Surprising Origin of the ‘Old Granary’, Newport

Old GranaryThe granary which stood at the top of the High Street until 1968 was always assumed to have humble beginnings. But it turns out that this was not quite the case – and it was thanks to a programme last week about the River Forth in the Channel 4 series Britain at Low Tide that I made the connection.

In 1802 John Hay, who had been proprietor of the lands of Newport since 1784, feued a piece of his ground at Newport harbour to John Stein of Kennetpans. Hay granted Stein the right to build a granary, if he wished, and also to bring vessels into the harbour at Newport and to ship corn from the granary.

Stein certainly did wish to build the granary and he acted pretty promptly because a plan of Tayfield dated 1805 shows the granary in place. But why should a businessman from Kennetpans (close by the Clackmannanshire Bridge) be interested in the Newport harbour area?

In a word – whisky.

John Stein is credited with pioneering whisky as an industry and his distillery at Kennetpans, the subject of the television programme, was the first industrial-scale producer of the spirit. No doubt he saw the harbour at Newport with a newly-built granary as an important stage in getting the barley from the fields of North Fife to his distilleries on the Forth or possibly further afield. Remember, this was at a time when transport by sea was the most economical means of transporting large quantities of goods. Further proof of the importance of the granary at that time is that William Haig, distiller at Kincaple, and John Pitcairn, excise officer at Kincaple, were witnesses to the purchase of the ground. (The distilling families of Haig and Jameson were related to the Steins by marriage.)

John Hay didn’t miss out – he received shore dues of 1 plack Scots for each boll of grain delivered out of the granary and shipped from the harbour.

However, for whatever reason, in 1828 John Stein’s heir, John Stein of Ashford, Kent, sold the granary to James Wilson – a Cupar corn merchant. It subsequently passed to George Kerr Harrower, corn merchant, and then to James Ronald, another corn merchant. But by this time – the late 1860s – shipping corn by sea from Newport was becoming less profitable and James Ronald converted the building into housing around 1870.

The old granary was home to many Newport families for almost a hundred years.

The Granary Lane housing complex now stands on the site of the granary and the adjoining original Newport gasworks.

Sasine: John Hay to John Stein, 1802, RS 32/53/499 (extract here);
Sasine: John Stein to James Wilson, recorded 5 January 1829, see abridgement 4604 of 1829;
RHP 30436, Photocopy of Plan of Tayfield, 1805;
all at the National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Channel 4 Television Britain at Low Tide, Series 3, Programme 2.

Homework: How much is 1 plack Scots per boll of grain today?

Ships That Pass In The Night

The Times was a small smack, typical of the multitude of coasting vessels that plied around the British Isles and across to the near continent in the 19th century. In 1871, her crew consisted of 3 men: the master Robert Milne – a 33 year-old Dundonian, the mate William Taylor aged 46 from Crail, and a 17 year-old ordinary seaman George Smith from Stonehaven. We know this because she was recorded in the census on 2nd April at Woodhaven. She was a frequent visitor to the Tay, on this occasion she had brought a load of manure from London to Perth, arriving on 22nd March. Having discharged the cargo, she left Perth empty on 29th March for Woodhaven. After this the records currently available go quiet but she reappears again towards the end of April having left Sunderland (or South Shields depending on the source used) for Inverness, cargo unknown but possibly coal. On 30th April she puts in to Aberdeen because of bad weather but leaves for Inverness the next day. After another gap in the records, she reappears passing north through the Caledonian Canal on 23rd May with a load of slates from Easdale bound for Dundee. She leaves the Canal on 24th May and arrives in King William Dock, Dundee on the 27th. One further visit to the Tay is recorded that year: on 5 September she arrives with 85 tons of coal from Sunderland for the Tay Bridge Contractors.

One clue to the Times’s cargo is given by another coasting vessel, Racer, tonnage 61, a Cornish vessel, master William H Hodge together with a mate, an AB seaman, an ord. seaman & a cook. She appears in London on 7th March 1871 having come from Nice. On 16th March she too leaves London bound for Perth with a load of manure. She arrives in Perth on April 1st and on 8th also sails empty to Woodhaven. However we know from the Customs House records, reported in the press, that she departed from the Tay on 14th April for London with 100 tons of potatoes and has arrived there by the 1st May.

It is highly unlikely that Times would have sailed from Perth to Woodhaven without having a specific cargo in mind – surely Dundee would be a better source of possible cargoes. So my money is on another load of potatoes. Whether she took them to Sunderland direct or via another port is, from the presently available sources, impossible to say.

Just one thought – manure – from London to Perth – at least 2 ship loads.

Shipping & Mercantile Gazette: 8, 15, 17 March 1871; 2, 25, 26 May 1871;
Dundee Courier: 15 April 1871; 29 May 1871; 5 September 1871;
Perthshire Advertiser: 13 April 1871;
Aberdeen Press and Journal: 3 May 1871;
Shields Daily Gazette: 3 May 1871;
Newspapers can be found on the British Newspaper Archive or Find My Past sites.
Census Scotland, 1871, 431-1-14 and 903/S-17-1, at ScotlandsPeople.