Clydebuilt – Glasgow’s Shipbuilding Heritage
‘Clydebuilt’ used to be a byword for quality and productivity in shipbuilding, harking back to the days when Scotland was the world’s largest shipbuilding nation and the shipyards on the banks of the River Clyde were churning out the world’s greatest ships. Initially the Clyde was a narrow and shallow waterway, but through conscious efforts directed by Glasgow’s ambition of becoming an important port the river was transformed to fulfill that ambition.The first shipyard was established on the River Clyde in 1712 and since then over 25,000 ships have been built on the Clyde, and over 300 firms have engaged in shipbuilding on Clydeside over the space of several centuries.
Tens of thousands of men worked the shipyards which dominated the banks of the Clyde from Glasgow to Greenock. Yachts, tall ships, steamers, warships, and ocean liners were all built on the Clyde, corresponding with technological advances. Shipbuilding replaced trade as the major activity on the Clyde, which gained a reputation for being the best location for shipbuilding in the British Empire, and the most technologically advanced shipbuilding area in the world, to an extent that at a time over 100,000 people were working on the shipyards and related industries and the Clyde was producing over half of world’s ships. Glasgow had become a major international industrial city, the Second City of the Empire.
The boom and bust of shipbuilding on the Clyde came as a result of the two World Wars. During both wars Clyde shipbuilders made a huge contribution to the war effort, producing more ships than any other shipbuilding area in the country. World War II and the decades afterwards slowly sealed the fate of the area’s industry. The Luftwaffe had targeted Clydebank and the shipyards, causing heavy damage. Other shipbuilding nations rose and surpassed the Clyde in competitiveness and productivity. The jet aeroplane was developing quickly and taking freight and passenger traffic away from the shipping lines. The 1960s brought the great shipbuilding days of the Clyde an end.
Only a handful of shipyards remain on the Clyde. Two major shipyards, in Scoutstoun and Govan, are operated by BAE Systems Surface Fleet Solutions, creating advanced warships for the Royal Navy. A single shipyard remains in Port Glasgow construction car ferries. The shipbuilding heartlands of Glasgow have given way to tourism and 21st century regeneration, giving it a new lease on life. Even so, the glory days of Glasgow’s shipbuilding days are survived by landmarks scattered around the banks of the Clyde, such as the Finnieston Crane, on the left in the photo above and also visible in yesterday’s photo. The cantilever crane was once the largest in the world and only 60 were ever built around the world. Four out of the six built on the Clyde remain to this day to remind future generations of this part Glasgow’s history.
Glasgow Trivia #11: Some quite famous ships were built on the Clyde. Here’s a few you might recognize:
Cutty Sark. Built in 1869, the last clipper to be built as a merchant vessel, she became one of the fastest sail-ships in the world, making record times between Britain and Australia. Now sitting in dry dock in Greenwich, London, she is currently undergoing conservation after being badly damaged by fire in 2007.
Glenlee. Built in 1896, she is one of only five Clyde-built tall ships still afloat. In 1993, 97 years after leaving Glasgow, she was rescued by the Clyde Maritime Trust from being scrapped in Spain. She is now a museum ship known as The Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour.
RMS Lusitania. The largest passenger ship afloat when built in 1906, she was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off the coast of Ireland when returning from New York on May 7th, 1915. 1,198 lives were lost, including 128 Americans and the tragedy hastened US entry into WWI.
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