COWAN'S Corner is a reminder of how an obstinate shop owner took on the town council and thwarted its plans for the construction of the Municipal Buildings.

From the 1850s onwards the council started buying up all the property on the projected site. These purchases included the office where the Telegraph started in 1857.

But the council did not anticipate it would run into problems when attempting to negotiate with a certain Robert Cowan.

The Cowan story goes back to the early 1800s when the firm of Cowan & Lawrie opened a shop on a corner site in Cathcart Square.

Moving on a number of years, the business was now operated by brothers Daniel and Robert Cowan who were important drapers and property owners in the town when the Municipal Buildings scheme was planned.

Daniel decided to try his luck at gold digging and joined thousands of amateur prospectors who sailed to Australia in search of fortune.

Robert came to financial terms with his brother regarding the partnership and stayed behind to run the business at the square.

The council made every effort to reach a compromise but Robert refused to sell his property.

The area where Cowan’s Corner stands was originally intended to include fire-proof rooms for the storage of civic records, and a banqueting hall.

This part of the buildings would be surmounted by a tower.

Only when the plans were altered, owning to the fact the corner site could not be acquired, was Greenock’s famous landmark — the Victoria Tower — designed.

Work started on the Municipal Buildings in 1881 and was completed in 1886.

The total cost was £197,061 — a colossal amount then — and it left the town with a debt not finally cleared until 1952.

After the buildings were finished, further legal proceedings started and a court decision meant Robert Cowan had to move.

He opened new premises at the corner of Westburn Street and West Blackhall Street.

As is known to many residents, the property at the corner of the square was destroyed during the Blitz of 1941.

Despite Robert Cowan being forced out, it would appear the council could not proceed with any plans it had for the site prior to the Blitz.

A 1957 Telegraph story stated that only a few years earlier had Greenock Corporation managed to negotiate its purchase due to conflicting claims by descendants of the original owners.

The article said that it had been suggested the corporation might finally be able to complete the Municipal Buildings to approximately the original designs.

Under recent Government restrictions on capital expenditure, however, this had not yet been considered by the corporation.

The story ended with the prediction it might be many years before the corporation could think of filling up the blank site.

Its writer was absolutely correct and today Cowan’s Corner remains vacant but is a landscaped area with seating.

The accompanying image is an impression of Cathcart Square including Robert Cowan’s property on the corner site. The image likely dates to the 1920s or earlier.