The River Clyde has always played an important role in the history of Glasgow. It is often said, "Glasgow made the Clyde, and the Clyde made Glasgow". As engineers made the river more navigable, the city's commerce and industries flourished.
‘Glasgow was checked and kept under by the shallowness of her river, every day more and more filling [silting] up’,wrote one of Oliver Cromwell’s excise officers in the mid-17th century. Merchants had to off-load their cargoes at one of the ports and have them carried upriver on pack horses or in small boats.
The tobacco and sugar trade expanded rapidly between 1707 and 1800. As International trade developed pressure increased from the ‘tobacco lairds’ to deepen the river so bigger vessels could dock in Glasgow itself.
A succession of brilliant engineers, including James Smeaton, John Golborne and Thomas Telford, devised ways of deepening the river bed. They used dykes to channel the natural scouring power of the water. Parts of the Upper Clyde were canalised.
From around 1775 small coasters could safely come upstream. From 1818 foreign trading vessels could dock at the Broomielaw. Dredgers and blasting continued to deepen the Clyde to accommodate ever larger ships. This enabled the huge expansion of Clydeside’s international
trade, the rapid increase in shipbuilding and the significant development of the The Steam Engine throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Clyde shipbuilding played a vital role during the early 20th century, especially during the First and Second World Wars, with Clydebank become a target for World War 2: Clydeside bombing. Terminal decline set in during the 1960s with only a few shipyards now remaining at Govan, Scotstoun and Greenock.
Now the Clyde is experiencing massive regeneration, finding a new identity as a recreational, residential and business area, fostered by Clyde Waterfront.