During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, Glasgow went by the title “Second City of the Empire” due to the economic power it gained in the Industrial Revolution. While industrialization made cities like Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham arguable contenders for the title, Glasgow was inarguably the most important shipbuilding center, not only of the British Empire, but of the entire world.
Along the River Clyde, which divides the city’s North and South, docks and shipyards had been commonplace for hundreds of years. By the 19th century, they continued to grow and diversify, making the Clyde the birthplace of up to 20 percent of the world’s ships. Vessels built in the city became some of the world’s firsts, such as the first turbine steamer and first diesel-electric paddle.
The largest shipbuilder was Fairfield Shipyards, located in the South, in what used to be the separate community of Govan. At its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Fairfield built this impressive space as its offices. Following the decline of both the British Empire and the Clyde’s industry, Fairfield folded and many smaller shipbuilders, such as Govan Shipbuilders, and BAE Systems, took up residence here. At some point the building became derelict.
Fairfield Heritage, a community-led initiative, rescued and restored the building, turning a large part of it into offices. The main area is now a museum celebrating the people of Govan along with the Clyde’s shipbuilding history. Interactive exhibits, models, and restored spaces paint a surprisingly complete picture of the industry that raised Glasgow’s reputation during the Empire.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open Monday to Friday from 1 - 4 p.m. Entry is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. The nearest subway station is Govan, which is a 15 - 20 minute direct walk.