Henry Birkmyre (1762- 1844) worked as a handloom weaver in Kilbarchan, where in 1785 he married his first cousin Agnes Birkmyre. After their marriage, Henry and Agnes attended Burntshields Burgher Church. The baptisms of three of their children, Jean in 1786, John in 1788 and Agnes in 1791, are recorded in Burntshields church records. In 1792 the family moved to Port Glasgow where Henry took up employment in a sailcloth manufactury. A fourth child, William, was born in Port Glasgow in 1802. The Birkmyres prospered in Port Glasgow. Henry soon rose to the position of foreman in Gourock Ropework Co. and was made a partner in the firm in 1814. His portrait, which still exists, is said to have hung in the company’s boardroom.
Henry sent his younger son, William, to Glasgow to be trained by city merchants. This early training paid off and, following in his father’s footsteps, William was appointed as a manager in the rope works. In 1831 he married Margaret Aitken. William was regarded as a shrewd businessman and laid the foundations of the future success and world-wide expansion of Gourock Ropework Co. He retired in 1860 and died in 1862 in Ashgrove, the family home at the bottom of Clune Brae in Port Glasgow.
Two of William’s sons, Henry (b.1832) and John (b.1836) became partners in Gourock Ropework Co. A third son William (b.1838) spent some time in India, and pursued a political career, becoming MP for the Burgh of Ayr. A younger son, Adam (b.1848), attended to the family’s business interests overseas. Under the brothers’ control, Gourock Ropework Co. became renowned world-wide as manufacturers of rope, sail cloth and canvas.
All four brothers became extremely wealthy and were generous benefactors in the local community. Henry was instrumental in founding Clune Park U.P. Church in 1878. In 1881, he diversified his interests and bought New Lanark Mills from the then owner, Charles Walker. Under the Birkmyre family, Gourock Ropework Co. owned David Dale’s new Lanark Mills for the next 65 years.
John, in 1870, appointed David Bryce, a renowned architect, to build his baronial mansion, Broadstone House on the hills above Port Glasgow. He gifted Broadstone Jubilee Hospital to the community of Port Glasgow. William, the third brother, spent time in India and pursued a political career, becoming MP for the Burgh of Ayr. He gifted Birkmyre Park (later known as the Public Park) to the town of Port Glasgow. Adam owned Shallott (now part of St. Columba’s School buildings) and various other properties in Kilmacolm. In 1897, he gifted recreation grounds, now Birkmyre Park, to Kilmacolm village. He also had interests in Calcutta in India and in Switzerland where he died in 1906.
© 2017, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum