I've driven by past these buildings all my life, but only yesterday did I learn that the Greenock Sugar Sheds anticipated the Bauhaus and reference John Ruskin's Italian medievalism. They are cathedrals of industry, an essential part of the historic James Watt Dock and the largest brick and cast iron warehouses surviving from Victorian Scotland. Greenock had scores of sugar refineries in the mid 19th century, and was the most important trading centre for the sweet stuff outside London. It is with some shame we remember that this industry was built on slavery, but it is also of some comfort to know that independent West Indian countries still sent sugar to Greenock until the late 20th century - until the subsidies to European sugar beet finally killed a Clydeside industry as well as damaging Caribbean economies.
The sugar sheds were saved from demolition by Historic Scotland and partner agencies after a fire in 2006. Local people got to experience the vast space themselves last month during the Tall Ships Race, when the sheds were opened up and transformed into a magical stage set for bands, theatre groups and artists. Audiences loved what they saw so much that they want to reclaim the sheds for community use - they had been earmarked as offices. They have launched a culturally savvy campaign on facebook together with a blog. It reminds you how much pride people take in their social history and the importance of a sense of place, and of the past, in urban regeneration. I write about the campaign today in my Scotsman column.