Scotstoun - The early years

Loch Ard 1873
Loch Ard built by Charles Connell in 1873
The latter part of the 19th Century saw an explosion of industry in and around Glasgow, Scotland’s second largest city. Many attribute the rapid growth and expansion to the introduction of the steam engine and it saw a progressive expansion westwards, along the banks of the River Clyde.
By 1861, Charles Connell and Company had opened their first purpose-built shipyard at Scotstoun, on the Oswald family owned estate on  northern banks of the Clyde. Connells initially concentrated on wooden sailing ships and clippers for private owners and merchants bringing exotic goods to the British Isles including fruits, tea and a whole variety of spices imported from the West Indies and from Southern Asia.
Glasgow prospered year on year with the willing and eager population doubling almost every four years as people were drawn in from the surrounding areas. Meanwhile in the south, and on the banks of the River Thames at Folly Wall and London Yard, Yarrow Shipbuilders and were expanding at such a rapid rate that they had simply run out of room.

1906 - Yarrow Shipbuilders

Wet Basin
Scotstoun Wet Basin circa 1905
Yarrow Shipbuilders had themselves been in existence since 1865 and had been building hundreds of steam launches, lake and river vessels for use around the world.  It was also here that they invented the famous Yarrow boiler, a type of water tube boiler which was subsequently used in a wide range of applications including ships and steam engines. The business expanded rapidly and founder Alfred Yarrow was obviously a man of some foresight when he solved their ever-growing need for space in one, strikingly bold move.
Yarrow boiler tubes
Yarrow boiler tubes
It had become increasingly clear to Yarrow that an entirely new location for the shipyard was required as the capacity of the London Yard was now too small and there appeared to be many good arguments for moving ‘elsewhere’, including the strong determination that they needed to be much nearer to a source of raw materials, coal and steel.
The Directors also identified that labour rates were growing enormously in London and that the employees were becoming less flexible in what they would accept such was the diversity of work available in the capital.
The industrial heart of the East End was being dominated by the need for shipping and the massive movements of goods and produce from all corners of the world with London Docks and the Eastend growing into a significant world port.
Most importantly however, there were so many revolutions occurring within heavy engineering that there was a real need to be in the proximity of the suppliers of the increasing variety of specialist heavy equipment and materials.  All of the big steel producers and engineering powerhouses were sited in the north and because of this there was also a ready supply of experienced labour to operate the enormous presses and foundries needed in steel-built vessels of all kinds.
Many possible new homes were considered for Yarrow Shipbuilders but after taking everything into account, it was decided that a move to Scotstoun, on the North Bank of the Clyde, only a few miles downstream from Glasgow, was the ideal location.  Yarrow are reported to have identified the site as a result of their involvement with the Coventry Ordnance Works joint-venture during 1905 although this is still subject of much debate and doubt.
Two acres of riverside land were bought at just £50 per acre, half the price per acre in London and in an extraordinary move between 4,000 and 5,000 tons of material, machinery and equipment were moved via daily trainloads of between forty to fifty wagons at a time. The whole project was achieved in under 5 weeks, such was the planning skills and eagerness of the company management. A number of the key employees also relocated to Glasgow, being joined by freshly recruited and keen Scottish workers.  The London workforce did not like the new Scottish tenements where they were housed so Yarrow commissioned forty brick houses, aptly named ‘Yarrow Cottages’, to be built with gardens.
Mato Grosso
Brazilian destroyer Mato Grosso
The contract to take over the land at Scotstoun was signed on 24th February 1906 and within 2 years their first destroyer was launched on the Clyde on 14th July 1908 (a Para Class Brazilian Navy Destroyer). This class of ship continued Yarrow’s reputation for building fast naval vessels as all the ships in class exceeded their designed service speed.
Yarrow continued to be a leading builder of naval warships for many years, whilst also being known for building ‘knock-downs’ – vessels designed for inland lakes that would be built at the shipyard before being disassembled and transported to the end customer and rebuilt. Listed as engineers and shipbuilders, the Scotstoun Yard specialised in the production of torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers, vessels of shallow draft for military and trading purposes. They also produced vessels still featuring the ‘Yarrow water-tube boilers’ which were fitted to naval craft and screw steamers (with speeds ranging up to forty miles an hour) as well as paddle and screw steamers for more shallow waters with drafts which could be as low as six inches.
When the First World War began in 1914, Alfred Yarrow’s son Harold took over the running of the company and remarkably he remained in charge until his death in 1962.
Clydeside Shipbuilding
Clydeside Shipbuilding
As the First World War began, Scotstoun enjoyed an advantage in that it had already begun manufacturing ships for the military and it was able to begin mass-production. At its peak, the yard employed over 2,000 workers and during the conflict had produced 29 destroyers, 16 gunboats, a submarine, three hospital ships as well as a floating workshop for the Navy.
During 1918, and with the war coming to an end, the yard began courting merchant orders and commenced building yachts, cargo ships and coasters. River steamers were also made for Chinese use. Despite this early success, the great post-war depression crippled the Scotstoun yard and in December 1921 it was closed due to lack of orders.

1922 - Yarrow & Company (1922)

In 1922, Sir Alfred Yarrow retired as Chairman of the company on account of his advanced age of over 80.
Yarrow Shipbuilders had entered voluntary liquidation at the end of 1921 with Mr Harold Edgar Yarrow being appointed as liquidator. Harold had masterminded the move from London and so he was more than experienced in the way of the Scotstoun yard and shipbuilding. and then succeeding as Chairman.
Within 3 months the company re-emerged as Yarrow & Company (1922) with Harold Yarrow as Chairman. It subsequently became a Public Limited Company in 1925 with a share capital of £150.000.  
Yarrow advertisement 1923
Yarrow advertisement 1923
Harold Yarrow immediately moved the yard towards producing water-tube boilers for power stations and industrial uses and he reopened the yard with a much reduced staff of just 24.
They gradually rebuilt the business and its reputation creating patented replacement water tube boilers for the Tigris gunboat flotilla which had been built at the yard during World War 1.
The late 1920s also saw orders coming in for tankers and the yard's fortunes were revived further with more Royal Navy orders arriving for destroyers and gunboats, such as the 1926 order for four Scotstoun-built River Gunboats for the Admiralty.
Continuing into the 1930s, the military build-up continued and more orders came in from the Royal Navy for ships to meet this demand and a growing tension throughout Europe.  
Also during the late 1930’s, Yarrow began operating two successful overseas yards, one in British Columbia (The Esquimalt Graving Dock which was managed by Norman Yarrow) and another on the Adriatic in Yugoslavia (Split). A third Yarrow venture in South Africa concentrated on land boilers under the leadership of HDT Harris.

As the clouds of war covered Europe once more, Scotstoun built eighteen destroyers, eight sloops and two river gunboats during World War II and during the conflict the yard was bombed and badly damaged between 13th and 15th March 1941 - sadly, 47 shipyard workers were also killed.

After the war and in 1945, the yard returned to making merchant ships and for the next 10-years it was an extremely busy shipbuilding facility, making shallow-draft vessels for countries all around the world.  Often, these were shipped out in sections for reassembly at their destination.
Scotstoun briefly became involved in an Admiralty Research project with English Electric although when they withdrew in 1947 a new facility was established and became known as the Yarrow-Admiralty Research Department (Y-ARD). Two other organisations were also formed overseas: Y-ARD (Australia) and the Yarrow African Marine Consultancy which were both set up to meet the demand for land boilers.
The Admiralty continued to be a key customer for the yard over the next decade, ordering frigates and seaward defence boats and by 1954, the workforce was in excess of 2,500. Scotstoun continued its research into new technologies and in the late 1950s it was deep into the application of nuclear power for marine use. By 1961, Scotstoun marine engineers, shipbuilders and boiler makers at Scotstoun were carrying out extensive research into nuclear powered propulsion units.
MV Victoria built at Scotstoun during the late 1950s
Sadly, 1962 saw the passing of Sir Harold Yarrow, a major influence in the continued success of both the shipbuilding business during the ebb and flow of production within the Scotstoun Yard.
Sir Eric Yarrow became chairman after his father’s death, a position he held until 1989.
Under Sir Eric’s leadership, Yarrow & Company acquired the adjacent shipbuilder Blythswood Shipbuilding Company in 1964. He amalgamated the yards, building a new covered berth and a six-storey Technical Office block, with the berth being enlarged to allow building of two Type 22 Frigates inside.
The acquisition lengthened the waterfront to provide many other additional facilities which included the expansion of the Yarrow-Admiralty Research Department which had by then transformed into a separate subsidiary. This enlarged organisation was engaged to work closely on engineering and design projects with not only the British Navy, but also other navies and shipping firms from around the world.

1968 - Upper Clyde Shipbuilders

In 1968, Yarrow and the Scotstoun Yard briefly became part of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders as part of the much heralded joint venture.
The Geddis Report on Shipbuilding in 1965 had encouraged 2 major mergers on the Clyde. The first was between Scott & Lithgow on the lower Clyde at Greenock whilst the second was between the 5 major shipbuilders John Brown, Stephens, Fairfield and Connells to form Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. After the formation of UCS, Yarrow Shipbuilders was reluctantly forced by the Controller of the Royal Navy to formerly join forces in 1968 with a share interest of 51% UCS and 49% Yarrow Shipbuilders.
The project was not a success however with cash shortages and difficulties in securing company export guarantees. Yarrow Shipbuilders left the consortium with the protracted exit negotiations lasting from April 1970 to 19th February 1971.  Yarrow had been the only profit making division and a year later Upper Clyde Shipbuilders collapsed. The only substantial part of the gang of five to survive was the Fairfield Yard which reformed as Govan Shipbuilders.
Four years later Yarrow made a further acquisition of the Barclay Curle (Elderslie) Dockyard which lay to the west of the Scotstoun Yard and which included three large dry docks.  This investment, coupled with a strong manufacturing reputation, meant Yarrow and Scotstoun would become one of four major contractors for the Royal Navy.
The long-term investment and manufacturing credentials ensured that when the number of warship yards was reduced by the Navy in the 1970s, Yarrow and Scotstoun was chosen as one of the mainstream contractors alongside Swan Hunter, Vosper Thornycroft and Cammell Laird.
The Type 21 Frigate was the first naval class to combine gas turbine and diesel designs, using the marine variant of the Rolls Royce Olympus gas turbine (similar in concept to that used in Concorde) and 5 out of 8 Type 21s were built at Scotstoun between 1971 and 1975.
HMS Battleaxe
HMS Battleaxe
Additionally, 10 out of 14 Type 22 Frigates, 12 out of 16 Type 23 Frigates were also built at Scotstoun thus underlining the firm's dominance in the manufacture of medium-sized Royal Navy surface vessels. Their sleek good looks and the sporting performance of the Type 21 Frigates led to the ship’s captains often being nicknamed ‘boy racers’. The vessels could stop from full speed within just twice the overall length of the ship.

1977 - British Shipbuilding Limited

The passing of the 1977 Aircraft & Shipbuilders Act by the Labour Government under James Callaghan saw Scotstoun absorbed as part of the nationalised British Shipbuilders Corporation, the maritime equivalent of British Aerospace which brought together 27 shipbuilding and associated companies. It should be noted that Y-ARD was not part of the nationalisation.
Work was spread across 32 Yards throughout the UK who were promised 95% of all UK merchant vessel orders as well as an assured 100% of all naval vessels. Engine production and a majority share of any ship repair orders were also promised. When orders failed to materialise in the fashion promised the unhappy alliance saw fierce opposition from the various previous owners who mounted compensation claims in the European Courts (albeit unsuccessful), as well as a gaining anti-nationalisation support from the minority Conservative Party.
Towards the end of the 1970s, development at the west end of Scotstoun saw the construction of a shipbuilding complex for the construction of glassfibre minehunters. In reality however, just 2 early Hunt-Class Mine Countermeasure vessels were completed at Scotstoun (during the early 1980s - HMS Cottesmore and HMS Middleton) with the remainder being built by Vosper Thornycroft on the South Coast at Portsmouth.
One Scotstoun-built vessel (HMS Ardent) was attacked and destroyed by Argentinian aircraft at Falkland Sound in May 1982.  It is of great pride however that during the conflict, all of the Type 21s that served in the South Atlantic Falkland War were built at Scotstoun.
By the end of 1982, British Shipbuilders had closed half of its shipyards in an effort to reduce over-capacity and the terms of the new British Shipbuilders Act 1983 then required the company to begin a process of privatising its remaining assets. Yarrow Shipbuilders were put up for sale in late 1984 which saw an unsuccessful employee management bid.

1985 - GEC-Marconi / Marconi Marine

The succeeding government of Margaret Thatcher began the privatisation programme and the profitable Yarrow Division was one of British Shipbuilders' early divestitures. It was sold in 1985 to GEC-Marconi, becoming Marconi Marine (YSL).

GEC began a programme of major capital investment and improvements were made in facilities throughout the yards such as the Module Hall alongside the covered berth to prepare for pre-outfitting of large ship sections.
In 1992, an order was taken for the build of 2 Scotstoun designed F2000 frigates for Malaysia which complimented the Type 23 Frigate build program for the Royal Navy. The yard remained under the GEC-Marconi banner until 1999 when the merger between British Aerospace and Marconi Electronic Systems formed BAE Systems Marine.

1999 - BVT / BAE Systems Surface Ships

The early part of the new century saw production centred on the new Type 45 Daring-class Destroyers, the first of type (HMS Daring) launched in 2006.  

2009 - BAE Systems Surface Ships

After a brief period as BVT Surface Fleet between 2008 and 2009 Scotstoun was renamed as BAE Systems Surface Ships.
Scotstoun has seen over 370 vessels built on the banks of the Clyde and is immersed in a history of innovation, design and a high standard of marine engineering which is envied the world over. 
The last half-century has seen it produce vessels of exceptional standards including a number of Type 21 Amazon-class, Type 22 Broadsword-class and Type 23 Duke-class frigates as well the Type 45 Daring-class Destroyers. Today, Scotstoun is currently heavily involved in the new Type 26 City-class programme.

Site Timeline

1861  Charles Connell & Company
1906  Yarrow Shipbuilders
1922  Yarrow & Company (1922)
1967  Upper Clyde Shipbuilders
1970  Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd
1977  British Shipbuilding Corporation
1985  GEC-Marconi / Marconi Marine
1999  BVT / BAE Systems Surface Ships
2008  BAE Systems Marine
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BAE Systems
The information shown is based on that available at the time of the content creation. If you have any additions or corrections then please contact us via email - All images BAE Systems / Ron Smith copyright unless otherwise shown.