Shipbuilding on the Clyde Books

Shipbuilding was once the greatest of Scotland's heavy industries, and it has a rich history stretching back nearly 250 years. Ports in Leith and Aberdeen had been building ships for centuries - such as King James IV's carrack Michael, built in 1511 - but it was the Clyde which became synonymous with shipbulding in the industrial era. Indeed, the name Clydebuilt became a by-word for quality and industry.

Yet the Clyde was not a natural port river, as it was too shallow. In 1768 a sequence of dykes was built to narrow the channel, increasing the water flow and deepening the river. Glasgow merchants helped fund it from the profits they made importing US tobacco, and other goods such as sugar, molasses, rum and cotton from the West Indies. In the 19th century the Clyde was further deepened and widened with a massive dredging project. Jetties became shipyards and shipbuilding replaced importing as the major activity on the river.

BooksfromScotland.com Essentials: Clydeside Shipbuilding

Our top four books on shipbuilding on the clyde - essential for any Scottish bookshelf

In 1812 Europe's first sea-going steam ship was launched at Port Glasgow, named The Comet. From Comet to Caledonia by Donald Watson is a history of the Clyde-built paddle steamers. Around 1850, the shipyards of Glasgow and Dumbarton were building half the iron steamships built in the United Kingdom, and in the 1880s steel began to replace iron.

There are many books available on ship building on the Clyde, such as Eric J. Graham's Clydebuilt, a history of the Blockade Runners, Cruisers and Armoured Rams of the American Civil War, around 40% of which were built in Scotland. Scotland's Great Ships by Brian D Osborne is a beautiful hardback containing photographs, illustrations and histories of many of Scotland's most famous ships, such as Cutty Sark and the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Cutty Sark, the fastest and greatest of the tea clippers was built in Dumbarton in 1869. Truly Clyde Built by William Kane is a comprehensive history of one of the most famous Clyde shipyards, Scott's of Greenock, which was first founded in 1711.

In the 20th century, the Clydeside shipyards built some of the most famous ocean liners, such as SS Persia (1900, Greenock) and RMS Lusitania (1906). The first four ships of the Cunard line were built on the Clyde, before the development of the passenger jet plane killed off the ocean liners. Prior to WWI, Clyde-built ships accounted for one-third of British shipping tonnage and nearly a fifth of the world's output of ships. However, Scotland's shipbuilding industry declined in the inter-war period, and little remains of the once-great industry.

Political Legacy

Clydeside's legacy was not just in engineering - British politics has been heavily influenced by the trade union movement at the shipyards. In the early part of the 20th century, Red Clydeside was known for its militancy and class consciousness, as explained in William Kenefick's book, and in Neil C. Rafeek's Communist Women in Scotland. Alastair J. Reid's The Tide of Democracy is an academic study of the politics of the ship building industry up until 1950.

Ian R Mitchell's The Clyde presents a more approachable introduction to the subject, and covers other Clydeside industries, such as coal mining and textiles. Brian Whittingham, himself once a shipbuilder, has collected many of the personal stories of the rise and fall of Clydeside shipbuilding in his book Bunnets 'N' Bowlers.

In Jimmy Reid organised a work-in of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, in protest at government plans to close the shipyard. Reid later became a journalist and broadcaster; some of his writing is collected in Power without Principles. Jimmy Reid died in August 2010.

Books on Ship-building on the Clyde

  • Cover scan of At The Sharp End!
    At The Sharp End!
    George H. Parker - Hardback - Brown, Son & Ferguson
    George Parker is the third generation of his family to embark on a shipbuilding career and has written of the industry that he loves, from the 'inside'. Here, he traces his career from apprenticeship to managing director.
  • Cover scan of Back From The Brink
    Back From The Brink
    Jamie Webster - Paperback - Brown, Son & Ferguson
    The fight to stop the closure of the Kvaerner Govan shipyard in Glasgow was the most high profile industrial campaign in Scotland since the 1970s. Just days away from closure in 1999, the yard is asked to participate in the building of a multi-billion pound warship order from the Minstry of Defence. This book tells the story.
  • Cover scan of Clydebuilt
    Clydebuilt: Blockade Runners, Cruisers And Armoured Rams Of The American Civil War
    Eric J. Graham - Paperback - Birlinn
    Using contemporary accounts and individual case studies, 'Clydebuilt' presents an account of Scotland's involvement in the American Civil War Blockade, an involvement which almost certainly prolonged the conflict by several years.
  • Cover scan of From Comets To Caledonia
    From Comet To Caledonia
    Donald Watson - Hardback - Brown, Son & Ferguson
    This book tries to establish what several of the Clyde paddle steamers actually looked like as originally built, what changes were made to them during their lives, and what they looked like in their final condition.
  • Cover scan of The Golden Years Of The Anchor Line
    The Golden Years Of The Anchor Line
    Bill Spalding - Hardback - Stenlake
    The Anchor Line was one of the great shipping companies of the Clyde and was famed for its sleek liners operating between Glasgow and New York and for its smart steamers sailing to India. This book brings together Glasgow Museums' collection of Anchor Line material.
  • Cover scan of Old Clydebank
    Old Clydebank
    Sheila Struthers - Paperback - Richard Stenlake
    Clydebank was formed in the late 19th century when a shipyard was forced to relocate from Govan. When the Singer sewing machine factory was built nearby, more workers flooded into the town. Included in this title are views of shipbuilding, the Queen Mary under construction and local football teams.
  • Cover scan of Old Port Glasgow
    Old Port Glasgow
    Joy Monteith - Paperback - Stenlake
    Port Glasgow was created in the 1660s as a deep water port for the city. Along with sail and rope-making, shipbuilding became a key source of employment in the town. This book illustrates the key aspects of Port Glasgow's growth and redevlopment from the late Victorian period up to 1970.
  • Cover scan of Scotland's Great Ships

    £21.25
    Scotland's Great Ships
    Brian D. Osborne; Ronald Armstrong - Hardback - Luath
    Combining ships' histories with their involvement and significance in Scottish life and imagination, this is a unique study of Scotland's often forgotten maritime legacy.
  • Cover scan of Truly Clyde Built
    Truly Clyde Built: The Scott Family Enterprise
    William Kane - Hardback - Brown, Son & Ferguson
    Scott's of Greenock grew from a small family business building and repairing Herring Busses in 1711 to leading the world in both merchant and naval shipbuilding, building surface and subsurface vessels to the highest standards.

Books on the Political Legacy of Red Clydeside

  • Cover scan of Bunnets 'N' Bowlers

    £7.64
    Bunnets 'N' Bowlers: A Clydeside Odyssey
    Brian Whittingham - Paperback - Luath
    Shipbuilding was once the lifeblood of the Scottish economy. 'Bunnets 'n' Bowlers' takes you behind the scenes to show the drinking, swearing and survival of the artisans who built the world's greatest ships.
  • Cover scan of The Clyde
    The Clyde: Red, Orange And Green
    Ian R. Mitchell - Paperback - Luath
    Juxtaposing fascinating social history with guides to the best walks in the diverse landscape, 'The Clyde' uncovers the forgotten tales and hidden cultural treasures that make up Greater Glasgow's rich heritage.
  • BDS Thumbnail Image
    Communist Women In Scotland: Red Clydeside From The Russian Revolution To The End Of The Soviet Union
    Neil C. Rafeek - Hardback - Tauris Academic Studies
    Neil Rafeek makes the first systematic study of 'Red Clydeside', the term given to communism, radical Labour and trade unionism in Scotland. He focuses on the role of women in the Communist Party and describes women's experiences of meeting leading international personalities of the era.
  • Cover scan of The Tide Of Democracy
    The Tide Of Democracy: Shipyard Workers And Social Relations In Britain, 1870-1950
    Alastair J. Reid - Hardback - Manchester University Press
    This comprehensive study examines British shipbuilding and industrial relations from 1870 to 1950, addressing economic, social and political history to provide a holistic approach to industry, trade-unionism and the early history of the Labour Party.
  • Cover scan of When The Clyde Ran Red
    When The Clyde Ran Red
    Maggie Craig - Hardback - Mainstream
    This work paints a picture of the days when revolution was in the air on Clydeside. Through the bitter strike at the Singer plant in 1911, Bloody Friday in George Square in 1919, the General Strike of 1926 and on to the Spanish Civil War, the men and women of Glasgow and beyond fought for the right to work and a fairer society.

Clyde Shipyards in Fiction & Poetry

  • Cover scan of A Rose Loupt Oot
    A Rose Loupt Oot: Poetry And Song Celebrating The UCS Work-In
    - Paperback - Smokestack
    This brings together songs written during the UCS work-in, as well as poems reflecting on the campaign by writers like Edwin Morgan, Jackie Kay, and Alistair Findlay.
  • Cover scan of Waterline
    Waterline
    Ross Raisin - Paperback - Viking
    Mick Little used to be a shipbuilder in the Glasgow docks. He returned from Australia 30 years ago with his beloved wife Cathy, who longed to be back home. But now Cathy's dead and it's probably his fault. Soon Mick will have to find a new way to live - get a new job, get away, start again, forget everything.