Shipbuilding is a highly visual industry and has inspired many literary and artistic responses. However, very little has been written about this and if you read Francis Klingender’s Art and the Industrial Revolution (1947) or Humphrey Jennings’ Pandaemonium (1985) you might think that shipbuilding did not appear in any art or literature.
In 2001 I published The Shipbuilders: An anthology of Scottish shipyard life as a way of highlighting the role of shipbuilding as an inspiration for writers. This was directly inspired by Jennings’ Pandaemonium and the title pays homage to George Blake’s classic 1935 shipyard novel. I have also worked on a number of exhibitions and displays about shipyard art including Tom McKendrick’s Iron, the Vennel Gallery’s Over the Wall and Glasgow’s Riverside Museum.
These projects and much of my writing has focused on the Scottish experience. This website aims to highlight the wider range of works which have been inspired by shipbuilding.
With one or two exceptions, the works highlighted here all relate to iron and steel shipbuilding from the mid nineteenth century onwards. There are earlier examples of shipyard art and literature, but they are of a rather different character.
I know I have not identified everything so if you see something which is missing do let me know.
Dr Martin Bellamy
A selection of my work on related themes:
The Golden Years of the Anchor Line, (Stenlake and Glasgow Museums, Glasgow, 2011)
‘Art and Industry: The role of the maritime industries in Glasgow’s cultural revolution’, in David J. Starkey & Hugh Murphy (eds), Beyond Shipping and Shipbuilding: Britain’s Ancillary Maritime Interests in the Twentieth Century, (University of Hull Press, Hull, 2008)
‘Ship and Boatbuilders’, in John Hattendorf (ed.) The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)
‘Shipbuilding and Cultural Identity on Clydeside’, Journal for Maritime Research, (January 2006)
The Shipbuilders: An anthology of Scottish shipyard life, (Birlinn Ltd, Edinburgh, 2001)
Over the Wall, exhibition catalogue, (Irvine, 2001)
‘The Art of Shipbuilding’ in Kate Robinson (ed.), Tall Ships Short Stories, (Greenock, 1999)
Other Studies on Shipyard Culture
H. Gustav Klaus, ‘The Shipbuilders’ Story’, in H Gustav Klaus & Stephen Knight (eds), British Industrial Fictions, (Cardiff, 2000), 54-70.
There is an interesting discussion of the role of poetry and song in industrial protest, with particular reference to the UCS work-in in David Betteridge (ed.), A Rose Loupt Oot, (Middlesbrough, 2011).
Sylvia Morgan’s The Crisis of Capitalism in Inter-War Glasgow: Five Realist Novels (2012) discusses three shipyard novels: The Shipbuilders, Major Operation and Gael over Glasgow.
There is a chapter on ‘The Yard Playwrights’ in Tom Thomson, Auld Hands: The men who made Belfast’s shipyards great, (Belfast, 2013).
There is a chapter on ‘Artistic Representations of Glasgow Labour’ which touches on elements of shipbuilding in Ian R. Mitchell, A Glasgow Mosaic, (Edinburgh, 2013).
Victoria Carolan, ‘The Shipyard Worker on Screen 1930-1945’, in Duncan Redford (ed.), Maritime History and Identity: The sea and culture in the modern world (London & New York, 2014), 142-59.
Lachlan Goudie’s TV documentary Awesome Beauty: The Art of Industrial Britain (BBC4, 2017) includes some great shipyard content.