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An underwater archaeological investigation

Philip Robertson, Deputy Head of Designation (Inventories and Marine) tells us about a project commissioned by Heritage Management at Historic Environment Scotland.

Beneath the waves of the Clyde, a project by Cotswold Archaeology has brought to light the many wrecks of Clydebuilt vessels that survive on the seabed. In addition to offering valuable insights into a proud shipbuilding heritage, they enrich our understanding of trade by sea, transportation of goods and people, fisheries, river management, and naval history.

These investigations have collated information from various sources, including records of recreational scuba divers who know the wrecks well, so that information available to the public via Canmore is as accurate as possible.

Noteworthy sites include the wreck of Margaret Niven, variously described as a steamlighter (Clyde Puffer) or gabbart, lost in 1908 on a reef on the west shore of Loch Fyne, while carrying a cargo of chipped stone from Crarae to Glasgow. Vessels like Margaret Niven were ubiquitous in the west coast of Scotland from the 18th to the early 20th centuries. Many had flat bottoms which allowed them to beach on islands and up sea lochs where they were able to load and discharge cargo without need for a quay. The Clyde Puffer was later immortalised in Neil Munro’s stories about Para Handy, captain of the Vital Spark.

Around 400 passenger-carrying paddlesteamers were built by Clydeside yards, famed for their speed and pioneering designs. Interesting examples include Iona I, one of many such vessels that were sold to Confederate agents to run the blockade of Southern ports during the American Civil War. The wreck of Iona I is currently proposed for designation as a Historic Marine Protected Area. Also, the Princess of Wales which sank off Wemyss Bay in 1888 while undergoing sea trials on the famous Skelmorlie Measured Mile.

The wrecks of two Clydebuilt 19th-century hopper dredgers, Greenock and Caledonian illustrate the role such vessels played in increasing and maintaining the depth of navigation channels, thereby facilitating the expansion of the shipbuilding industry along the river, and opening up trade.

A report of the project is available online here.

Image: Glasgow, Clydebank. Oblique aerial view centred on the ship ‘Kungsholm’ at John Brown’s shipyard.  11/3/1966

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