Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895

PORT GLASGOW (surveyed in 1856-7)



Port Glasgow is situated on the south side of the Firth of Clyde, some twenty miles north-west of Glasgow. The town was originally developed in the late sixteenth century by the authorities of Glasgow who bought land in what was then the village of Newark, in order to make a new port. At that time the River Clyde near Glasgow was too shallow for large vessels and so in 1762 two harbours were built and Port Glasgow was created. In 1695, the new parish of Port Glasgow was established and, in 1775, it was made into a burgh. The name Port Glasgow was simply a descriptive term derived from the period when it was the main port for Glasgow.


Later, when the River Clyde was deepened, ships were able to go further up the Clyde to Glasgow itself, and Port Glasgow declined in importance.

The population at the time of the survey was around 6000.


Town Planning

Not surprisingly, the focus of the town was on the harbours, with a main street parallel to the shore and a grid pattern of smaller streets behind it. The railway line lay along the south side of the town.



Newark Castle, to the east of the town, was originally built as a tower house in the fifteenth century. It had been extended in the seventeenth century and again in 1848.


Trade and Industry

The port mainly traded with the West Indies and with North America. There was also trade with the East Indies, the United States of America and with the Mediterranean. One of the major imports was North American timber and timber yards can be seen outside the harbour on the map (sheet II.11.10). Another major trade was the import of sugar, which was then refined at the port and exported to the Mediterranean. At this period there were two sugar refineries in Port Glasgow.


The industries in the immediate vicinity of the harbours included shipbuilding yards (sheets II.12.11 and II.11.9), rope works (sheet II.11.15), manufacturers of sail cloth and chain cable, and foundries for anchors and other ironwork.


Religious Life

The parish of Port Glasgow had, at this time, two Church of Scotland churches, a Free church, a United Presbyterian church, a Reformed Presbyterian church, an Episcopalian chapel and a Roman Catholic chapel.



In the mid-nineteenth century, there were some eight schools in the town, including the parish school, Beaton’s school for the education of orphans (sheet II.11.14), and a number of private schools. The author of the Statistical Account of 1845 commented that there was a very high degree of illiteracy, particularly among the children of the poor, especially the sailors. There were various attempts made to improve the education among the seafaring community, such as the supply of bibles and other religious books to the ships.


Culture and Society

The contemporary accounts indicate that in the mid-nineteenth century, Port Glasgow had a population that was very largely comprised sailors and their families and that there was considerable poverty. It is perhaps not surprising that there is little mention of cultural pastimes.





Groome, Francis H. (ed.), 1894-5. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 2nd ed., (London: William Mackenzie)


Mackay, George, 2000. Scottish Place Names (New Lanark: Lomond)


Smith, Robert, 2001. The Making of Scotland: a comprehensive guide to the growth of its cities, towns and villages (Edinburgh: Canongate)


Wilson, Rev. John Marius (ed.), 1857. The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland or Dictionary of Scottish Topography (Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co.)


Edina Website – Online Statistical Accounts of Scotland - http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/