Discover the forgotten art of Glasgow’s Clydeside shipyards

Liners such as the Lusitania, Aquitania, Empress of Britain, The Queen Mary and The Queen Elizabeth were internationally renowned for their size, speed and luxurious interiors.

But the Clyde shipyards also built many other less prestigious passenger ships, from colonial liners and passenger cargo ships to packet ships, coastal excursion steamers and ferries.

Now a new book tells the story of the creation of these celebrated ships and sheds light on the remarkable craft industry that has grown alongside shipbuilding to produce the celebrated interiors and their furnishings.

READ MORE: Historian urges National Museum to honor Clyde glory

Lusitania to the QE2: The Great Clyde-built Ships and the Creation of their Interiors looks at the work of famous architects such as James Miller and decorators such as Wylie & Lochhead, alongside styles ranging from variations on Neoclassical to Art Deco, Modern, Contemporary and modernist as well as eclectic thematic treatments.

The richly illustrated publication with over 300 illustrations is based on extensive original research by Bruce Peter, Professor of Design History at the Glasgow School of Art.

Through the book, Prof Peter, who served as a technical adviser on the hugely successful V&A exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed ​​and Style, hopes people can delve into a fascinating span of interior design, craft and social history, while also exploring revisiting those of Glasgow’s lost industries.

HeraldScotland: The interior of the SS Conte BiancamanoThe interior of the SS Conte Biancamano (Image: Bruce Peter)

The author told The Herald: “I’m very pleased with the way the book looks; It is a vast and detailed history of how the sumptuous interiors of Clyde-built liners were selected, designed, manufactured and installed, covering the period between the late 19th century and the 1960s.

“This is an area of ​​Glasgow’s manufacturing and craft history that has never been explored before and the work done was of excellent quality and relates to what was done in the large city center buildings involving the same architects.

“The Clyde shipbuilding has been written about from different angles. There’s a lot of work on social and economic history, and there’s a lot of work on history of technology. Many of the sites that are also important have been covered. But the interiors, which are the part of the ships that matter most to the general public and passengers, haven’t. As a design historian working in Glasgow, I felt there was a huge gap in understanding of the city’s past. We tend to think of Glasgow as a heavy engineering place, which is quite true, but it’s also important to remember that Glasgow has been very important in the decorative arts.”

READ MORE: Work begins on huge new shipbuilding factory in Glasgow

The book describes a significant aspect of Glasgow and Clydeside design and creativity, but also shows that the building and outfitting of passenger ships was often a national effort.

Prof Peter said: “People will know about Charles Rennie Mackintosh. You’ll know a little bit about Alexander Greek Thomson and maybe James Salmon junior and William Leiper and some of the other architects, but the amount of design work that was done was pretty colossal. It included supply chains that stretched the length and breadth of Britain. The drawings may have been made in the offices of Glasgow architectural firms, but then much of the furniture was supplied by companies such as Waring & Gillow in London, HH Martyn in Cheltenham and there were various suppliers across the UK who specialized in component manufacture used in buildings on land and in ship interiors.

“There really was a great system for creating all this material, and it was a system that was disrupted twice, first by World War I, but then on a much larger scale by World War II. The history of the craft is one that was shaped by political and economic wartime situations. And I think there have been big shifts in tastes too.”

HeraldScotland: The Empress of Great BritainThe Empress of Great Britain

Prof Peter also hopes that readers will also get a sense of the civic pride felt by those involved in the delivery of the material that lined the interiors of the many famous ships that sailed the Clyde.

He added: “People involved in the supply of materials for ship interiors lived quite humble, working-class lives. But if you worked in James Templeton’s carpet factory, you would have seen carpets coming off the looms for these liners. I think a lot of people in the supply industry; McGeogh makes hinges; Shanks in Barrhead making toiletries, all the people who worked in those manufacturers would have known where what they made was going. The work was beautiful. What was made for ship interiors in Britain and Glasgow was handcrafted. Craftsmanship at the highest level.

“What Glasgow once produced – the sheer skill, the quantity and variety, the quality and ambition – was enormous. You thought big. When thinking of something like the Lusitania, this was one of the greatest man-made objects of the 1900s, but it was a “tiddler” compared to The Queen Mary. The Queen Mary was just about the largest man-made object when it left the Clyde in 1936. But they could do it. There was this notion that “we could do it, and we must do it, and the world was watching.” I think they had tremendous confidence. Discover the forgotten art of Glasgow’s Clydeside shipyards

Adam Bradshaw

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