The Shipbuilders: An Anthology of Scottish Shipyard Life

The Shipbuilders: An Anthology of Scottish Shipyard Life

The Shipbuilders: An Anthology of Scottish Shipyard Life

The Shipbuilders: An Anthology of Scottish Shipyard Life


One of the defining images of the Clyde and Glasgow are the great ships and yards which have dominated them through much of their history. This comprehensive anthology covers the life and times of the yards and the men who lived in them.


When I grew up on the Clyde in the 1970s shipbuilding was still a major industry. It might not have been as vibrant as it once was, but the river was still definitely alive with ships. We would stand outside our Helensburgh home at Hogmanay and listen to the ships’ hooters sounding from across the water at Greenock and Port Glasgow. To my young ears the sound was mightily impressive.

After a launch, massive baulks of timber would be washed up on the shore at Craigendoran, and my friends and I would aim our skimming stones at them. As we fished from the pier we would watch the ships sail up and down the Clyde. Among them were newly built tankers, bulk carriers, warships and who knows what else. I didn’t really know what they were then, but I knew they were exciting. What I wasn’t to know was that these were the products of an industry going through its death throes.

When I began studying naval architecture in the early 1980s, my tutors assured me that although shipbuilding was going through a hard time the upturn must surely be just around the corner. I remember passing by the oil rigs being built at Scott Lithgow’s. They had found a new market, and I assumed their future was bright. We visited yards such as Yarrow’s and Ferguson’s to study their modernisation programmes. Yes, shipbuilding had been through hard times, but the yards seemed to be preparing for the future.

Despite trying to get a start in a Scottish shipyard it was Harland and Wolff in Belfast that took me on. Sadly, that upturn around the corner just never seemed to happen. I witnessed incredible waste and inefficiency. I watched men who had been in the yard all their lives being told that they needn’t come back the following week. It didn’t take long before I realised that perhaps this hadn’t been the wisest career choice I could have made.

It is now many years since I worked in a shipyard and I have long since gone on to other things, but despite that I will always remain in my heart a shipbuilder. I am immensely proud of the fact that I was involved in the industry, even if it was only in a very minor way. And anyone who has worked in shipbuilding will tell you the same. It touches you in some way. You may be able to leave shipbuilding but it will never leave you.

So what is it about shipbuilding that makes people feel this way?

Essentially it has a romance and it has a history.

A romance because of the great ships that were built. The Queen Mary, the Lusitania, HMS Hood, and countless other great ships, caught the imagination of . . .

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