I am old enough to remember sailing down the Clyde from the city centre past docks filled with merchantmen from Blue Funnel, Clan Line, and many others, view liners from Canadian Pacific or Cunard, past shipyards building tankers, freighters and warships - all bar the latter scenes from the past.  The other joy was to visit the Ship Court of the Art Gallery and Museum and view models of these very ships, in many cases the models being larger than myself.  These models and their successors are now to be found in the Clyde Room of the Glasgow Museum of Transport, the most visited Transport Museum in Britain [2002]. 

This room contained a large and fascinating collection of models of vessels associated with the Clyde. It includes sailing ships, passenger liners and paddle steamers, cargo liners and tankers, dredgers, tugs, a floating dock, steam and sailing yachts and an oil rig. A complete model of Govan Shipbuilders of 1977 shows just how recent is the demise of merchant shipbuilding on the upper Clyde. Thereby it is not just a collection of models but also a display of ship design and evolution over the last two hundred years. As most of the models have been donated by the shipyards whose products they represent or by the shipping companies that owned them, they have an unrivalled authenticity.  The result is the museum, with over seven hundred models, has one of the finest exhibitions to be found anywhere in the world.  Most are to the traditional imperial scale of ¼inch=1foot(1:48), although there are also a number at 1:32, 1:96 scale and the occasional more complex e.g. the Queen Mary is 1:57.9. 

The Clyde Room  (as was) Case shown - Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth with QE2 behind and Arcadia visible bottom centre. 
On entry one sees the first ships of the age of steam and is made aware of how ship development and shipbuilding on the Clyde are intertwined.  Thus we start with a number of models, including a fine 1:24 scale model, of the 1812 Comet, the first steam driven passenger vessel in Europe.  This vessel built for trade on the Clyde set a pattern in which many pioneering ideas were first tried out in small ships designed for Clyde traffic and when proved were then adopted for their ocean going equivalents.  The small, 1:96 scale Arcadia of 1840 falls into this category as the pioneer paddle steamer ordered by Samuel Cunard for service across the Atlantic. 

In those  days the cases continued with some of the sixty Clyde steamers in the collection on show. The display, like all in the museum, were rotated but always with a cross section of age and type.  Some were in 1:32 scale allowing for minute detail to be revealed as shown in the photograph above of the 1955 Maid of Argyll. In this scale is a quay level river ferry of 1938 with an elevated deck that could be raised or lowered depending upon the state of the tide. [Indeed I can remember during one of my first driving lessons being asked to drive onto this platform suspended twenty feet above water level.] A number of cross channel vessels were displayed including the Norsea (1987), the last large passenger vessel to be built on the Clyde.


There was also a fine display  of sailing ships including some of the earliest true scale models produced for the Board of Admiralty and dating from the late 17th century.  Many showed the vessels unplanked so that one might see the interior construction. Models to be noted here were HMS Oxford (1674) as she appeared after rebuilding in 1727 and the Cutty Sark, the last of the great tea clippers, which may be seen at Greenwich.  Both these models are 1:48.  One group that always fascinated me was the Prisoner of War models made by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars.  Many were skilled craftsmen and began to carve the bones from the meat they were given.  They soon discovered that their carvings could be exchanged for favours and that models representing warships of the Napoleonic navy were especially prized.

How it All Began 

This article was published in Waterline International Vol V11, number 23 in the Spring of 2003 and has been edited to the past tense.  Since then The Museum of Transport has moved to a new £50 million purpose built building located at the Riversdie Museum - 100 Pointhouse Place, Glasgow, Glasgow City G3 8RS.  Opened June 2011. 

a personal reflection.
Iain McGeachy