“The hardest work begins in dry dock.” *

Visiting Glasgow is always a pleasure for me. The rough-and-tumble of the city feels familiar and comfortable, and I have a long-ish history with it, largely through its music. But as well as the art galleries, architecture, music and foodie scenes, I’ve become very interested in Glasgow’s archaeology, and its industrial and maritime history. With this in mind, on a recent quick visit I boarded the (free!) ferry outside the Riverside Museum and headed over to Govan.

Govan may not be at the top of the list for many visitors to Glasgow, but it really should be on there somewhere, not least to see the amazing 10th/11th century Govan Stones at Govan Old Church. However, alongside these ancient monuments, there is also evidence of Govan’s more recent, industrial, history to be seen: Govan Graving Docks.

The docks are situated on the south side of the Clyde, just west of the Science Centre. A ‘graving dock’ is another name for a traditional type of dry-dock where the repair and maintenance of ships is undertaken. The ship is floated into the dock basin and then water-gates (or caissons) are closed behind it and the water is then pumped out of the basin, leaving the ship resting on blocks. These docks were constructed by the Clyde Navigation Trust in the late-nineteenth century, opening in stages between 1875 and 1898, and were used for the maintenance and refits of Clyde Steamers and other large vessels up until their closure in 1987.

I wasn’t sure how accessible the site would be but the gate was open, so I made my way in to the dock area where there are three large basins, a couple of derelict buildings and other bits and bobs of dock equipment.

The docks are a Category A listed monument but also on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland. In Glasgow, as in other industrial and maritime cities, many ex-industrial sites and structures have long since been sold off to developers and now command top price as luxury apartments and high-end shopping and dining areas, so the graving docks are special; a rare survival of Glasgow’s industrial and mercantile past (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-45331246).

Some of the fragments of equipment look like winch or crane bases, haulage wheels and some lengths of track. Around the basins there are stone-cut steps allowing access to the working space around the undersides of the ships’ hulls.

This basin still has its depth-markers.

The water-gates are a bit battered but still basically intact.

After some time of wandering around and generally peering at stuff, I made my way back to the gate, only to find that it was now shut! Fearing that I would have to attempt to climb the fence (an unseemly activity for a woman of my advanced years), I tried the bolt and, to my relief, it wasn’t locked*. I did get a few funny looks from the mechanics working in the garages along by the docks but I bet I’m not the first random dock-fan that they’ve seen.

For lots of lovely information about Govan Docks, have a look at the excellent Hidden Glasgow website, where you can see photos of the docks in use. Other references are also below.

TTFN

.

* Sam Wineburg

** Don’t worry, I made sure that the gate was shut behind me.

Clyde docks Preservation Initiative http://cdpi.org.uk/govan-docks/default.aspx

Govan Docks Regeneration Trust https://govandocks.wordpress.com/

#Glasgow #archaeology #industrialarchaeology #river #Clyde #docks

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