A brief timeline
The early efforts to deepen the River Clyde for navigation relied on the construction of groynes or jetties into the river to constrain the channel and use the natural scouring and deepening effect of the tides and the river flow. The effect was enhanced by joining the ends of the jetties by stone walls. By the middle of the 1830s the channel was deep enough to allow coastal steamers access to the Broomielaw but the narrowness of the channel was a major limitation to the development of Glasgow as a port. Compounding the problems was the expansion of industry on the reclaimed land lining the banks of the river.
By 1840, the harbour extended from the Broomielaw Bridge encompassing the Broomielaw though Anderson on the north bank and Windmillcroft on the south bank. The steamboat quay was situated at the western end of the harbour on the north bank where there was a lighthouse at the bottom of Hydepark Street. Further expansion and widening of the river was limited by the presence of Napier’s Dock at the bottom of Lancefield Street and Todd’s Springfield Cotton Works on the south bank.
The harbour in 1840
Parliamentary powers for deepening the river and expanding the harbour were sought and obtained with regularity over the next two decades and in 1858, the Clyde Navigation Trust was established and the previous Acts were consolidated under this new body. A priority was the provision of new quayage to alleviate the overcrowding of the harbour.
In addition to quays lining the banks of the river, a dock at Windmillcroft was approved in 1840 and a dock at Stobcross in 1846, but progress was generally slow. Lancefield Quay, west of Napier’s Dock was completed in 1844, and Finnieston Quay four years later. After Todd’s works moved to Dalmuir, Springfield Quay was completed in 1850 and rail access for mineral traffic was first provided about the same time to the General Terminus on the south bank. Precautions to decrease the risk of fire meant that horse power was used for moving goods on the docks and the power for cranes was provided hydraulically from a central power station that pressurized water.
Napier’s dock at Lancefield
Mavisbank Quay was finished in 1858 and the focus of the Clyde Trustees turned to the construction of docks, beginning with Windmillcroft Basin in 1864. The dock was completed in 1867 and was renamed Kingston Dock. A previous article has dealt with the subsequent story of the dock.
At Stobcross, a more extensive dock was made possible after agreement was reached with the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway that owned adjacent land and required financing from the Clyde Trust to develop the site. A new Act for the more extensive works was obtained in 1868. The Stobcross Slip-Dock, owned by Messrs Barclay, Curle & Co. began a move to Whiteinch in the following year. Construction of Stobcross Quay took place in the early 1870s, finally completed in 1882, and excavation of the new dock began in 1872.
Stobcross slip dock in 1869
Construction of the new dock at Stobcross was carried out in phases; the new basin for turning the increasingly larger ships was opened in 1877. Much of the remainder of the work was finished by 1880.
The new dock had been constructed with two basins and foundations were laid as a series of concrete cylindrical rings that were sunk into the mud and boulder clay. Once the cylinders were in place, the quay walls were built on top and the quayside filled with sand and concrete. The dock was then excavated by dredgers.
The north basin was allocated to mineral traffic and four coaling cranes were placed on the northern edge of the turning basin. The cranes were hydraulically powered and a power station was placed near the dock entrance. A swing bridge, also hydraulically operated, allowed movement across the dock entrance.
On the south bank of the Clyde, The shipyard of Messrs J. & G. Thomson at Clyde Villa moved in the early 1870s to a new site at Clydebank. This allowed the extension of the quays to Govan with the formation of Plantation Quay, completed in 1875.
A Dry Dock was also constructed at Govan. Begun in 1869, it was completed in 1875. A second dock was added in 1886, and a much larger third dock was added in 1898. These three public docks proved a great boon to the Clyde, its shipbuilders and ship repairers.
The success of the dock at Stobcross, renamed Queen’s Dock in 1877, revealed an increased need for more accommodation. The Clyde Trust had acquired land at Cessnock on the south bank of the river and an Act was authorized in 1883 for the construction of a large dock with three basins. Changes in the planning to accommodate the increasing size of ships meant that a revised Act was required and it was not until 1890 that approval was obtained and the work begun in earnest. The Cessnock dock, renamed Prince’s Dock, was opened in 1897. Hydraulic power was again employed although some experiments were carried out with electric power that influenced the later decisions to use electrical power at Rothesay Dock. The power station was located at the eastern end of the dock behind Plantation Quay.
The western quay of the dock was designed for fitting out ships and a 130 ton crane was provided. This supplemented a similar crane at Finnieston.
The next development involved the provision of deep-water berths and a basin at Yorkhill. The Kelvinhaugh slip dock was acquired around 1900 and in the middle of the first decade of the new century, construction of the quay walls commenced. Yorkhill quay and basin were opened in 1909. Photographs of Yorkhill can be seen in the article on the Anchor Line.
The brief history details the development of docks on the Clyde from the Broomielaw to the mouth of the Kelvin. The following annotated illustrations add some further details over a century beginning in the 1860s.
In illustrating this article, I have tried to avoid using slides that can be found in Christopher Jones’ site where the sights along the river and history of the river is thoroughly examined. There are a few instances where duplication has been unavoidable.
The journey begins in the city center. The first series shows a panorama of sorts taken from the tower of the Sailor’s Home looking first towards the Broomielaw Bridge with the off-set steamboat quay berths, designed to increase accommodation on the north bank and some steamboats awaiting their time at a berth on the south bank quay. An early dredger is working in the river and a tug is moving some mud punts to remove the debris.
Broomielaw around 1870 (Valentine)
In the second photograph, looking directly at Windmillcroft Quay, the dredger appears to be working with mud punts lying at the quay on the south bank. One of the channel steamers of Messrs Burns lies at the Broomielaw.
Windmillcroft Quay around 1870 (Becket)
The view down the river from the Sailor’s Home shows the steamers of Messrs Burns and Laird stretching along Anderston Quay. Across on the southside of the river on Springfield Quay, the shipping is crowded.
Anderston Quay (Becket)
Messrs Burns’ Penguin and the Messrs Laird’s paddle steamer Shamrock lie at Anderston Quay.
Anderson Quay (Becket)
The coming of the railway affected accommodation at the Broomielaw. Not only was quay accommodation restricted, but much of the downriver excursion traffic was lost as the public preferred to travel by train to Greenock, Gourock, Wemyss Bay or Craigendoran. In this view from around 1900, Medway is at the regular Sloan berth at Windmillcroft while Messrs Burns’ Alligator is at the Broomielaw on the north bank.
Broomielaw around 1900
Sloan’s steamers and York Street Ferry around 1914 (Judges)
Downriver from Windmillcroft Quay lies Springfield Quay that was the province of the Clyde Shipping Company Ltd., for many years. The Clyde Street ferry linked Springfield with Anderston Quay.
Messrs Laird’s Shamrock and Thistle at Anderston Quay and Clyde Street Ferry
Clyde Shipping Company’s Sanda anchored in the river off Springfield Quay
When the King George V bridge opened in 1927, the Broomielaw became the province of the now combined fleet of Messrs Burns and Laird and the Campbeltown Company and the excursion traffic moved to the Bridge Wharf on the south bank.
Messrs Laird’s steamer Hazel lies off Anderston Quay around 1914 (Judges)
Lairdsglen at Anderston Quay with the Clyde Street Ferry around 1930
Royal Scotsman and Davaar at the Broomielaw around 1936
Royal Scotsman at the Broomielaw and a largely deserted river
This postcard of the Broomielaw has been dated by the astute researches of the noted Burns and Laird Historian, Colin Campbell, to sometime in the afternoon of Sunday August 27, 1951. The ships on the north bank are Lairdsburn, Lairdshill, Lairds Loch, Lairds Moor and Lairds Ben and Royal Ulsterman with Baron Ailsa at Springfield Quay and Minard heading for Kingston Dock.
Broomielaw in 1951 (Ralston)
The General Terminus Quay was one of the most important points for dealing with mineral in the harbour as there was extensive access to railway traffic. Large transporter cranes allowed iron ore to be unloaded with amazing rapidity.
Lisita unloading at General Terminus Quay. Finnieston Crane can be seen on the right.
On the north bank, at the end of Anderston Quay is Lancefield Quay, and in the following picture, the Queen of Scots, sailing for the Waverley Steam Navigation Company in 1977 can be seen with the Kingston bridge behind her.
Queen of Scots at Lancefield Quay
Across the river is Mavisbank Quay with two MacBrayne paddle steamers, Mountaineer and Chevalier at the Quay around 1890.
Sailing ship at a buoy off Finnieston Quay
The Finnieston Ferry links Mavisbank to Finnieston Quay. It became the first of the elevated ferries to allow vehicular traffic to cross the river at the level of the quay walls. The level ferry platform could be raised or lowered to suit the tide. Finnieston was also the site of a heavy listing crane used for placing boilers machinery in ships and for loading particularly heavy cargo. The current hammerhead crane capable of lifting 175 tons was built to supplement the original 130 ton crane.
Finnieston Ferry around 1900 with the heavy lift crane on Finnieston Quay
The original elevating vehicular ferry was replaced by a second ferry in 1900 and was moved to Whiteinch. A third elevating ferry was introduced and the second ferry moved to the Govan crossing in 1912.
Finnieston Ferry at Mavisbank Quay
Finnieston Ferry looking downriver from the heavy-lift crane
There was also a passenger ferry a little upriver at Lancefield, seen here around 1977 with Betty’s Bar on Lancefield Quay.
Finnieston Passenger Ferry
The north bank continues with Stobcross Quay on the river and Queen’s Dock behind while on the south bank, Plantation Quay lines the riverside.
Plantation Quay with the ships Pinto and Harapangi
A favored spot for viewing this part of the river is on the Govan shore.
Looking up-river from Govan with Stobcross on the left and Plantation on the right. The ship is Messrs Burns’ Pointer
A puffer makes its way down the Clyde
The tug Flying Scotsman in action at Govan
Queen’s Dock consists of a turning basin and two dock basins. The north basin was designed for mineral traffic. Puffers and colliers could load coal at the coaling hoists.
Puffers loading coal in Queen’s Dock (Judges)
Steel & Bennie tugs bring in another sailing ship (Judges)
The collier Soborg in Queen’s Dock
Crossing the dock in the time honored fashion with one oar
Swing bridge at the entrance to Queen’s Dock
Dockworkers at the dock entrance on Pointhouse Road await work
Readying for work
Sailing ship L’Avenir in Queen’s Dock
A Clan Line turret ship and one of the Century Shipping Company’s cotton ships in the south basin of Queen’s Dock (Judges)
Lighters in the south basin
Two Steel & Bennie tugs head downriver from the entrance of Queen’s Dock
A quieter time around 1963 with some laid-up hopper barges
Puffers in Queen’s Dock in 1963
Across the river at Prince’s Dock, The Allan Line and Canadian Pacific had their berths. The Allan Line dominated the north basin.
Allan Line Carthaginian coaling
Allan Line Grampian in Prince’s Dock
Hesperian and lighters
Allan Line’s Pretorian negotiating an exit from Prince’s Dock
Canadian Pacific’s Metagama in Prince’s Dock
Winterhude in Prince’s Dock in 1927
One of Axel Bröstrom & Son’s turret ships at the mineral berths in the south basin of Prince’s Dock
The south basin of Prince’s Dock
Activity in Prince’s Dock
Heading out to sea from Prince’s Dock
At the entrance to Prince’s Dock, the Govan dry-docks were heavily used for ship repairing and for inspecting the hulls of ships built in the Clyde yards before and after their trials.
Govan dry-dock in the 1890s with Clan Alpine one of the ships in the dock. Across the river is a paddle steamer on Kelvinhaugh slip-dock and the entrance to Queen’s Dock
Govan dry-dock around 1890 with a Russian ship built at Dumbarton for the Black Sea in No. 2 dock and Clan Matheson in No. 1 Dock
Ophir, built in 1891 by Messrs Robert Napier & Sons, Ltd., Govan for the Orient Line in Dock No. 2
A view of the Govan dry-docks around 1905
Great Western Railway’s St. David in the dock at Govan around 1906
Although not very clear this view shows a ship with bow damage coming up the Clyde to Govan dock. She is escorted by a Steel & Bennie tug with the Anchor Line tender Express at the rear. Govan passenger ferry can be seen at the north bank terminus.
Anchor Line’s Express in the moonlight
The historic Govan Ferry provided communication between the north and south banks at the mouth of the Kelvin. A vehicular steam ferry was used with landing slips at the water level on both sides of the river was introduced in 1875.
Govan Horse Ferry of 1875
The ferry shown here was built in 1903 and transferred to Renfrew in 1912 when the elevating ferry was introduced.
The first elevating ferry was introduced at Govan in 1912. A new ferry was constructed for the busier Finnieston crossing and the older ferry, still named Finnieston, was moved to Govan.
The first elevating ferry at Govan in 1912
The elevating ferry at Govan in 1912
Govan Ferry in 1963. The passenger ferry can also be seen
Glasgow Fire-boat St Mungo in 1963
Queen Mary II passing the entrance to Queen’s Dock in 1963
Riddell, J. F.; “Clyde Navigation”, John Donald, Edinburgh, 1979.
Duckworth, C. L. D. and Langmuir, G. E.; “Clyde River and Other Steamers, 4th Edition”, Brown, Son & Ferguson, Glasgow, 1990.
Patton, B.; “The Glasgow Navy, Part Two: The Harbour Ferries”, Brian Patton, Foulden, 2015.