Poetry

noimage The Building of the Ship (1849)
Henry Longfellow

An epic and patriotic poem about the process of building a ship in America:

Day by day the vessel grew,
With timbers fashioned strong and true,
Stemson and keelson and sternson-knee,
Till, framed with perfect symmetry,
A skeleton ship rose up to view!

The ship is viewed as the bride of the ‘gray old sea’. The pastor’s prayer sees the soul as being as turbulent as the sea, but with a little guidance can be steered to joy, not fear. The poem ends with an analogy of the state being formed in the same way as a ship:

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Seaside and the Fireside, (Boston, 1849).
noimage The Govan Rivetter’s Strike (1878)
Marion Bernstein

An unusual anti-strike, anti-union poem.

By strikes you’ll never profit.
’Tis published far and wide
That strikes have nearly ruined
The shipyards of the Clyde.
Be wise now, and reflect, lads,
You’ve children to be fed;
And half a loaf is better
Than not a bit of bread.

Marion Bernstein, ‘The Govan Rivetter’s Strike’, Glasgow Weekly Mail, 14 December 1878
E.H. Cohen et al. (eds), A Song of Glasgow Town: The Collected Poems of Marion Bernstein, (Glasgow, 2013).
noimage Iron Shipbuilding on the Clyde (1888)
Bass Kennedy

A fine piece of Victorian doggerel celebrating the Clyde shipyards:

Ho, mates! go lay the keel-blocks down,
And bring along the keel,
For we must build an iron ship,
And that right off the reel,
And that right off the reel, my boys!
With no faults to conceal,
Her frames of treble B – her shell
Of ‘Siemens-Martin’s’ steel

It continues in equally jubilant style ending with the lines:

The ships are yet to build, my boys!
To match those built on Clyde.

Reprinted in Hamish Whyte (ed.), Mungo’s Tongues: Glasgow poems 1630-1990, (Edinburgh, 1993).
noimage Clydeside Musings (1912)
Tom Burns

Poems dedicated to shipworkers on the banks of the river Clyde by an ex-shipyard worker. Includes the following poems:

‘The Riveter’s Lament’ – fears about dilution of skilled workforce
‘The Riveter’ – song about girl in love with an apprentice riveter. They will marry when he becomes a journeyman.
‘A Dialogue – address to Caledonia on launch day by Duchess of Montrose and the ships reply’
‘If Our Old Ship Goes Down’ – poem about the Boilermaker’s Society.

Tom Burns, Clydeside Musings, (Glasgow, 1912).
noimage The Ships that I Help to Make (1918)
Albert Rupp

Albert Rupp was known as ‘the shipyard poet’. He worked as a ‘bolter-up’ in the Alameda plant of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation in California. He is said to have attracted world-wide attention by his writings on war-time shipbuilding, some of which appeared in the newspapers.

So howl ye forces with glowing fires!
And growl ye Riveting guns with zeal!
And clash ye sparks of the welding wires!
And clash ye chisels that cut the steel!
Here in your midst do I take my stand
As the plates are swinging above my head,
And the dolly bars drop, and on every hand
The air is aflare with rivets red.
Let the noise and clatter in cascades pour
And around me their awful confusion break!
For the seas, over which sail no more
Shall bear the ships that I help to make.

Albert Rupp, ‘The Ships that I Help to Make’, Oakland Tribune, 17 November 1918.
Albert Rupp, ‘Building the Courageous ‘, Oakland Tribune, 30 November 1918.
noimage City Songs and Others (1918)
Richard Rowley

Poems about Belfast. Includes ‘The Islandmen’ about the shipyard workers on Queen’s Island.

Only strong hands
Can give strength visible form;
Only proud hearts
Can fashion shapes of pride.
Iron and steel are dead
Till man’s creative will
Shall weld them to the image he desires,
Shall make a living symbol
Of the strength and the pride of his sou.

Splendid the ships they build,
More splendid far
The hearts that dare conceive
Such vastness and such power.

Richard Rowley, City Songs and Others, (Dublin, 1918).
noimage The Ship-Makers (1922)
Janetta I.W. Murray

An elegy to the shipyards and workers on the Clyde. The poet’s father worked as a shipbuilder in Govan.

Janetta I.W. Murray, The Ship-Makers and Other Verses, (London & Glasgow, 1922).
noimage Songs from the Shipyards (1924)
Thomas Carnduff

Carnduff worked as a labourer in the Belfast shipyards and was known as the ‘shipyard poet’. This is his first published work and is dedicated to ‘my comerades of the shipyards and the days and nights of toil we spent together’. Includes the following poems:

Our Shipyardmen
The Shipyard Fairy
The ‘Arlington Court’ Launch
Reflections of a Shipyardman
The Great Gantry – Queen’s Island
The Shipyards of Belfast

The introduction states: The shipyard verses come from the heart of a man who has been through it, and, for the truth that is in them, should make an appeal to shipyard workers all over the world.

Thomas Carnduff, Songs from the Shipyards and Other Poems, (Belfast, 1924).
noimage The Yairds (1924)
John F. Fergus

This is an example of how the man in the street was beginning to associate himself with the shipbuilding industry in Glasgow. Fergus was a well-respected doctor in the city but he chose to take on the persona of a riveter to express his pride in the industry:

I’ve wrocht amang them, man and boy, for mair nor fifty year,
I canna bear to quit them yet noo that I’m auld an’ sere,
The Yairds is just the life o’ me, the music’s in ma bluid
O’ hammers striking strong an true on rivets loweing rid

It ends in proud tones:

Wi’ a’ oor fauts, by Goad! we ken jist hoo to lay a keel,
An’ build a boat that nane can beat in a’ the warld beside,
The best o’ wark, the bonniest boats aye come frae oot the Clyde.

John F. Fergus, ‘The Yairds’, in Ballads and Poems by Members of the Glasgow Ballad Club, (Glasgow, 1924).
noimage Clydeside Shipyards (1961)
‘The Red Poppy’

A Clyde shipbuilder expresses pride in his industry:

Gaunt and black against the sky,
Great lumps o’ girder-cradled steel,
Staun starkly naked, loomin’ high,
Wi’ a still power that you can feel;
A kind o’ loveliness forbye.

A ship is born in dirt an’ din,
Racket o’ rivets, flash o’ flame,
Fae the welder’s torch, a clatterin’,
O’ blacksmith’s hammer, a fretted frame,
O’ tall cranes swingin’ oot an’ in.

The Red Poppy, ‘Clydeside Shipyards’ in Linthouse News, January 1961.
noimage Clydesiders (1974)
Douglas Dunn

After leaving school Douglas Dunn worked for a short time at the Lobnitz yard. This poem shows the imfluence of the industry on his work.

My poems should be Clyde-built, crude and sure,
With images of those dole-deployed
To honour the indomitable reds,
Clydesiders of slant steel and angled cranes;
A poetry of nuts and bolts, born, bred,
Embattled by the Clyde, tight and impure.

Douglas Dunn, ‘Clydesiders’ in Love or Nothing, (London, 1974).
noimage Queen of the Sea (1977)
George McWhirter

A book of poems that tells the story of the Reina del Mar being built at Harland & Wolff. Features a young shipbuilder finding his way in love and work in a kind of semi-humorous, modernist kind of way.

A foreman, he pauses to inspect
the men who awaken in his mind,
who assemble their bodies
by their beds,
how they open the breach
of their trousers
and load their legs.

Already half-cocked,
they swagger through her bulkhead
while she lies as always, mouth ajar,
listing deeper in the sleepy muck.

George McWhirter, Queen of the Sea , (Ottawa, 1977).
noimage Shipyard Muddling (1977)
Ripyard Cuddling (Jack Davitt)

First published collection of poems by a welder from the Swan Hunter yard on the Tyne. Many were previously copied and circulated around his fellow workers. Includes the following poems:

The Meditations of an Unlucky Welder
Tanker on Ice
The Bulbous Bow
A Welder’s Nursery Rhyme

The introduction states: ‘What these poems lack in literary technique, they more than make up for in their refreshing openness and accessibility’.

Ripyard Cuddling, Shipyard Muddling, (Whitley Bay, 1977)..
noimage Ballad of the Two Left Hands (1979)
Douglas Dunn

An elegy to the wasted lives of workers made redundant from the yards.

And soon these men of several trades
Stood there on Clydeside Street
Stood staring at each new left hand
That made them obsolete.

Douglas Dunn, ‘Ballad of the Two Left Hands’ in Barbarians, (London, 1979).
noimage More Muddling (1980)
Ripyard Cuddling (Jack Davitt)

A second collection of poems, mainly humerous with more than a hint of despair at the poor state of the industry. Includes the following poems:

Elegy on a Tyneside Shipyard
A Day of Rest
The Closed Shop
Desperandum

Republished in 1993 together with Shipyard Muddling and some new poems.

Ripyard Cuddling, More Muddling, (Whitley Bay, 1980).
Keith Armstrong (ed.), Shipyard Muddling and More Muddling by Ripyard Cuddling: The Poems of Tyneside Shipyard Worker Jack Davitt, (North Shields, 1993).
noimage The Diagonal Steam Trap (1983)
Crawford Howard

Humorous poem, set in Harland & Wolff, Belfast about an engineer who ‘invents’ a diagonal steam trap and sees the effects escalate to ludicrous proportions.

And then he looks up at the gaffer
An’ says he ‘Mr Smith, d’ye know?
They’ve left out the Diagonal Steam Trap!
How the hell d’ye think it could go?’

Now the engineer eyed the designer
The designer he looks at the ‘hat’
And they whispered the one to the other
‘Diagonal Steam Trap? What’s that?’

Crawford Howard, The Diagonal Steam Trap, (Spring Records, 1983).
noimage Shipyard Patter (1984)
Keith Armstrong (ed.)

In this selection of poetry, song and prose from Tyneside, eight writers steeped in the traditions of shipyard life reflect on the humour and hardships of it all. Most of the writers worked in the yards as welder, fitter or caulker. The writing together with drawings and photographs give a unique portrait of a crisis industry in a period of rapid change.

Includes work by Ripyard Cuddling and an extract from Robert Else’s as yet unpublished novel Slipways.

Keith Armstrong (ed.), Shipyard Patter, (Whitley Bay, 1984).
noimage A Clydeside Lad (1989)
Bill Sutherland

An epic poem that traces a the life of a shipbuilder, and the industry itself, from apprenticeship through to relfections on a lost industry, taking in a ship launch, industrial injury, shipyard patter, religious bigotry and the wider shipyard community. Bill Sutherland worked in the ship model experiment tank at Denny’s shipyard in Dumbarton.

Bill Sutherland, A Clydeside Lad: A shipyard worker’s view in verse, (Glasgow, 1989).
noimage Industrial Deafess (1990)
Brian Whittingham

A pamphlet containing twelve poems reflecting some of the author’s experiences at John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank. Includes the following poems:

The Apprentice – experiences of being an apprentice
The Journeyman – about an industrial injury
The Difficulties of Discipline on the Football Field – about a luchtime football match
Another Day Begins – evokes the start of work on a cold day

Brian Whittingham, Industrial Deafness, (Renfrew, 1990).
noimage Down by the Slipway: Poems of the Shipyard (1991)
Joe Nolan

Nolan worked at Harland & Wolff from 1944-1968. In retirement he took up poetry and this collection is inspired by his time in the yard. It includes ‘Boat Factory Blues (1944)’, ‘Old Bob’, ‘Sea Farers’ and ‘Lonely Pint’. These are poems very much in the tradition of working class comment.

Start of another bloody wartime week!
Skint, and up the H&W creek!
Same old bloody shipyard grind!
I’ve got my milk bottle ta find!
It’s the money makes this bloody mare go!
How long can I stick it? I don’t bloody know!

Joe Nolan, Down by the Slipway: Poems of the Shipyard, (Belfast, 1991).
noimage Ergonomic Work Stations and Spinning Teacans (1992)
Brian Whittingham

Includes most of the poems from Industrial Deafness (1990), along with some new poems including:

Signals – about sign language used in the yard
Spotted Hats – about welders

Brian Whittingham, Ergonomic Work Stations and Spinning Teacans, (Glasgow, 1992).
noimage When we Built the Big Ships (1997)
Alfred Forbes Smith

A poem remembering the heyday of Clyde shipbuilding.

The giant cranes towered o’er the bleak shipyard
like massive grey flamingoes
letting oot their tongues, looking for food
as doon the oily sling goes
lifting loads here
an’ laying them doon there
withoot even perspirin’
nae aches or pains
nae airms that were sair
for their diet wis strictly…iron.

Alfred Forbes Smith, A Parochial View of Glasgow , (Glasgow, 1997).
noimage Bunnets n Bowlers: A Clydeside odyssey (2009)
Brian Whittingham

‘This collection of poetry is my Clydeside Odyssey from when I left school at 15, working for a year as an office boy then serving a four year apprenticeship as a boilermaker’s plater, then becoming a journeyman plater, much of the time working on the QE2’.

Contains poems from Industrial Deafness and Ergonomic Work Stations and Spinning Teacans plus many more.

Brian Whittingham, Bunnets n Bowlers: A Clydeside odyssey , (Edinburgh, 2009).
noimage A Rose Loupt Oot (2011)
David Betteridge (ed.)

A celebration of poetry and song to mark the 40th anniversary of the UCS work-in. Contains a mix of previously unpublished anonymous works from the time, well known works and newly commissioned poems.

David Betteridge (ed.), A Rose Loupt Oot, (Middlesbrough, 2011).