James Watt Dock

Location type


Name and dates

James Watt Dock (1886-)

Opened on the Greenock and Ayrshire Railway.
Opened on the Greenock Harbour Trust.


This commercial dock was completed in 1886 for the Greenock Harbour Trust. It is a wet dock 2000 ft long (east-west) and 300-350 ft wide with a tongue at the east end. The dock's main entrance is from the west, alongside the Garvel Dry Dock. Another subsidiary entrance to the east connects with the Great Harbour [Greenock] . Both entrances were equipped with gates to allow the 32ft depth to be maintained at low tide. Often vessels receiving attention at the dry dock are moored at the north west end. An out of use Arrol hammerhead crane, on the southern quayside towards the west end of the dock, was used to install engines built nearby by John G Kincaid and Co Ltd into ships. A long warehouse building remains, running along the eastern half of the southern quayside. Today, since 2011, much of the dock is the James Watt dock Marina.


The dock was excavated from the lands of Garvel Park. In 1859 Charles Cunningham Scott [I] inherited Garvel Park from his late sister Mrs Margaret Sinclair. The estate had previously been bought by John Scott [II] , their father, in 1832. In 1867 Garvel Park was sold by John Scott [IV] to the Greenock Harbour Trust, which helped cover costs of his collapsed Saint Nazaire shipyard enterprise. The trust wished to provide more docks for cargo steamers, and a graving dock, to try and keep trade which was increasingly going to Glasgow.
It is worth noting that John Scott [IV] and his brother Robert Sinclair Scott were on the board of the Greenock Harbour Trust, at various times.

The first turf was cut by provost Lyle in 1878. Excavation of the dock began in 1879. It was expensive to build (£242,885 5s 3d). The foundation stone was laid in August 1881, earlier on the same day that the Municipal Buildings foundation stone was laid. More than 8000 people walked from the Esplanade to attend the event which was held at the bottom of the excavation. By the time the dock was reached the crowd had reached 30,000. The foundation stone was laid by Provost Dugald Campbell.

Water was let into the dock in 1885 by John Scott, the deputy chairman of the Trust.

Construction of the dock was part of a larger scheme which included the Great Harbour [Greenock, Garvel Basin and Garvel Dry Dock. The overall scheme cost £800,000.

Walter Robert Kinipple was the chief engineer, with resident engineers Thomas Shaw and C W Methven. The main contractor for the James Watt Dock, Garvel Basin and Great Harbour [Greenock] was John Waddell (of Edinburgh). Further contractors included John Kirk (of Woolwich) for the Garvel Graving Dock and Hanna, Donald, and Wilson for the caisson

Garvel Park House survived the construction, finding itself sandwiched between the dry dock (north) and James Watt Dock (south).


In addition to the dock excavation and construction of the quaysides there were railway lines built from the Caledonian Railway (authorised in 1873 from the former Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway) and Glasgow and South Western Railway (authorised 1881 from the former Greenock and Ayrshire Railway. Every quayside was rail served. Large marshalling yards were laid out to the east of the dock. Unlike other docks in Greenock and Port Glasgow (except the Greenock Albert Harbour [Dock]) the dock was built with railways in mind. These were vital to the success of the dock.

The dock open

The dock and associated railways opened in 1886. The first vessel into the dock was the Otterburn, which belonged to the then provost Robert Shankland.

Although the dock didn't attract all the trade going upriver to Glasgow it was not completely unsuccessful and was important for the local sugar trade. Coal was loaded into vessels using Appleby mobile cranes with a 25 tonne capacity which lifted wagons over vessels. An Act of 1913 approved improvements which included the fitting out crane.

In the 1970s 300,000 tonnes of sugar was imported annually through the dock.

A United Molasses depot opened at the north east end of the James Watt Dock. Molasses tanks were taken to Glenochil Yeast, by the former Menstrie station. Latterly 'rounding' was carried out by gravity shunting there being no loop at the dock. 'Cripples' were shunted out onto the quayside until they could be attended to. Many of the quayside lines remained intact until the end, but unused. Those on the southern quayside and tongue were disconnected. Rail traffic ceased about 1990. The connecting line was taken out in 1992. The depot remained open for some years afterwards.

Quaysides were equipped with cranes, none of which survive except the Arrol crane. This was used for fitting out, installing not just engines but funnels etc. In the 70s two rail mounted heavy cranes were on the tongue. On the south quay, three rail mounted cranes were in front of the veranda of the warehouse straddling two railway tracks. They were still in use in for bulk cargo in 1989, possibly 1995, but were gone by 1999. A smaller Smith and Rodley rail crane was still on site in 2008.

Heavy maintenance work was carried out to preserve the warehouse in 2008.


James Watt Dock Marina


Sidings gravity shunting

External links

Canmore site record
NLS Collection OS map of 1892-1914
NLS Collection OS map of 1944-67

Chronology Dates

  /  /1873Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway
Branch to Garvel Dry Dock branch authorised, railway not built at this time. (James Watt Dock came later.)
  /  /1880Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway
Proposed Garvel Dry Dock, James Watt Dock and Inchgreen Gas Works branch abandoned and a new Inchgreen route authorised.
  /  /1881Greenock and Ayrshire Railway
Inchgreen Branch to Garvel Dry Dock and James Watt Dock authorised.
  /  /1886Greenock and Ayrshire Railway
Inchgreen Branch to Garvel Dry Dock and James Watt Dock opened along with high level sidings to Inchgreen Gas Works.
06/08/1886Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway
James Watt Dock and Inchgreen branch opened along with low level sidings to Inchgreen Gas Works.
25/08/1886Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway
Branch to Garvel Dry Dock and James Watt Dock branch opened.
  /  /1961Greenock and Ayrshire Railway
Inchgreen Branch to Garvel Dry Dock, James Watt Dock and Inchgreen Gas Works closed.
  /04/1990Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway
United Molasses Depot, James Watt Dock, to Ladyburn Junction (excluded) branch closed around this date.

News items

26/09/2023CalMac's MV Isle of Arran arrives at James Watt Dock [Greenock Telegraph]
20/05/2022No timeline for repairs on CalMac ferry that crashed into pier [Press and Journal]
24/01/2020Work begins on £2.3m boiler refit of iconic Waverley paddle steamer [Greenock Telegraph]
27/09/2010James Watt Dock Rail Link Removed
08/12/2009Massive dock transformation plan launched [Inverclyde Now]


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