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“Doon the Watter”: Shipbuilding and Trade in 19th Century Glasgow; Part 1

This post was written by Nancy Lovas a new Business Reference Librarian.

I write atop a bookshelf in the Adams Reading Room with an excellent view of the mural on the east wall. I’ve returned to the Business Reference Section after nearly three years away and I’m getting reintroduced to all my old friends.

One such friend I met while developing the Early Business Periodicals guide as a Junior Fellow is The Shipping World and Herald of Commerce, Vol. 1, May 1883-April 1884, published by the Gresham Press Buildings in London. The title page of this first volume is stamped in pink: “Navy Department, Received June 4, 1884, Bureau of Navigation.” I pulled it off the shelf one hot summer day and made a magnificent discovery.

The first issue begins with an editorial in which the editor waxes eloquent of how “we see in the future of British shipping ever greater expansion, prosperity, and supremacy than we find in the past.” Geography and climate prevent the United Kingdom from achieving greatness in agriculture or railways, while an ever-increasing population dictates continued attention to food supplies. “But the opportunity for enterprise, the scope for expansion, in shipping, is untrammelled and without limit.” Thus, “to promote and protect these interests [of shipbuilders and the mercantile marine] The Shipping World is established.”

Articles, features, and charts included in each issue cover a range of subjects, including analysis of ‘The Viking Ship of Gokstad’ accompanied by illustrations, and a recap of a forgotten battle in the Napoleonic Wars: ‘The Way We Captured Perim’ in the March 1884 issue. Notable figures in the shipping world receive in-depth treatment, such as the June 1883 profile of the 2nd Earl of Ravensworth, President of the Institute of Naval Architects (the present-day Royal Institution of Naval Architects, a brief history through 1960 here). Practical, up-to-date sailing information told sailors the latest quarantine regulations in effect in foreign ports and changes in lighthouses and similar navigation signals in ‘Hydrographic Notes.’ And this is only volume one!

The real gems of these volumes are the fold-out maps and illustrations. One illustration accompanies a proposal for a new navigation tool, an international course and speed indicating clock compass. The author describes Mr. R. Meager’s method of indicating a ship’s speed and direction by a series of whistle and horn patterns. The illustrative clock compass is the key to deciphering the code!

From The Shipping World and Herald of Commerce.

There are several maps as well. The best one folds out four feet across my desk, “Chart of the River Clyde, Showing Shipbuilding Yards.

From The Shipping World and Herald of Commerce.

It stretches west from the City of Glasgow on the far right to the Firth of Clyde tucked into the binding. Along the river lie shipbuilding yards and factories (mainly textile). If you peer closely near the City of Glasgow, you’ll see the tiny spit of the River Kelvin on the west side. Further west is Clydebank, and even further is Helensburgh (prounounced Helens-burra).

From The Shipping World and Herald of Commerce.

I have a soft spot for this map. Several years ago I lived in Glasgow for a season. Seeing the chart and recognizing place names threw me back in time to memories of the places. I stayed near the River Kelvin in the West End of Glasgow, and I spent many afternoons strolling on the paths along the river. I went to Clydebank by accident on my second day in the city; misdirection from Google Maps sent us on a thirty-minute bus ride west to a shopping center. I visited Helensburgh to tour Hill House, designed by renowned Glaswegian architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I wandered the City of Glasgow in rain, shine, hail, warmth, and cold. The chart represents these places I feel connected to in memory and experiences. But even more gripping is the fascinating history of the city, its industries, and how far-reaching Glasgow’s ships were throughout the British Empire. Stay tuned over the next few months for more!

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