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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
@mmhoneditor
#ShipyardCulture

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Select Bibliography

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).

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.

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7 thoughts on “

  1. hi I’m a fashion design student and this for me was really informative as I am doing my final collection on these incredible men and women who built hulking great ships and i am basing it on my home town of south shields and my family tree as i am so proud of where i come from and i just want to thank you for giving me this insight into the culture that has sadly been lost over the years.

  2. Amy, thank you so much for your kind comments. I’m glad you found it useful. Do send me a couple of pictures of your collection. Sounds like a fantastic project.
    Best wishes, Martin

  3. First congratulations. A wonderful site that is very useful to me. On film, Seawards the Great Ships is available from the British Film Institute along with many other documentaries dealing with industrial topics.
    Cheers, Maurice

  4. Two things.

    First, it may be a bit outside your primary area of interest, but Amy, the fashion design student, made be think of the passenger liners, and their interiors. What about “Designing Liners: A history of interior design afloat” by Anne Wealleans. (London and New York, 2006)?

    Second, I too will claim a South Shields connection. My great great grandfather was thirty five years an alderman and three times mayor there. In 2007 I had the opportunity to visit South Shields and see many of the shipping related things in which he was involved.

    Bill Glover
    Editor, The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord

  5. No collection of art and literature on shipbuilding would be complete without the artwork of Peter Burns and the poems of Jack Davitt (Ripyard Codling). Both men worked in the Tyneside shipyards and their works are shinning examples of shipbuilding art and literature.

  6. What a wonderful resource this site is. My interest is mainly 1930’s to 1960’s shipbuilding, particularly riveters. I had an exhibition last year, Salute The Shipbuilders, in Birkenhead on the Mersey, of my ceramic sculptures, paintings and poetry. Two of the poems have been set to original music. I am keen to remember and honour the people who built great ships, often in hard, dirty and dangerous conditions. Although we had Cunard celebrations on the Mersey last year and the visit of the Three Queens, the shipbuilders story was completely absent, I feel, because our collective cultural memory is already forgetting that we did build fantastic ships, like Cunard’s 1938 Mauritania (my personal favourite).
    Thanks for making a great site.

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