Down by the river: the abandoned docks

This stretch of the River Clyde’s waterfront is a shiny chrome new world that has displaced a crumbling concrete old one.

There is a digital media hub, ambitiously hyped as a creative quarter by the kind of job that depends on declaring it so. Landscaped clear water sparkles in the mirrored windows and chrome tiles of the Science Centre. There are the ubiquitous docklands style flat developments, squinty bridges, various conference and concert centres, the sleek digital and glass centre for BBC Scotland and the pleated roof of Zaha Hadid’s Riverside Museum.

The design of these shrines to leisure and media borrow heavily from the old industrial and ship building heritage of the past. The Science Centre’s titanium-clad crescent shape structure represents the canted hull of a ship, a reference to the adjacent canting basin, where vessels were brought to have the marine growth removed from their hulls. In the middle of this assortment are monolithic slabs of what is left of the canting basin and granite docks, an abandoned relic surviving from an increasingly bygone era of ingenious engineering and shipbuilding. Few Clyde docks now survive as many were filled-in to make way for modern housing developments.

Graving or dry docks carry out repair work to parts of the hull normally submerged under water. The Govan docks helped maintain and repair hundreds of Clyde-built ships and were built between 1869 and 1898 under the direction of James Deas, a talented civil engineer responsible for improved development of the Clyde.  They were the deepest docks in Britain at a time when Glasgow led the world in shipbuilding. There are still crane tracks, bollards and rusting machinery but little remains of the sheds and buildings apart from the shell of an old pump house.

The docks remain Category A-listed and is on the Scottish Civic Trust’s Builings at Risk register. Various consortiums have planned to turn the docks into an urban watersports centre, apartments and leisure facilities. Recently a campaign has been launched to turn the docks into a shipbuilding heritage park.

For the moment the docks are an accidental ecology for wildlife and an abandoned extended playground for the Govan youth as the New Glasgow continues to grow around them.

In Pictures: Post-war Glasgow in 1950
Govan No 3 Graving Dock: Glasgow City Archives Clyde Navigation Trust

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14 thoughts on “Down by the river: the abandoned docks

  1. Interesting post Alex and quite struck by how ‘green’ the Govan docks look. As you say an accidental ecology for wildlife. The old pictures of the docks in their heyday also show the scale of what was once an industrial powerhouse. Nice to see the Finnieston crane in there. Thanks.

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    • I went there a couple of years ago and it was full of undergrowth and young trees beginning to colonise the docks. It has been cleared back to some extend but the west end of the docks is more wilderness than dock now. Something to wonder at how nature can take over even the most sturdiest man-made structure.

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  2. I enjoyed these photographs very much. Abandoned docks have a peculiar sense of blankness about them – I guess it’s their size and geometric forms. It’s interesting to try and imagine them 100 years hence.

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  3. I really enjoyed this post. It’s interesting how different regions are securing their dock heritage: Liverpool is one fine example. Nearer home Deptford and Woolwich dockyards are being pushed aside for the tower blocks for wealthy foreign investors. I hope the Clyde fares better,

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    • Thanks for that. I can still just remember how undeveloped it was from Tower Bridge onwards decades ago. Seems extraordinary when you see how busy it is now. A lot of the Glasgow docks have already been filled in but unlike London the Clyde waterfront still feels empty and quiet at times as the city, until relatively recently, turned its back on it for so many years because it was the working docks.

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