Govan was for 100 years the centre of shipbuilding on the Clyde. Robert Napier (1791-1876), often called 'the father of shipbuilding on the Clyde', took over a small wood shipbuilding yard there in 1841 and developed it into a huge enterprise.
Not only was he an innovator who produced high quality work
notably for the Admiralty and the Cunard Line, but he also trained
many of the next generation of shipbuilders such as the Thomson
brothers, who established John Brown's Shipyard in
Clydebank, John Elder and William Pearce.
Fairfield, the incongruous name deriving from the farm than once
stood on the site, began in 1864 with Randolph, Elder &
Co, which then became John Elder & Co. John
Elder (1824-69) was an inspired marine engineer responsible
for developing the compound engine, the fuel efficiency of which
enabled ships to make much longer voyages. Elder died aged
only 45 in 1869. Boehm's sculpture of Elder in Elder Park shows him standing beside one of
his compound engines. William Pearce (1833-88) took over management
of the yard and the company went from strength to strength. Along
with Napiers it became one of the principal suppliers of
the Royal Navy and during the 1880s repeatedly won the Blue
Riband for fast transatlantic crossings.
In 1888 the yard became Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering
Company and grew to become the largest and most successful of all
the Clyde shipyards, building warships, liners and steamers.
In 1912, for instance, 12 ships were simultaneously under
With the decline in shipbuilding after the Second World War and
increasing competition from abroad, Fairfield went bankrupt in
1966. It was quickly reconstituted and has undergone a number of
transformations and different names in recent years including Upper
Clyde Shipbuilders, Lithgow and Kvaerner. It is now part of BVT
Also at Govan (Back