi fi profile image

fi fi 14 months ago from Niagara, Canada Author

James, David and Sandra - Thanks for reading and commenting! It's so great that people come upon this hub and that it takes them back!


Christine 14 months ago

Fifi's Mum here... I had given Fi the wrong add for when I lived on Ann St, it was actually 57 Ann St, right beside the Co-op, Baldini's Cafe and Billy Campbell's newsagents... everything you needed was on that wee corner :)


Gladys Marion Ford Edmonton Canada 10 months ago

Lovely to read all the memories of Greenock. I was born in the Rankin Memorial in1943 and lived in 4 Ann Street with my Mom , Granny and Granddad. My mom's name was Helen Harley and she had two brothers Donald and Jimmy. My Dad was from Liverpool and in the Royal Marines. Sadly Mom died in Liverpool in 1950 and shortly after we lost all contact with my Scottish family. If anyone has any memories or info. would love to hear it


fi fi profile image

fi fi 10 months ago from Niagara, Canada Author

Gladys - Thanks for commenting! :)


Mum 10 months ago

Gladys, log on to 'Greenock Nostalgia' site.. always folk looking for long lost family members on there, I'm a member and its brilliant.. My Uncle Willie lived near the bottom of Ann St, just past the wee tunnel at Roxborough St..can't mind the street # though..his mother-in-law lived up the same close, she was a MacLaughlin..

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