Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

Watt Institution including Watt Library and McLean Museum and Art Gallery, 15 Kelly Street, GreenockLB34148

Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NS 27383 76551
227383, 676551


The Watt Institution is a multi-phase civic building, comprising a library, museum and art gallery. Previously known as the Greenock Institution, it was built as a memorial to the engineer, James Watt, who was born in Greenock.

The symmetrical, three-storey library section dates from 1832-7. Designed by Edward Blore (1787-1879) in a Tudor-Gothic style, it is constructed in rough-faced, grey, ashlar sandstone and has bay windows and a centre porch. The interior includes a two-storey, galleried library and a statue of James Watt by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781–1841) designed specifically for the space.

Wings were added to either side of the library block in 1847 by Blore and contain bespoke library interiors. The building was extended to the southwest in 1876 by Alexander Adamson (1830–1893), who designed a two-storey public hall and museum extension in keeping with Blore's castellated Gothic design. An art gallery extension was added to the 1876 phase in 1955. Further modernisation by the Inverclyde District Council Architects Department took place after 1978.

The building underwent an extensive refurbishment programme in the late 2010s. External and internal refurbishment and conservation work was completed in February 2020, and included works to the slate roof, the reintroduction of rooflights and the reinstatement of tall chimneys. The external stonework was repaired and windows were refurbished. The original name of the building was restored during the refurbishment and is now known as the Watt Institution

Statement of Special Interest

James Watt (1736-1819), born in Greenock, was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, internationally renowned for his improvements in steam engine technology. A unit of measurement of electrical and mechanical power - the watt - is named in his honour.

Together with Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, Watt began to manufacture steam engines in 1775. Boulton & Watt became the most important engineering firm in the country, meeting considerable demand.

By 1790, Watt was a wealthy man and in 1800 he retired and devoted himself entirely to research work. He patented several other important inventions including the rotary engine, the double-action engine and the steam indicator, which records the steam pressure inside the engine.

In 1816, Watt donated books for a proposed scientific library in Greenock and a library building was considered to be an appropriate form for his commemoration.

The Watt Institution is an important civic building that represents the prosperity, industry and culture of the burgh during the 19th century. It is also an important and early example of both a library and museum building. Public libraries were not established in Scotland until after the Public Libraries Act (Scotland) of 1853.

In recent years, Watt was known to be involved in the trading of enslaved people and had derived profits from the transatlantic slave economy. This was a multi-generational family involvement with the slave trade and plantation slavery, which was inherited from his father and was subsequently passed to his son, James Watt Junior.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2021. Previously listed as 'Watt Library and McLean Museum Union Street, Kelly Street and Watt Street'. The building was listed as the 'Greenock Institution' from 1971 until 2004.



Canmore: CANMORE ID 200855


Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1857, published 1858) Renfrewshire II.5 (Greenock). 25 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (revised 1896, published 1897) Renfrewshire II.5 (Greenock; Inverkip). 25 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Printed Sources

New Statistical Account (1845) Greenock, County of Renfrew, Vol. 7 p.423.

Online Sources

BBC - History - James Watt ( accessed 01/09/2021.

James Watt and Slavery in Scotland – History Workshop

(www.historyworkshop/james-watt-and-slavery-in-scotland) accessed 01/09/2021.

5 things you might not know about…James Watt | Engine Shed ( accessed 01/09/2021.

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

Listed building consent is required for changes to a listed building which affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The relevant planning authority is the point of contact for applications for listed building consent.

Find out more about listing and our other designations at You can contact us on 0131 668 8914 or at


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Printed: 28/09/2022 04:45