James Watt Memorial School


Joe Duffy writes:

At long last I have managed to collect enough info to have a Scottish Training School represented on our ROA Website.

Please see the attached photos of the James Watt Memorial School, Dalrymple Street, Greenock with yours truly and my old class mate Joe Henry (1956/57), who was on holiday from Brisbane visiting family in Greenock.

Joe also became a member of the ROA after our meeting.

This building was built, paid for and opened in 1908 by none other than Dr. Andrew Carnegie. It was originally known as the Watt Memorial Engineering and Navigation School, the Radio/Radar section added later.

The BTH Radar scanner was removed from the spire area above James Watt’s statue but you can still see the Marconi Belini Tosi DF loop aerial just to the right of the tall council building on the roof of the red sandstone Watt building. The upper floor of the red sandstone building was the radio classrooms and the radar room was situated in the top room above James Watt. I’m not sure when the Watt College ceased to function and the local council have no future plans for it. When Joe and I where students at the Watt the lecturers were as follows:-

Mr Fleming, Mr MacDonald, Mr McIlroy, Mr Corcoran, Mr Bolton and Mr Carney.

I believe Mr Carney is the only surviving lecturer from that period. Hopefully some other ROA members may come forward with more photos and /or comments regarding the Watt College, or even spur on other Scottish ROA members to show other Scottish based training schools of which I’m sure there are a few!

Alex Nicolson, George MacRae, McInernney
Alex Nicolson, Davie Morrison, Johnnie Shepherd


  1. Long time since the last comment! I was at James Watt from 1964 to 1966. I stayed in digs in Nelson Street. My abiding memories of Greenock were (a) it rained for two years! (b) Burton’s dancehall (c) The town was full of Yanks from the submarine base at the Holy Loch. I remember well “Pop” McDonald, “Corky” McCorcoran and our morse teacher Mr. Carney, with his tails of the “Kentung” and the West African coast. The other abiding memory was pulling out the chassis of the Oceanspan 7 to see if I could spot which leaf spring contacts had been sellotaped, and then working back from there to pretend I knew what the fault was! AND the incessant drawing of the Autokeying device circuit. But happy days leading to the best years of my life in the Merchant Navy.

  2. Hi, as a new member this is my first post and would like to join you in praise of the James Watt Memorial College. The quality of lecturer was exceptional and the commitment of those mentioned by Joe in his profile engendered within us a determination to succeed . The interjection of a few personal seagoing stories and experiences proved a great aside to the lectures. i remember a morse instructor, Matt Rogers,who helped me overcome a problem with sending . I seemed to suffer with what I could only describe as a ‘runaway wrist’ I had difficulty with characters composed of numerous dots ie H,J also 5 and 6. With patience he helped me overcome the problem, I never had any problem receiving but it was clear I would have a problem sending at 25wpm required for the 1st class PMG. I left early in 1964 and in August was accepted by the RFA to join RFA Fort Charlotte as 3rdR/O in Singapore. I was also fortunate to enjoy great sea going training leading to confidence and higher proficiency. For me what started at James Watt to help set me up for my career within the Merchant Navy and beyond.
    This is a great site with great contributions thank you
    Rob Armstrong

  3. Good Day to you both, Roger and Tony.
    Apologies to you both for the delay in replying to your very welcomed comments.
    Having a hard time over the last year and a half managing my two Sicilian Grandchildren, both boys under 4 years!! and quite a handful!..(Tony will understand the feeling lately)..
    Its great to hear you both had the unique pleasure of sampling the “Greenock Experience” in the 50’s and 60’s. I think its the only place in Britain that has rain 365 days of the year…not all day of course.. Roger, you must have been up stairs in the Radar Room when Joe and I were doing our PMG downstairs?. The Seamens Hostel is still there and doing a roaring trade as a ‘Homeless Centre’. Quite a lot of the lads from the Highlands and Islands stayed there during their time at the Watt. Joe Henry tells me he spent a night there unable to get home to Gourock due to a wild winter storm. He slept with one eye open and a ’12 Bore’ under his pillow!.. and Roger, how come you managed to cadge a ‘wee goldie’ for your cold in a “Temperance” Hotel?.. of course it was for medical reasons!!. Joe also tells me Mr Hughes was the Principal then and Mr Fleming was Head of the R/O & Radar Dept. The glamorous Secretary was Miss Stirling and yes she was not short of admirers as this 15 year old (at that time) can tell you!. If she had played her cards right she could have had me anytime!. (even at 15!!).

    Tony, when you were at the Watt in April ’65 I was “up the gulf” on the Naess Scotsman which you later managed to scuba dive around as she lay as a wreck off the Islands in the Indian Ocean!. So much for the RFA’s Navigational skills! Also, Joe Henry tells me your favourite ‘watering hole’ was the “Gordon Bar”, long gone now, then owned by Frank Dunn’s parents. As I mentioned, Mr Fleming was indeed the Head of dept., and I suspect he was on commission from Brocks as the number of 1st Class and Radar passes where usually ‘advised’ by Mr Fleming to join Brocks!. Joe tells me he had a bad ‘ticker’ and actually died on the job from a massive heart attack. Joe lived quite near all the lecturers in Gourock and got to know them quite well having been seconded by Mr Fleming and /or Mr Mcllroy one time to Manage and ‘Open Day’ at the Watt. Someone later told me Mr Fleming did a lot of ‘classified’ early work on Radar during the War.
    I’m still waiting for a reply from BBC ALBA as to when they are going to do a program on the life and times of the R/O. They were supposed to be visiting Fort Perch Rock and the Watt this month??.
    Looking forward to meeting you all at Chelmsford 2014. Keep up the good work.
    Ciao, nonno joe.

  4. I did my Radar ticket there as well. Brock’s used to send all their R/O’s there at that time I think, initially because I think the training was on BTH radars which Brock’s were using. When I got there in April 1965 it was on Marconi Radiolocator 4B. As it happened that was very handy because although there were none of them in the actual Brocklebank fleet as far as I can remember but they were on some of the Cunard cargo ships and also on the Moss tankers and I spent a lot of time on those.
    The actual obtaining of my Radar ticket is still a thing of wonderment to me. I spent my first week in the appalling Seaman’s hostel that Roger referred to and it had probably gone downhill since his time. After that I moved to digs and shared a room with the late Frank Fallon. The other Brock’s man on the course was Ian Hamilton. I think it is fair to say that our time there was at the drinking and debauchery end of the scale rather than hard work and study. This was not helped by a bar in the town being owned by the parents of two Brock’s R/O’s which was the obvious watering hole to graduate to. The local natives (female branch) were very friendly and we had a most enjoyable time in Greenock. It came as a great shock to us with two weeks to go that we were expected to pass the exam and a fortnight of furious studying and burning of the midnight oil resulted in a “pass”, to my amazement and relief – I am not sure that a Brock’s man had ever failed.
    I think Mr Fleming was Head of Department at that time and I can recall Mr McIlroy but I do not remember the other names. A few years ago I visited the area and was taken on a tour of Greenock by ROA member Frank Dunn (whose parents owned the bar) and stood pretty much where the two Joe’s are. Like so many towns Greenock is unrecognisable from my time there but I have some good memories of the place.

  5. Joe, Did my Radar Ticket there in early 1957, arriving there just before Christmas 1956 – spent one dreadful night in nearby Seamens hostel, then finished up for a time at the Temperance Hotel Gourock. Had a rotten cold and bad cough, heard a knock on the door and it was one of the proprietors offering me a wee hot toddie to help me. Great people! Later my wife came up and we lodged in the house of a widow whose husband had been the principal of the college. Mr Fleming got my wife a job with a local furnishers who were doing stock taking.. I rthink it was Mr McIlroy’s first course and we gave him a bit of a rough time but he obviously survived! Seem to remember there was rather a glamorous secretary to the school. Cheers Roger

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