Our Records: The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Collection

The ScotlandsPeople Image Library makes available over 2,000 images relating to various aspects of Scottish life and history. 1,196 of these images are from the John Brown, Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) collection. This photographic collection is unique in portraying an industry of national importance in the UK, and records the memories of an industry which is now a shadow of its proud past. The photographs span over 100 years from the 1880s until the end of the 1980s and focus on one of the most famous shipyards in the world based at the Clydebank on the River Clyde on the west coast of Scotland. It was here that a number of nationally significant vessels were built for the British Admiralty and the merchant marine, including Cunard; more than any other shipbuilder in the UK. 

Photograph of Cunard Line ocean liner RMS Aquitania on trial on the Firth of Clyde, 1913.

Photograph of Cunard Line ocean liner RMS Aquitania on trial on the Firth of Clyde, 1913
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Collection, Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, UCS1/116/7/1

At the height of its success, in the first half of the 20th century, it was arguably the most famous shipyard in the UK if not the world. The photographs largely concentrate on the construction of ships from keel-laying, to completion and sea-trials. Many of the ships that were built were battlecruisers or battleships and used in combat in World Wars One and Two. Others, however, served as passenger liners and the photographs give an opportunity to appreciate the glamour and comfort offered inside these ships for those who travelled first class on them. Travellers would have enjoyed afternoon tea in the 'Verandah Café' aboard the SS Avila Star or comfortable evenings in their cabins aboard the RMS Caronia. Young children aboard the SS Duchess of Bedford would be entertained in the cabin nursery whilst teenagers could enjoy their own dedicated area during a voyage on the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.

A photograph of the Canadian Pacific Line ocean liner the RMS Empress of Britain on stocks showing the forward poppets taken from the shipyard floor of John Brown & Company, Clydebank.

Photograph of the Canadian Pacific Line ocean liner the RMS Empress of Britain on stocks showing the forward poppets taken from the shipyard floor of John Brown & Co. at Clydebank
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Collection, Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, UCS1/116/37/146

UCS was liquidated in 1971. From that time, and as the industry continued to decline and contract in Scotland, records have since been acquired by National Records of Scotland (NRS) and other Scottish archives from shipyards on the upper and lower Clyde, the Ayrshire Coast and  the Estuaries of the Forth and Tay. Though the collections include a little 18th century material, the bulk dates from the late 19th and 20th centuries. Apart from the UCS records, which were purchased for the nation, the collections have been gifted or deposited by the firms concerned or their liquidators. Amongst the UCS items are the photographs available in the ScotlandsPeople image library. 

From the many ships available to discover in these images, we look at the history of one battlecruiser and one ocean liner. 

HMS Tiger

HMS Tiger was a battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy by John Brown & Company Limited at Clydebank (Yard number 418). Launched on 15 December 1913, she was commissioned on 4 October 1914. During World War I she served in the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron of Admiral David Beatty, participating in the Battles of Dogger Bank on 24 January 1915 and Jutland 31 May 1916. In both these battles she suffered shell damage, sustaining 18 hits in the later.  Following repair she supported forces involved in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight on 17 November 1917. After the war she was placed in reserve on 22 August 1922 before being decommissioned on 15 May 1931 at Rosyth. HMS Tiger was sold to Thomas W Ward of Inverkeithing for breaking up in February 1932.

Photograph of HMS Tiger, Royal Navy Tiger-Class Battlecruiser taken from the bow end at Clydebank 3 October 1914.

Photograph of HMS Tiger, Royal Navy Tiger-Class Battlecruiser taken from the bow end at Clydebank 3 October 1914
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Collection, Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, UCS1/116/11/51

Browse images of HMS Tiger in our Image Library.

SS Duchess of Bedford

SS Duchess of Bedford was an ocean liner built for Canadian Pacific Steamships by John Brown and Company Ltd, Clydebank (Yard number 518) and launched on 24 January 1928. She was built as a sister ship for SS Duchess of York, SS Duchess of Richmond and SS Duchess of Atholl. In 1939 Duchess of Bedford was commandeered by the Admiralty to bring civil and military officials from England to India and helped to evacuate Singapore in 1941. She ferried US troops for the invasion of Algeria in Operation Torch on 8 November 1942 and also served as a troopship in the invasion of Sicily in 1943. After the war, in a refit in 1947, she was renamed Empress of France. Following this she served on the Liverpool to Montreal crossing. She was streamlined in a refit in 1958/59 before being taken out of service in 1960. She was broken up at Newport, Wales, in December 1960.

Photograph of Canadian Pacific Line liner SS Duchess of Bedford in basin showing the port side, 1928

 

Photograph of Canadian Pacific Line liner SS Duchess of Bedford in basin showing the port side, 1928
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Collection, Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, UCS1/116/31/79

Browse images of SS Duchess of Bedford in the Image Library.

To discover more about the history of ships built by UCS and researching ships and shipbuilding records in the Image Library, please see our guide. 

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