Posts Tagged ‘Glasgow’

Conrad and the Clyde: intro.

May 4, 2008

The Clyde is not the first river one thinks of in connection with Joseph Conrad – the Congo perhaps, or one of the fever-ridden mangrove-swamp streams of the East Indies – but not the Clyde.  Not even the most prejudiced Edinburgh imagination surely can see Glasgow’s river as the “Heart of Darkness”.

But Glasgow and the Clyde had their part in Conrad’s life and work and this connection with the Clyde, its ships and its people, is less well known than it might be.

As a writer of the sea Conrad could hardly fail to depict the Scots who built and manned so many of the world’s ships.  As a mariner trained in sail Conrad had no particular love for the steam engine; as his friend the Glasgow-born artist Muirhead Bone wrote in an obituary appreciation:


He had none of a Kiplingesque enthusiasm for material powers – with him it was Man and the Elements, with the apparatus always a bit inadequate.


So perhaps, despite the splendidly named Captain MacWhirr in Typhoon (1903), we need not look to closely to Conrad for the archetypal Clyde-trained Scots engineer – otherwise a staple of imaginative writing from Kipling’s McAndrew to StarTrek’s Scotty.



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Lord Kelvin: Victorian Man of Science: intro.

April 15, 2008

In June 1896 Glasgow was busily engaged in celebrating one of her great men.  The City and its ancient University had combined to mark the 50th anniversary of William Thomson’s appointment as Professor of Natural Philosophy.  Fifty years was certainly a long time to occupy a Professorial Chair – even allowing for the fact that Thomson had taken up his post at the remarkably early age of 22 – but this alone would not account for the celebrations.  William Thomson, or Lord Kelvin as he had been known since Queen Victoria conferred a peerage on him in 1892, was more than just another long-serving academic; he was a household name and one of the most distinguished men of science of the Victorian age.


Statue of Lord Kelvin in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow

His international reputation would be attested to by the presence in Glasgow of a host of distinguished scientists and academics from Europe, North America, Australia and Asia.  A gracious letter would be received from the Prince of Wales, and the presentation of congratulatory messages from 90 universities, colleges and learned societies from around the world, ranging from Yale and Johns Hopkins to Moscow and Tokyo would confirm the academic world’s esteem for Kelvin.


His adopted city and his University vied with each other to honour him and the delegates’ stamina would be tested by the festivities.  A conversazione for 2500 guests was held on Monday 15th June in the University’s Bute Hall, which was “lit by electric light for the occasion” and which also housed a display of Kelvin’s scientific achievements and inventions. Outside the pipe band of the Gordon Highlanders played to greet the distinguished company.  At the conclusion of the conversazione the students of Glasgow held a gaudeamus, or student merry-making, in Kelvin’s honour in their Student’s Union, commencing at 10.45p.m.   


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From the Clyde to Rotterdam: intro.

April 8, 2008
On 10th March 1868 the Buffel, a new warship for the Royal Netherlands Navy, slipped into the waters of the Clyde from the shipyard of Robert Napier and Sons.

Robert Napier

Nothing too remarkable about that perhaps: Robert Napier, often described as the “father of Clyde shipbuilding,” had built warships for Denmark, Turkey, and the Royal Navy, as well as passenger and cargo vessels for most of the leading shipping companies of the age including Cunard, the Royal Mail line and P & O.  Napier’s fame was great and a reputation for high quality work had won orders from all round the world for his Govan shipyard.
What makes the Buffel memorable is the fact that she survives as the centre-piece of Rotterdam’s Maritime Museum.  That Buffel still is afloat after a career of 140 years is a tribute to the skills of her Govan shipbuilders, the careful restoration she received and the loving care with which she is maintained today.
In 1864 the Dutch Government set up a commission to consider the country’s needs for coastal defence.  As the Dutch shipbuilding industry at this time did not have the technical capacity or experience to build the type of ships the commission considered necessary the orders for the new ships went to British and French builders; two of them, for the monitor Tijger and the ram turret ship Buffel (the name is Dutch for buffalo) coming to Robert Napier’s yard.


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Glasgow: a City at War

March 26, 2008

When Ronnie Armstrong and I were asked to write this book we were at first a little puzzled how to take the story beyond air-raids in the Second World War. However when we looked into the matter it became more of a problem to keep the material in check rather than finding enough.

In both World Wars Glasgow was a huge arsenal turning out weapons of war, and not just the ships that one might first think of.  Tanks were produced in large numbers, aircraft, guns and bombs all came out of Glasgow as did vast quantities of men and women for the forces.

We were able to assemble a wonderful collection of photographs to complement our text and would encourage you to look at this book if you have any interest in Glasgow – we are sure you will find much to interest you.

Click this image below and you will be taken to the website.  There are two editions of this book available – a hardback (ideal as a gift!) and a more economical paperback – both are the same format and identical text and pictures.

Erchie Macpherson

March 26, 2008

“Erchie, My Droll Friend” is the title for a collection of humorous short stories written by the Scottish novelist and journalist Neil Munro.  First appearing in the Glasgow Evening News  a collection of 29 of the stories was published in 1904 and recounted the events and opinions in the life of Erchie Macpherson, a native of Glasgow who earned an honest living as a waiter and a church beadle. (A beadle in this context is the person who looks after the fabric of a church, stokes the boilers, cleans the building and carries the Bible into church.)


The cover of the 1st edition of Erchie, my droll friend.

My co-editor and I were amazed to find that Munro had written another 113 stories which had never appeared in book form – these cover the period from 1902 to the General Strike of 1926 and have Erchie reflecting in a humorous and pawky way on everything from Royal visits to Exhibitions, from the census to the First World War.  A delightful resource of light-hearted reading, which we have tried to complement with notes and introductory material to set the stories in their context and explains some of what now may be obscure references.

The “Hugh Foulis” on the title page above was the pen-name Munro adopted for his comic short fiction, to distinguish it from his historical novels and other writing.

Click the link before to go to the Amazon website where this book can be bought.

For more information on Neil Munro why not checkout the Neil Munro Society website