Scottish Maritime Museum

The A-listed 100m Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank forms the centrepiece of the Dumbarton Museum.

The Scottish Maritime Museum currently has collections located at two sites in the West of Scotland, both with strong maritime connections. The museums, located in Irvine and Dumbarton, each portray different areas of Scotland’s maritime heritage. A third museum, Clydebuilt at Braehead, originally opened in 1999 but was closed indefinitely during October 2010 due to lack of funding.[1]

Early side-lever engine designed by Robert Napier, from PS Leven (1823), on display at Dumbarton

Dumbarton - Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank

The Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank, in Dumbarton, offers the opportunity to step back into the world of the Victorian naval architect. Inspired by the work of eminent naval architect William Froude and completed in 1883, it was the world's first commercial example of a ship testing tank.

Re-opened as a museum in 1982, it retains many of its original features, including the 100-meter-long ship testing tank, as long as a football pitch, which although demonstrated from time to time, lacks instrumentations and can no longer be used for hydrodynamic research and testing. The museum also tells the story of the test tank's original owners, William Denny and Brothers of Dumbarton; one of the most innovative shipbuilding companies in the world, until their closure in 1963.


The A-listed Linthouse Engine building forms the main exhibition hall at the Irvine Museum.
City of Adelaide at the Irvine museum in April 2005. Controversy has surrounded funding her restoration for over a decade.

The Irvine museum is located at Irvine Harbour, situated within the category A listed former Engine Shop of Alexander Stephen and Sons, which was salvaged and relocated from their derelict Linthouse shipyard in Glasgow during 1991.[2] The Linthouse engineering shop is now home to many industrial exhibits, including a model boat pond and the boatshop on the quayside, which contains an exhibition of ship models and children’s activities. Visitors can step into the past by touring the Shipyard Workers' Tenement Flat where they can see a typical 'room and kitchen' worker's tenement flat, restored to its 1920s appearance.

Gallery of Irvine harbour in 2007

Braehead - Clydebuilt

The MV Kyles, at the Braehead museum, is the oldest iron Clyde built vessel still afloat in the UK.
Dramatic sculpture of a Ship Launch on the facade of the Clydebuilt museum building at Braehead.

Closed since 16 October 2010, the Braehead museum was located on the south bank of the River Clyde at Braehead, Clydebuilt explored the industrial development of Glasgow and the River Clyde from 1700 to the present day. Opened in September 1999, it told of what was built on the Clyde and how the River Clyde itself was 'built'.[3]

The ground floor of the centre used a timeline consisting of a large model of the River Clyde containing 300 gallons of flowing water. The river went from a muddy stream, where in the 17th century you could wade across the Clyde at low tide, to the birthplace of ships great and small; through sail and steam and the great ocean liners, to today's warships and bulk carriers.

From the days of Glasgow's 'Tobacco Lords', Mr Glassford, told how Glasgow made its fortune from tobacco, rum and sugar from the colonies.[4]

Glasgow's rise to the Industrial Revolution was shown by cotton, iron and steel trading, with a cotton printing press showing images of finished goods, and charting the markets for the city's products. A model cotton mill was situated on a tributary of the River Clyde, which also features displays on the earliest stages of the civil engineering methods used to deepen the River Clyde's channel to enable navigation upriver to Glasgow. An installation allows the visitor to see and hear at first hand the process of manufacturing iron and steel.

The visitor's journey through the museum included an Audio and Visual presentation that took them through the last 100 years of Clyde shipbuilding with a specially commissioned video running twice every hour bringing the Clydebuilt story up to date in an accessible way for all ages. Model docks indicated the scale and type of infrastructure required for the movement of cargo, whilst a mock crane provided a visual link to the second floor, which expanded on trade and cargo using a warehouse theme. A range of traded products fill this area and the visitor could make their fortune at the hands-on Cargo Game or try their hands at piloting a tanker into port.

A working triple expansion engine was used to tell the story of 'Powering World Trade' which gave an insight into the development of the marine steam engine and offered the visitor a chance to operate the engine using a ships' telegraph.


The River Clyde led the world of shipbuilding, with over 30,000 vessels in 300 years from 250 yards.[5][6] The visitor could experience the sights and sounds of the building of a ship from the inside of the 'stage set' of the MV Rangitane, following all of the construction elements from design and laying the keel, through to the launch and showing the skills of the 'black squads' who made the term 'Clydebuilt' recognised the world over.

The Clyde-built coaster MV Kyles is permanently berthed at a pontoon on the River Clyde following her restoration at the Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine. A highly significant vessel built of iron in 1872 in Paisley, MV Kyles is the oldest iron Clyde built vessel still afloat in the UK.[7]


The Clydebuilt Museum was closed on 16 October 2010, after Capital Shopping Centres withdrew an annual subsidy that was an original condition of planning permission for Braehead Shopping Centre. There do not currently appear to be plans to relocate or reopen. The building is now occupied by a Krispy Kreme doughnut store which opened on 2 December 2015.

Trust Structure

The museum is operated by a charitable trust: the Scottish Maritime Museum Trust. It includes in its founding and continuing partners North Ayrshire Council (formerly Cunninghame District Council) It became operational in 1983.[8] The first trust chairperson was Clydeside shipbuilder Ross Belch who held the post until 1998.[9] Since 2006 Scottish politician Sam Galbraith has been (as a Google search shows) an energetic chairperson.[10] One of the Trustees is Scottish industrial historian John R. Hume.[11] The founding Director was Dr Henry C. McMurray.[12]


See also


  1. The Scottish Government News - Scottish Maritime Museum
  2. "Linthouse Building: Listed Building Report". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
  3. Clydebuilt Maritime Heritage Centre
  4. Thomas Martin Devine, The Tobacco Lords: A Study of the Tobacco Merchants of Glasgow and their Trading Activities 1740-1790, 1975, Donald, ISBN 0-85976-010-3
  5. Scotland’s Maritime Legacy
  6. Guide to shipbuilding records - The National Archives of Scotland
  7. "Clydebuilt, Braehead". Scottish Maritime Museum. Retrieved 5 April 2010.
  8. Dr Henry C McMurray, BA, MSc, Eon, OBE entry in Trustee list of the SS Great Britain confirms 1983 date, retrieved 22 July 2013.
  9. Glasgow Herald obituary to Sir Ross Belch of 27 March 1999 retrieved 22 July 2013 confirms his role.
  10. North Ayrshire Council [agenda and minutes|] retrieved 22 July 2013.
  11. Who's who in the Museums and Attractions Partnership retrieved 22 July 2013.
  12. Trustees of the SS Great Britain retrieved 22 July 2013.

Further reading

External links

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