HISTORIC TIMES - The River Clyde

LAST week we looked at the earliest years of the Clyde – and how its shallow waters and profusion of islands and sandbanks caused problems for shipping and the city's trade.

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In 1769 James Watt surveyed the river and found that, between the Broomielaw and Anderston, the river was just 14 inches deep at low tide. Even at high water it was only 3ft 3in in depth.

In 1770, John Golborne, of Chester, started dredging and building jetties.

After five years, parts of the river were 7ft deep.

Further improvements, assisted by new steam-driven dredgers, cleared channels, removed sandbanks and continued to lower the riverbed.

The Elderslie Rock, a massive volcanic plug extending right across the river, about 8ft below low water, was a major hazard to shipping.

In 1854 it holed the steamship SS Glasgow on its voyage to New York. It took £140,000 and 25 years of blasting to finally remove the rock.

By the mid-19th century, and after vast expenditure and labour, the estuary had become now one of the world's major seaways, bringing thousands of large ocean-going vessels into the heart of Glasgow.

As the saying goes, 'Glasgow made the Clyde and the Clyde made Glasgow.'

The physical consequences of the river improvements have been immense.

In 1912 the title deeds of some Renfrew houses still gave the Clyde as the boundary of their gardens, even though the town was by now more than half a mile from the riverside.

Glasgow's vast concentration of factories and people meant that the river, once famed for its salmon, became little more than a lifeless industrial sewer.

In the People's Palace Museum is a bottle of water collected from the Clyde in 1893: it is pitch black.

After an extensive campaign, salmon finally began returning to the river in the 1990s.

the river clyde


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