This picture shows a redundant crane once used during Greenock’s buoyant ship building industry. The shipbuilding industry of Greenock had its rise concurrently with the formation of the first harbour built in 1710. In the background you can see the original Tate & Lyle sugar house.
Sugar refining began in Greenock in 1765. John Walker began a sugar refinery in Greenock in 1850 followed by the prominent local cooper and shipowner Abram Lyle who, with four partners, purchased the Glebe Sugar Refinery in 1865. Another 12 refineries were active at one point. The most successful of these was Tate & Lyle. It was formed from a merger in 1921 between Abram Lyle, who had expanded into Plaistow, and Henry Tate, who had set up a sugar refinery in Liverpool and had expanded into London.
By the end of the 19th century, around 400 ships a year were transporting sugar from Caribbean holdings to Greenock for processing. There were 14 sugar refineries, including The Westburn, Walkers, The Glebe, Lochore and Ferguson and Dempster, plus a sugar beet factory on Ingleston Street. Tobacco from the Americas also arrived here.
When Tate and Lyle finally closed its Greenock refinery in 1997 it brought to an end the town’s 150-year-old connections with sugar manufacture. A newly built sugar warehouse continued shipping operations at Greenock’s Ocean Terminal. The former sugar warehouse at the James Watt Dock in Greenock was by then scheduled as a category A listed building as a fine example of early industrial architecture, with an unusual feature of a colonnade of cast iron columns forming a sheltered unloading area next to the quayside. This building has since lain empty, with various schemes being proposed for conversion and restoration. The photographs show the building still intact in February 2006, but a fire on the evening of 12 June 2006 caused severe damage to much of the building before being brought under control in the early hours of 13 June. The local council confirmed that parts of the building will have to be taken down to ensure public safety, but promised an investigation and emphasised the importance of this world heritage building.
Fortunately in 2007, contracts to develop the sugar refinery into housing went ahead and the building is slowly being restored to its grand spectacle alongside the ever increasingly developing waterfront of the East end of Greenock. Many new and exciting housing projects combining new environmentally friendly technologies along with historically fashioned architecture are restoring Greenock’s Waterfront fascia to its once glorious former self.
The Tate & Lyle website has further historical information, and can be viewed by clicking here.