With the news that Ferguson Shipyards were awarded a £97 million pounds contract to build three CalMac ferries, effectively securing the near future of shipbuilding on the Clyde. It’s a far cry from the heydays of shipbuilding on the Clyde.

In some form or another shipbuilding has been taking place on the River Clyde since the 15th century but at its peak in the 1900’s it was said that a fifth of all ships were built on the River Clyde.

Amazingly 30,000 ships were built in total across the shipyards on the Clyde. It’s often said that the Clyde made Glasgow and Glasgow made the Clyde. It’s easy to understand why.

1. Lava Runs Through The Clyde

dredger 1824

Before the Clyde was dredged to become the epicentre of Glasgow’s economy, parts of it were so shallow, a person could cross from one bank the other side without any aid of a boat. There also happened to be lava beds at Elderslie which needed removing. Throughout the course of 53 years, 108,000 tonnes of sediment were removed, in doing this it allowed Glasgow to evolve into the greatest shipbuilding industry in the history of western civilisation.

2. PS Comet


In 1812 Henry Bell single handedly changed history with a simple request, he asked shipbuilders on the Clyde to create him a ship, which inadvertently caused a revolution in the shipbuilding industry. The PS Comet became the first commercially successful steamboat service in Europe. The specific route was Glasgow to Greenock. Eventually the route would first travel up and stop at to the Broomielaw and then continue onward to Greenock. The initial success didn’t go unnoticed and within two years, there were multiple commercial steamboats perusing the Clyde, however The PS Comet had undoubtedly made history.

3. QE2

QE2 being launhed

One of the most famous ships ever to set sail. The QE2 was built and berthed on the Clyde by the John Brown Shipyards. Launched in 1967 and named by Queen Elizabeth 2, the ribbon was cut using the same pair of scissors her mother and grandmother used to launch the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. Many say that the QE2 was the most magnificent ship to have ever been built, and almost certainly the greatest to be built on the Clyde.

4. The Shipbuilders Work In, 1971

Work In Protest

When thousands of shipbuilders livelihoods were deemed surplus to requirement by Edward Heath and the Conservative Government. What transgressed following the refusal of the Government to finance a £6 million pounds emergency loan made headlines across the world. The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) workers, who had £87 million pounds of outstanding orders to complete, simply refused to leave the shipyards, determined to finish the outstanding orders. Many consider the following man responsible for “The Work In”, one of the greatest union coups in political history. Forcing the Conservative Government to renege and instead keep the shipyards open.

5. Jimmy Reid


Govan born, in 1932, Jimmy Reid lived amongst the shadow of the mighty Govan shipyards. It was the shipyards that helped him to rise to prominence due to the afore mentioned “Work In”. Considered one of the last great orators, his speech after being sworn in as Rector for Glasgow University was printed in full by the New York Times, and placed in the same bracket as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. His “Work In” speech when addressing the shipyards captivated the world and ensured the workers knew the eyes of the world were watching eagerly.

6. Finnieston Crane/Titan Crane


At 84 years old the Finnieston Crane, was the final Cantilever Crane built on the Clyde, and currently one of only eleven left in the world. Further down the water at Clydebank, the Titan Crane was the world’s first electrically powered Cantilever Crane. Both have become symbols of Glasgow and Clydebank’s engineering past and are one of the most distinctive images known to Scotland. The Titan was responsible for launching some of greatest ships ever built on the Clyde whilst the Finnieston helped load steam trains and heavy loads onto ships, sending them all across the globe.

7. The War Years

Glasgow Shipyards 1944
Glasgow Shipyards 1944

Leading up to WW1 the Govan shipyards collectively employed more than 70,000 people across 19 yards and were responsible for more than a quarter of all Royal Navy ships being built. During World War 2 it was also said that the shipyards never shut, such was the reputation that preceded the shipyards but also Royal Navy’s demand and need for warships.

8. The Father of Clyde Shipbuilding


It can be said that the industrial legacy and historical significance of shipbuilding on the Clyde can be traced back to one man. Robert Napier, who was responsible for building the first steamships on the Clyde in the late 1830’s, this in turn helped stimulate investment for building ships on the Clyde. Many of the names most synonymous to the shipyards apprenticed under Napier. Fairfield Shipbuilding and John Brown & Co, being arguably the most famous.

9. Celebrity Shipyards

Billy Connolly and Sir Alex Ferguson at the funeral of Jimmy Reid

Some of the most celebrated individuals of the last century have been intertwined with the Clyde Shipbuilding, Alex Ferguson claims that his shipyard upbringing helped shape who he was as a person. Billy Connolly joined the shipyards from school, where he developed (amongst other things) the realisation that he could make people laugh. Both were part of the apprentice strikes during the 60’s (led by a young Jimmy Reid). Billy Connolly also lent his support for the “Work In” of 71, Labour Stalwart Tony Benn protested in Glasgow, Sean Connery starred in a documentary fighting the closure and John Lennon donated £5000 to support the “work in” cause.