The River Clyde has always played an important role in the
history of Glasgow. It is often said, "Glasgow made the Clyde, and
the Clyde made Glasgow". As engineers made the river more
navigable, the city's commerce and industries flourished.
'Glasgow was checked and kept under by the shallowness of her
river, every day more and more filling [silting] up',wrote one of
Oliver Cromwell's excise officers in the mid-17th century.
Merchants had to off-load their cargoes at one of the ports and
have them carried upriver on pack horses or in small boats.
The tobacco and sugar trade expanded rapidly between 1707 and
1800. As International trade developed
pressure increased from the 'tobacco lairds' to deepen the river so
bigger vessels could dock in Glasgow itself.
A succession of brilliant engineers, including James Smeaton,
John Golborne and Thomas Telford, devised ways of deepening the
river bed. They used dykes to channel the natural scouring power of
the water. Parts of the Upper Clyde were canalised.
From around 1775 small coasters could safely come upstream. From
1818 foreign trading vessels could dock at the Broomielaw.
Dredgers and blasting continued to deepen the Clyde to accommodate
ever larger ships. This enabled the huge expansion of Clydeside's
international trade, the rapid increase in shipbuilding and the
significant development of the The Steam Engine throughout the 19th
and early 20th centuries.
Clyde shipbuilding played a vital role during the early 20th
century, especially during the First and Second World Wars, with
Clydebank become a target for World War 2: Clydeside
bombing. Terminal decline set in during the 1960s with
only a few shipyards now remaining at Govan, Scotstoun and
Now the Clyde is experiencing massive regeneration, finding a
new identity as a recreational, residential and business area.
More on the history of the River Clyde (Back to