-the twentieth century

The Scotland Guide
© David Williams


But times - and fortunes - change. At the turn of the twentieth century British industry and commerce were losing out to their rivals and in 1908 The Times reported that over 16,000 people in Govan were on the verge of starvation. Various radical and left wing organisations grew in strength during this period and leaders such as John Maclean drew huge crowds to rallies and demonstrations. The First World War eased some problems, exacerbated others and created new ones. There were fights against rent rises and various strikes took place in big engineering factories such as Albion Motors and Beardmore`s and these gave rise to the working-class leaders known as the `Red Clydesiders` and influential organisations such as the Clyde Workers` Committee. Social unrest continued after the war, with one of the most serious events being `Black Friday` (31 January 1919) when troops were brought onto the streets after a huge demonstration.

The shipbuilding industry had been expanded rapidly during the war and this led to post war overcapacity and subsequent closures of some of the yards. This had a knock-on effect and by 1922 there were 80,000 people unemployed in the city. The anger and frustration at this senseless waste of people`s skills was reflected in the results of the 1922 General Election when ten of the city`s fifteen parliamentary seats were won by the Independent Labour Party. Many of the hopes raised by election of these MPs were dashed, though there were some improvements in the quality of life, but the Glasgow economy continued to decline and it reached another crisis in the Depression of the 1930s. However, with the prospect of another war looming on the horizon, the city`s economy began to pick up in the late 1930s, and as well as local yards getting extra orders for naval ships, the Rolls-Royce aeroplane engine factory was built in Hillington. During the war the city was a target for enemy bombers, though it was the nearby town of Clydebank which took the brunt of the death and destruction, and relatively few Glasgow buildings or factories were damaged. One notable exception was Alexander Thomson`s Queen`s Park Church.

This article is based on the guidebook "The Glasgow Guide".

The Govan Graving Docks are a very obvious reminder of the decline of the shipbuilding industry. When these were built in the late nineteenth century they were state-of-the-art dry dock facilities which could take the world`s largest vessels. Sadly, after a long period of neglect they await some new function.
Although the shipyards were busy in the postwar period building much-needed replacements for ships sunk during the hostilities, they were increasingly unable to compete with foreign competitors and the whole Clydeside industry faced a great crisis (see picture). This situation was mirrorred by many other industries in the West of Scotland, due in great measure to the lack of investment over many decades. And so a once-great world-class centre of engineering excellence slowly withered, leaving today only a handful of big factories which are carrying on the proud tradition of first-class workmanship that was so prevalent a century ago.
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The late Victorian period
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