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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 15:33 GMT
The rise and fall of the Clyde
By Graeme Esson
BBC News Online Scotland

The resurrection of the Scott Lithgow name has tapped into a rich vein of shipbuilding history which stretches back almost three centuries.

Inchgreen (Picture by David Ritchie)
The new company will be based at the Inchgreen dry dock
A Merseyside firm hopes to create at least 100 jobs in Inverclyde through its new ship repair company.

Northwestern Shiprepairers said its new subsidiary was hoping to build on an "excellent name" with an excellent history.

That history stretches back to 1711, when John Scott established his yard in Greenock.

"It was the oldest family shipbuilding business in the world," explained Vincent Gillen, assistant curator of the McLean Museum in Greenock.

"It was famous for navy work, especially submarines, and the name was synonymous with quality."

That link with the Royal Navy began in 1806 when Scott's built its first warship, the Prince of Wales.

It became a private company in 1903 and merged with Lithgow's in 1969 amid the nationalisation of shipbuilding.

Lithgow's was itself founded in 1874 and went on to become the largest privately-owned shipyard in the world.

There was to be no subsidy for national industry, and the big complaint was that all the other countries were supporting their shipyards
Vincent Gillen
"William Lithgow was from Port Glasgow, and he more or less ran shipbuilding on the Clyde during the war," said Mr Gillen.

"Lithgow's was the first company to build on spec. It would build three ships then sell them afterwards.

"Prior to that all ships were built on contracts."

He said that the company specialised in large, slow tankers which were built to a common design - thereby reducing the construction costs.

Mr Gillen said that the problems for the Clyde yards began after the war, when a lot of the rebuilding work began to go to overseas competitors.

"There was pressure on the yards to modernise, but the investment wasn't there.

Inchgreen (Picture by John Crae)
Ship repairs will be carried out at Inchgreen

"Places like Japan and Korea benefited from this by building from scratch, so they could put in the most modern equipment.

"Scottish shipbuilding never recovered from that."

Lithgow's idea was to join together the lower Clyde yards as a single entity.

Mr Gillen said that people who remembered the merger spoke of a different ethos between the two new bedfellows.

"There was always a great rivalry between the Scotts and the Lithgows, and I think people would maybe say that nationalisation was the start of the decline.

National industry

"There was a lot of wastage and abuse of working practices."

He said the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher proved to be the major influence on the downfall of the shipyards after she came to power in 1979.

"There was to be no subsidy for national industry and the big complaint was that all the other countries were supporting their shipyards."

Scott Lithgow was eventually sold to Trafalgar House in 1984 as part of the government's privatisation plans.

The only evidence of the shipyard itself is the old Scott's dry dock at Cartsburn, which dates back to 1711
Vincent Gillen
Under its ownership the drilling rig Ocean Alliance was constructed in 1987 - and proved to be the last vessel built by Scott Lithgow.

Mr Gillen said it had been thought that the oil industry would offer a new market, but the departure proved to be ill-fated.

"They bid low and paid the price," he said.

The yard closed the following year, and Scott Lithgow finally ceased trading in 1993.

While the name looks set to live on with the creation of the new ship repair company, the physical reminders of the company's past continue to fade away.

Scott Lithgow Shiprepairers will be based at the Inchgreen dry dock, which has no connection to the original Scott Lithgow company.

New life

Built in the 1960s, it is situated at the point where Greenock and Port Glasgow meet.

The old Scott's site in Greenock has been cleared, leaving almost no evidence of the shipyard which once operated there. It is now occupied by T Mobile.

The Lithgow's site is also being razed as a property developer seeks to breathe new life into the area.

Part of the site is earmarked for a Tesco store, while the other section has been cleared for a mix of housing and business use.

"The only evidence of the shipyard itself is the old Scott's dry dock at Cartsburn, which dates back to 1711," said Mr Gillen.

Traditional crafts

However, it remains unused - despite calls for the creation of a visitor attraction.

The reaction to the return of the historic name - rekindling memories of a time when the yards employed thousands in the area - remains to be seen.

Mr Gillen said: "It will be interesting to see whether local people see it as a positive thing or a slightly rueful one.

"But it is bringing more employment to the town in the traditional crafts."

Shipbuilding industry talks due
27 Sep 04 |  Scotland
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26 Aug 03 |  Scotland
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30 Jan 03 |  England

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