Scotlands History


Glasgow and West Central Scotland became famous for their quality engineering products because the area was close to centres of iron manufacture in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Motherwell.

Shipbuilding and engineering replaced the cotton industry, and whole towns of shipyard workers grew up. Clydebank did not exist in 1861, but by 1901 it was home to over 30,000 people.

Iron ships replaced wooden hulls, marine engines replaced canvas sails, and compound engines drastically reduced coal consumption. Between 1860 and 1870, more than 800,000 tons of iron ships were built on Clydeside, at huge shipyards laid out at Clydebank, Finnieston, Govan, Kelvinhaugh and Scotstoun.

Steel replaced wrought iron by the late 1870s, resulting in lighter vessels. In 1881, a more efficient, triple expansion (three-cylinder) engine was invented and introduced. By 1889, a full 97% of Clydeside’s ships were built of steel, and were being exported across the globe.

Until the late 1700s, the River Clyde upstream from Dumbarton was only navigable to shallow-draught boats like barges. Between Bowling and Dumbarton, it was so shallow you could wade across at low tide. Larger vessels couldn’t get up-river until the channel was deepened, within a series of breakwaters which allowed the faster-flowing stream to scour the riverbed.

The Clyde Navigation Trust was formed in 1809 and took on the management of the river. This allowed the shipbuilding industry to develop and flourish here. It also allowed Glasgow to develop into a major seaport, with each of its docks specialising in a different type of cargo - wood, livestock, grain, or coal and ores.

Downstream and across the river from Dumbarton, the town of Port Glasgow became renowned for shipbuilding, rope-making and sail-making - and also for the Comet, one of the first steamships ever built.

  • A photograph of the Cutty Sark.

Click on the image to view a larger version.

An oil painting of a man and woman walking passed a river lined with a stone wall

Can You Run a Shipyard?

Test your business skills with this interactive game on running a shipyard during the industrial revolution.


An ariel map of the river Clyde and the city of Glasgow

Mapping Glasgow and the Clyde

Explore an interactive map of Glasgow and the Clyde during the industrial revolution.