Shipbuilding on the Clyde

The River Clyde has been a centre for shipbuilding for hundreds of years, with boats being built in the area possibly as early as the 15th century.

However, it was during the 19th century, in places such as Bowling Harbour, Denny's Shipyard in Dumbarton, John Brown's Shipyard at Clydebank and Govan Graving Docks, that shipbuilding became a real source of commerce for Glasgow.

The advent of the The steam engine marked massive opportunities for Glasgow to expand its heavy industry.Between 1844 and 1963, Denny's shipyard alone built over 1500 ships. The Denny family was involved in building the first steamship that crossed the Channel (1814), the first turbine steamer (1901), and the first diesel-electric paddle (1934), to name a few. Also well-known from Dumbarton was the fast clipper Cutty Sark, currently a visitor attraction in London.

For many, though, the heart of the shipping industry in Glasgow lay in Govan and the Fairfield Shipyards. At Fairfield, Robert Napier, known as 'the father of shipbuilding on the Clyde', trained many of those who went on to establish leading shipyards, including John Brown's Shipyard in Clydebank. These shipyards grew towards the end of the nineteenth century to become the some of the leading suppliers of the Royal Navy, as well as building liners and steamers, and the tradition continues today with BAe Systems yards at Govan and Scotstoun.

A shipbuiding landmark on the Clyde is the Finnieston Crane at Yokhill. Completed in 1931, it was primarily used to load large steam ocomatives for exportation. In addition, it was used to fit large ships' engines. This impressive machine is still in working order.

After World War Two the shipping industry went into decline and by the 1960's, Fairfield had collapsed.

Recently, however, regeneration of the Clyde Waterfront has attracted new industry to the area, including financial services, digital media and tourism. However, the long tradition of Shipbuilding in the area continues.

More on the history of the River Clyde (Back to listing)