The Yards

With its many shipbuilding yards, Govan was perhaps best known the world over for its shipbuilding industry, although today you could be excused for overlooking this as only one survives. As T.C.F. Brotchie stated in his book The History of Govan “Shipbuilding made Govan and Govan made shipbuilding”. In the early 1830’s Govan was a relatively small fishing and weaving village, however in the 70 years that followed the banks of the Clyde at Govan would become unrecognisable as yards and docks developed all the way along from Linthouse to Tradeston.

Old Yard

The Old Yard

The first yard in Govan was the Govan Yard (Old Yard) and was opened by McArthur & Alexander in 1839 and lay just east of Water Row on the ancient site of Doomster Hill, in 1842 the yard was acquired by Robert Napier and in June 1843 his first ship the Paddle Steamer ”Vanguard” was launched from the "Old Yard". The 1000 horse-power Vanguard was one of the earliest iron ships and was built for the Dublin and Glasgow Steam Packet Company the ship weighed nearly 700 tons and was 189 feet in length and 26 feet in breadth. At the "Old Yard" Napier also built ships for the British Navy including the Iron Paddle Gunships the HMS Jackal, HMS “Lizard” and HMS “Bloodhound”. The HMS Simoon launched from the “Old Yard” in 1849 was one of the first iron steam frigates laid down although she was completed and launched as a Troopship. (the image to the left is "Govan in 1845" a painting by William Simpson which shows Napier's "Old Yard" to the left. Burrell Collection Photo Library)

In 1850 Robert Napier acquired the Govan East Yard situated approximately 150 yards east of the “Old Yard”. The “New Yard” as it was then called was run simultaneously with the “Old Yard” by Napier until 1858 when he gave it up. The “Old Yard” was then acquired by Messrs. James Napier & Hoey and subsequently occupied by Randolph, Elder & Co. in 1860. Whilst at the “Old Yard” Randolph, Elder & Co. built several ships including the 966 ton passenger cargo vessel the “Macgregor Laird”, however by 1863 the “Old Yard” was inadequate for the demands of Randolph, Elder & Co. who acquired new land on the estate of Fairfield which lay approximately 350 yards west of the “Old Yard”, Randolph, Elder & Co. moved their business to this new yard in 1863.

After Randolph, Elder & Co. vacated the “Old Yard” it was re-opened under the name Dobie, Hedderwick and McGaw, this company built 16 ships including the three iron paddle steamers Alexander No.1, No. 2 and No. 3, built for The Saloon Steam Packet Co. Ltd. However the company failed in 1866 and John Dobie under the name Dobie & Co. took sole control of the “Old Yard”. By the time of Dobie’s death in 1871 over 20 ships were built mainly iron barque sailing ships. After the death of John Dobie the company was sold to Messrs. Young & Alexander who carried it on under the name Dobie & Co. until the business went into liquidation with three ships lying unfinished in the stocks. The three ships; the iron barque “Loch Trool” and the two passenger cargo ships the SS Carthaginian and the SS Siberian which were built for the Allan Line were completed in 1884 after the “Old Yard” was rescued as the Govan Shipbuilding Company.

Mackie & Thomson Advertisement

After the failure of Dobie & Co. the "Old Yard" lay unoccupied until it was acquired by Messrs. Mackie & Thomson in October 1888 and was called the Govan Shipbuilding Yard. Mackie & Thomson built over 300 hundred vessels at the "Old Yard" including two of the largest sailing barques ever built in Govan, these impressive ships were the "Olivebank" and her sister ship the "Cederbank" launched in 1892, both ships weighed 2800 tons and were 326 feet in length and 43 feet in breadth. (the Mackie & Thomson advertisement to the right shows the Olivebank in full sail). Mackie & Thomson specialised in steam trawlers and built many at the "Old Yard" the earliest included the "Capricornus", "Aquarius", "Zodiac" and "Pisces". Mackie & Thomson were at the forefront of steam trawler design and construction having introduced wells into trawlers to ensure fish could be brought to land alive. Mackie & Thomson had 25 very successful years at the "Old Yard" until it was taken over by Harland & Wolff Limited in 1913, this effectively was the end of the "Old Yard" as Harland & Wolff who amalgamated it together with the Middleton Yard and the Govan East Yard (New Yard) forming one large yard that was completely rebuilt as Harland & Wolff Limited, Govan in 1912, this yard closed in 1962.

Today part of the Govan Market and car park lie at the site of the "Old Yard", and most of the land sadly still lays derelict however a new ferry service between Govan and the Riverside Museum fittingly leaves from where the “Old Yard's” slipways once launched many great ships.  

List of Ships built at the "Old Yard" (1842-1912) Discuss the "Old Yard" in the forum

Middleton Yard

PS Edinburg Castle

The Middleton Yard was opened in 1843 by Smith and Rodgers and was the second yard opened in Govan, it lay just east of the "Old Yard" and would eventualy be sandwiched between Old and New Yard on land that was previously the Middleton Estate. In February 1844 Smith & Rodgers launched their first ship at the Middleton Yard, the PS Caledonia which was followed by the PS Edinburgh Castle (Image to left shows PS Edinburgh Castle as PS Glengarry. Photo:Clydebuilt Database). Smith & Rodgers built and launched over 50 ships in the 21 years they were at the Middleton Yard. The last ship that Smith & Rodgers launched from the yard in February 1864 was the SS Hellepont a passenger cargo liner built for the London, New York & Philadelphia S.S.Company (Inman Line).

In 1864 the Middleton Yard was aquired by a consurtium of London bankers which also included James Rodger an engineer from Glasgow. The London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. as it was known soon aquired land at Ron Bank which belonged to the Lochhead family. The old Lochhead land lay between the "Old Yard" and the Middleton Yard allowing expansion to the west. London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. also bought land at Lancefield on the northern side of the River Clyde and established a boiler workshop there.


London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. were very successful at the Middleton Yard building numerous ships including many for the Cunard Line, such as the SS Carthinia and SS Sylvania both launched in 1895. The London and Glasgow also built many ships for the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company including SS Posang, SS Tai Sang, SS Lee Sang, SS Lien Shing, SS E Sang, SS Wo Sang, SS Tak Sang and the impressive 4000 ton SS Nam Sang which was launched in February 1902. Many ships were also built for the Royal Navy at the Middleton Yard; amongst them were the 10000 ton HMS Roxburgh a First Class Armoured Cruiser which was launched in January 1904 another ship built for the Royal Navy was the HMS Cumberland a cruiser launched in December 1902 (The Middleton Yard & the HMS Cumberland being fitted out can bee seen in the image to the right. Photo: Graham Lappin Collection). In 1910 London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. aquired Napiers Govan East Yard (New Yard) from the then owners William Beardmore and Co. Now as well as having the boiler shop at Lancefield and an engine works at Anderston Quay the London & Glasgow now owned the yards from Highland Lane up to Mackie & Thompson at the "Old Yard".

In 1912 Harland & Wolff Limited acquired both the Middleton and Govan East Yard from London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. along with the "Old Yard" from Mackie & Thomson creating one large yard which ran until 1962. Smith and Rodgers and London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. ensured that the Middleton Yard contributed greatly to the Govan shipbuilding reputation.

List of Ships Built at the Middleton Yard (1844-1912) Discuss the Middleton Yard in the forum

New Yard

Napier's Foremenn

In 1850 Robert Napier and Company opened their second yard lying east of the Middleton Yard, the yard was named the Govan East Iron Shipbuilding Yard, however it was better known as the Govan "New Yard". In 1853 Robert Napier and company's name changed to Robert Napiers & Sons after he made his two sons James and John partners, however James retired in 1857 and in 1858 the "Old Yard" was relinquished and Robert Napier himself retired in 1860 leaving his son John Napier running the "New Yard".

Robert Napier and his sons launched many ships at the "New Yard", in 1856 the Royal Navy commissioned Robert Napier & Sons to build one of the first iron-clad ships for the Crimean War, The HMS Erebus weighed 1800 ton, was 186 feet in length and 48 feet wide and her iron armour was 4 inches thick. Another ship built and launched at the "New Yard" was the 9800 ton HMS Black Prince which was the largest ship launched on the Clyde at the time in 1861, the launch of the iron-clad frigate drew a large crowd and it was said that it was an event that called for a public holiday in Glasgow. Also launched at the "New Yard" was the PS Douglas who was a Confederate blockade runner in the American Civil War after being renamed Margaret and Jessie. The photo to the left shows Napier's foremen on the day of the launch of PS Douglas on the 28th May 1858. (Photo: Glasgow School of Art Archives). Napier and sons also built many ships for the Cunard Line including the PS Persia which was built in 1856 and was the first iron ship that Cunard owned. In June 1861 Napier and son also launched the transatlantic PS Scotia which was to be the last paddle steamer of the Cunard Lines.


Robert Napier died in 1876 and the business was sold in order to settle his estate, Dr Alexander C Kirk and Mr James Hamilton aquired the business of Robert Napier & Sons for £270000 soon after. Dr Alexander Kirk now the senior partner in Robert Napier & Sons had trained under Robert Napier and as a manager with John Elder & Company he designed the triple expansion compound engine. Napier's "New Yard" was in good hands and the great ships built there by Kirk stood as a testament to this, (the image to the right shows the HMS Northampton at the "New Yard" launched in Novermber 1876 just after Napiers death and completed in 1878. Photo: Graham Lappin Collection) these ships included the SS Parisian the first transatlantic steamer made of steel which was built for the Allan Line in 1881 and the noteworthy SS Aberdeen also built and launched in 1881 from the "New Yard", it was the first ship to use the more effecient high pressure boliers in combination with the triple expansion engine which Kirk and his engine-works manager, Walter Brock perfected at Napiers. At around this time the Royal Navy were sceptical of using the compound steam engine, despite them being commonly used in the Merchant Navy, however Alexander Kirk pursuaded the Admiralty to order two 5600 ton Orlando Class Armored Cruisers fitted with the triple expansion engine, the first was the HMS Galatea laid down at the "New Yard" in April 1885 and launched in March 1887, the other Orlando Class Cruiser was the HMS Australia who was launched in November 1886, both Cruiser were completed at the "New Yard" in 1889. In 1895 the company became Robert Napier & Sons Limited.

One of the last ships to be launched under the famous name of Robert Napier was the Royal Mail Steamship Trent built 1900, the same year Robert Napier & Sons Ltd. became insolvent and the Govan East Yard was aquired by William Beardmore & Company who owned the Parkhead Forge. While at the "New Yard" William Beardmore & Company built about 12 ships, including the two armoured cruisers built for the Royal Navy, the first was the HMS Berwick a Monmouth Class Armoured Cruiser that was launched in September 1902 and the following year the HMS Carnavaron a Devonshire Class Armoured Cruiser was also launched from the "New Yard". In 1905 William Beardmore & Company moved their shipbuilding business to a new yard in Dalmuir. The London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. who already owned the adjacent Middleton Yard aquired the Govan East Yard in 1905, after this point it is not certain which ships were built at the "New Yard" and which were built at the Middleton Yard under London & Glasgow, however contemporary Ordnance Survey Maps clearly show the yards as two different entities and not one merged yard. In 1912 Harland & Wolff Limited acquired both the Middleton and Govan East Yard from London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. along with the "Old Yard" from Mackie & Thomson creating one large yard which ran until 1962.

List of Ships built at the "New Yard" (1850-1912) Discuss the "New Yard" in the forum

Clyde Bank Yard

SS Fingle

In 1851 James and George Thomson opened a yard at Bankton near Cessnock, the brothers already owned an engineering works at Finnieston and wished to expand into shipbuilding. The first ship launched at the Clyde Bank Shipbuilding Yard was PS Mountaineer which was launched in July 1852, more than 50 vessels were launched at the yard including the PS Clansman, and the illustrious SS Fingal who was aquired by the Confederate States Navy in 1861 and converted to an ironclad ram and renamed CSS Atlanta, the ship famously broke through the Union blockade at Savannah in the American Civil War. The ship then fell into the hands of the United States Navy in 1863. (Image to left shows SS Fingal then as USS Atlanta c1864)

In 1853 a prehistoric dug-out canoe was found in or near the Clyde Bank Yard at Bankton, this was one of several canoes found along the banks of the Clyde during the widening of the River.

In 1872 J & G Thomson were forced by a Compulsary Purchase Order to to sell the Clyde Bank Yard at Bankton to the Clyde Navigation Trust for £90,000, as a result J & G Thomson moved to a new yard further downstream in West Dunbartonshire taking with them the name Clyde Bank and effectively founding the town of Clydebank. J & G Thomson yard at Clydebank later became John Brown's Yard. The land at the Bankton Yard later became part of the Cessnock (Prince's) Dock known locally as the Panhandle due to the docks saucepan shape. The Glasgow Science Centre and Tower now occuppy the land where the Bankton Yard lay.

List of Ships built by J & G Thomson at the Clyde Bank Yard (1851-1872) Discuss the Clyde Bank Yard in the forum