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The Clyde from the Source to the Sea
Chapter VI. The River

An important feature in connection with both ancient and modern Glasgow is its river. Bounding it on the south in the early days, it now passes through it, the old Barony of Gorbals being absorbed, and streets extended far and wide along what was once grassy banks where the sheep pastured.

To go no farther back than what can be recalled by the memory of many citizens, we see a comparatively shallow stream, much subject to floods, crossed by three bridges having the high narrow roadway of the old builders. The Glasgow Bridge of those days, say sixty years ago, was not the handsome almost level structure of the present time, but rose high in the middle, with narrow footpaths, and a broad ledge outside of the parapet, along which the foolhardy youngsters of that time dared to walk.

On the lower side of the bridge an apron of causeway had been put to protect the piers from the action of the stream, and above this stonework the tide did not rise. So shallow was the Clyde at that time in the harbour that one who was a boy of that period tells the author that he easily waded across and rested himself on the paddle-wheels of the Largs, one of the early Clyde river steamers. The banks on the south side, below the bridge, were largely open fields where cattle pastured, and the old towing path by the margin afforded a pleasant promenade to the old gentleman of the period down by the fisher’s hut to Govan.

The shallowness of the river at low-water was also so marked, that somewhere about the present Clyde Street Ferry the workers of the mills which were about Spring-held used to wade across to their homes on the north side. The boys also sometimes attempted an opposition to the halfpenny ferry, which at that time existed, by swimming across with their clothes tied in a bundle on the top of their heads. Their nautical instincts also had opportunities of development in the quiet waters of the “Hemin,” where they sailed their boats. This pond, as somewhat implied by its name, was simply a part of the shallow water of the river on the south side, bordered and shut off from the Clyde by the towing-path: the water was used for a spinning-mill in the neighbourhood. Another amusement of these sixty-years-ago juveniles was to throw clods into the river and fish them out, perhaps on the following day, a large number of small eels having congregated about the clods in the meantime; these were taken home and placed in basins of water to edify the young naturalists and their friends.

At that time big posts were placed out from the bank to tie vessels to, and the small single-ladder dredger with its attendant punts did what it could to deepen the channel. To assist it in getting at the shallower portions near the river bank, an iron spoon-like machine with a long pole attached was dragged outwards by a windlass placed on a punt in deeper water. By this means some of the sand, &c., of the shallow parts was brought within the rano-e of the dredgers buckets, which in turn transferred it to the punts; a windlass on the shore, with rope attachment, drew the spoon back again for a fresh start. Something like this spoon arrangement was the only method adopted for dredging the river at the time of Pennant’s visit in 1772.

It is interesting to note that one of the early methods of scooping up the sharp river sand for building purposes still exists in full action above the Stockwell Bridge, where the passer-by may notice a strange flat box-like boat, with a mast, to which is slung a long pole or yard, which is frequently lowered and raised, bringing with it a quantity of sand from the bottom in a box or bucket suspended from one of the ends of the yard.

It was considered an event in the annals of Glasgow, as showing the great improvement which had been effected on the river by persevering operations, when about 1828 the first ship, the Earl of Balhousie, came up to Glasgow with a cargo of sugar from the West Indies, destined, no doubt, for the sugar-refinery which then stood in Ann Street. This vessel must have taken several tides to get up, coming, as she did, partly under sail and partly horse-towed. No wonder that the early dredgers were called the “Terror of Greenock,” as now here was the commodity, which formerly was transhipped and brought up by the goods steamers, Industry and Trusty, discharged a hundred yards or so from its ultimate destination.

Above the Glasgow Bridge the houses on the north side were residential, and had grass slopes extending from the outside of the1 roadway to the water, an iron railing dividing the grassy part from the street, something like what still exists on the south side.

At that time the city of Glasgow lay mostly on the north side of the Clyde; on the south side was the Barony of Gorbals; Calton, Bridgeton, Anderstoil and Finnieston adjoined the city proper on the east and west.

Pennant in his Tour in Scotland, 1772, says: “The city of Glasgow till lately was perfectly tantalized with its river; the water was shallow, the channel much too wide for the usual quantity of water that flowed down, and the navigation interrupted by twelve remarkable shoals. Spring-tides do not flow above three feet or neap-tides above one at Broomy Law quay, close to the town, so that in dry seasons lighters are detained there for several weeks, or are prevented from arriving there, to the great detriment of the city.” He then refers to his friend John Golborne of Chester, “that honest and able engineer,” being called in by the city authorities; “and he entered into contract with the magistrates of Glasgow to deepen the channel to seven feet at the quay, even at neap-tides.” And he adds, “before this improvement lighters of only thirty tons burden could reach the quay; at present vessels of seventy come there with ease.”

Mr. Pennant proceeds down the river, and goes to “ survey the machines for deepening the river ; they are called ploughs, are large hollow cases, the back is of cast-iron, the two ends of wood, the other side open. These are drawn across the river by means of capstans placed on long wooden frames or flats; are drawn over empty, returned with the iron side downwards, which scoops the bottom and brings up at every return half a ton of gravel, depositing it on the bank, and thus twelve hundred tons are cleared every day. Where the river is too wide the shores are contracted by jetties.” These jetties, by the eddies around them, gradually accumulated sand, &c., and so narrowed the channel; and to increase the natural scour of the river-tiow Rennie proposed to still further increase the action by joining the jetties by training walls-Telford at a later date was called in, but seems to have looked at the question more from the point of view of the tidal water being allowed to flow freely up the river, and so add to the scour in its downward course.

The condition of the Clyde has exercised the faculties of the inhabitants on its banks from an early period. Indeed, so far back as the year 1566 an attempt was made to clear away an extensive shoal or sand-bank above Dumbarton Rock, near Dumbuck. Since that time the bed of the river has had much attention turned to it, and various have been the means adopted to give it that breadth of water-way which from time to time it was thought desirable to have. Eminent authorities were called in, surveys carried out, and plans made, showing the existing condition of things. Smeaton, the “father of modern engineering,” and builder of the famous Eddystone Lighthouse, reported in 1755, and he points out, to begin with, twelve shoals between Glasgow and Renfrew, the depths of water on some of these being 15 inches at low and 44 inches at high water. To enable vessels 70 feet long to get up to Glasgow, he proposed to get a constant depth of 4b feet for a few miles down, by placing a dam and lock across the river. Watt, afterwards famous for his revolution in the steam-engine, made a survey in 1769 and reported on the depth of the channel. Ingenious minds were at work devising other schemes whereby the river could be made available for the passage of larger vessels. One of these was to place large waterproof hags at the sides of the vessel, so as to float her up higher towards the surface; the inventor pointing out that a vessel requiring 10 or 15 feet of water in ordinary cases might he made to float with 5 feet or even less; he then goes into a calculation, showing the quantity of air required.

To render the river navigable above the harbour was also the subject of a design. This was to place a timber dam on the top of the weir, already referred to as existing below the Glasgow Bridge. Part of this dam was to be floating, so that when the water was low the upper or movable part would remain down upon the fixed part, and so constitute a dam, raising the water above to that extent, but when the water rose, due to floods in the river, the upper part would rise and allow the flood-water readily to flow down. One special advantage claimed in thus raising the level of the river, was that the sand and mud which is brought down during floods, would not be stopped in its downward course as is the case with a fixed dam, but would pass onwards with the flood-water when the floating part of the dam rose.

Golborne in 1768 reported that “The River Clyde is at present in a state of nature, and for want of due attention has been suffered to expand too much;” and he goes on to state: “I shall proceed on these principles of assisting nature when she cannot do her own work, by removing the stones and hard gravel from the bottom of the river where it is shallow, and by contracting the channel where it is worn too wide.” Golborne, in thus “assisting nature,” shows advanced views, and the result afterwards proved that his opinions were founded on correct principles. It is interesting to find very much the same ideas expressed by the late Prof. Rankine in his Manual of Civil Engineering, written about one hundred years after. Speaking of improvements of river channels, he says: “The works for the improvement of the channel consist mainly of:—I. Excavations to remove islands and shoals, and widen narrow places. II. Regulating dykes, to contract wide shallows. III. Works for stopping useless branches.” And further, “the object kept in view should be to obtain a channel either of nearly uniform section, or of a section gradually enlarging from above downwards, with a current that shall be sufficient to discharge flood-waters without overflowing the banks more than can be avoided, and at the same time not so rapid as to make it difficult or impossible to preserve the stability of the channel.”

In the discussion of a paper on “The River Clyde,” by Mr. Jas. Deas, C.E., engineer to the Clyde Trustees, Mr. James Abernethy said: “Amongst the various navigable tidal rivers of Great Britain the Clyde stood prominently forward as an example of a river improved by following out what he considered a sound engineering principle, namely, that of bringing the river into a state of equilibrium by the construction of works to create a current proportionate to the size and form of the channel and the nature of its bed.” Mr. Abernethy then went on to say that Smeaton, Golborne, Watt, Telford, Rennie, and Walker had acted on the principle of increasing the tidal volume and prolonging its flow upwards by dredging, and by filling up indents which tended to create eddies. The jetties with their joining training-walls and dredging had to a great extent improved the Clyde; he thought that the Clyde and Tyne were illustrations that navigable channels of tidal rivers depended on tidal ebb and flow and not upon the natural stream or floods.

Some of the special characteristics of the navigable water-way of the Clyde were given recently by Mr. Deas (meeting of the Inst. Mechanical Engineers, Edinburgh, 1887). “A hundred years ago at Glasgow there was at low water a depth of 15 inches. Now they had from 18 to 20 feet at Glasgow at low-water. One hundred years ago high-water was only noticeable at Glasgow—it came rippling up. Now they had 11 feet range of tide, and a good deal of the depth had been obtained, not by the raising of high-water, but by taking out the bottom, which was now virtually level from Port-Glasgow to Glasgow. The tide at Glasgow 100 years ago was three hours later than at Port-Glasgow. It was now only one hour later. In 1871 there took place 59 groundings between Glasgow and the sea, and the maximum draught was 21 feet 7 inches. Last year the groundings were only 1G, and the maximum draught was 21 feet 9 inches.”

From the experience gathered during the past one hundred years engineers may readily determine their course of action in regard to the improvement of tidal rivers; and when we see the present condition of such rivers as the Clyde and the Tyne, with their great depth of water and well-formed lines of banks, carrying the largest vessels both of the merchant and Her Majesty’s navy, we are apt to forget the difficulties which beset the would-be improvers of these rivers fully a century ago: that those difficulties were not slight is the more obvious when we consider the high engineering talent and skill which from time to time were devoted to the desired improvements. The Clyde had for its early engineering advisers, as already stated, such well-known men as Smeaton and James Watt. Later on Rennie, the designer of Waterloo Bridge on the Thames, Plymouth Breakwater, and other great works, advised the authorities in 1799; and Telford, the great bridge and road builder, was also called to give his advice in 1806. Walker and Ure at later dates gave completeness to the earlier efforts, and the charge of this important work is now placed under the care of Mr. James Deas, C.E.

Turning to the sister river, the Tyne, we find that in 1782 a survey was made by John Fryer, who, like Watt, was a mathematician. Rennie in 1813 reported on the best methods of dealing with the natural channel, such as by narrowing it at certain wide parts and widening and removing obstructions at others. Cubitt, Rendell, and Walker at later dates also contributed of their wide engineering experience, the work being finally brought to a successful issue under Ure in 1859.

It is interesting to trace in the records left the various ideas of the engineers employed to bring about the grand results obtained in both rivers. In the case of the Clyde we find that Smeaton proposed to place a lock and dam at a part of the river called the Marling Ford, which from a map of the river made by John Watt, sen., in 1731, is placed about a couple of miles above Renfrew. The lock was to be 70 feet long by 18 feet wide, and deep enough to admit of a “lighter” drawing 44 feet of water, passing through and up to Glasgow. Nothing came of this proposal, and Golborne was called in to help the magistrates of the city in their difficulty. He proposed to contract the river by jetties, and also to dredge the channel. In 1770 an act of parliament was obtained for this purpose. The work was carried out, and by 1775 Golborne had built 117 jetties, and raised the depth of the water at the Broomielaw, so that vessels drawing 6 feet of water could come up to the quay there at higli-tide. Rennie’s proposal was to join the ends of the jetties by training-walls. This was afterwards done and land reclaimed from the river. Telford did not place much reliance on the jetties, as he considered the main thing was to get as much tidal water up the river as possible by shaping the bed to suit.

Turning to the Tyne, we find an additional difficulty confronting the engineers in the bar at its mouth. Thus besides the improvement of the channel of the river, the prolongation of this channel through the bar had to be attended to. Rennie in 1813 recommended improvements on the banks and channel by walls. Nothing, however, was done. Cubitt in 1837 approved of this plan, but considered that dredging should also be employed. This was carried out, but the results were not satisfactory. Walker believed that the first difficulty lay in the bar. Piers were then built out from Tynemouth and South Shields. Dredffine: also went on. But it was not till after 1859 that effective results were obtained through the vigorous measures resorted to by Mr. Ure, which included thorough and complete dredging. The result being that instead of a depth of water on the bar of 6 feet at low-water and 4 feet in the channel up to Newcastle, as in 1813, and as it continued very much for forty years afterwards, the condition of things in 1879 was that the depth on the bar was 22 feet at low-water, and 37 feet at high-water of springs; and at Newcastle 20 to 25 feet at low, and 35 to 40 feet at high water.

The great advantage obtained by securing an additional tidal flow has been well exemplified at the port of Dublin, where, about seventy years ago the depth of water on the bar was only about six feet, but by building the Bull Wall out towards the end of the previously built South Wall, a large water area was obtained amounting to about 2500 acres, the scour due to the ebb of which rapidly cut down into the bar, until a depth of 1G feet at low-water was obtained, or 28 feet at high-water of springs. The river channel is deepened by dredging, the dredgings being removed in hopper-barges, some of them carrying 1000 tons, and deposited outside in the sea. The dredging plant of the Clyde Navigation Trustees consists of 6 dredging machines from 40 to 75 nominal horse-power;  floating steam digger barge; 18 hopper-barges from 35 to 65 nominal horse-power, with a fleet of punts and boats, several diving-bells, &c. Some of the dredgers are capable of working in 30 ft. of water, and have lifted nearly 400,000 cubic yards in a single year. During the year 1887, 1,319,344 cubic yards were dredged. The total amount dredged during the last forty-three years amounts to 32,261,778 cubic yards.

The following reference to the deepening of bars appeared in the Times, 1885: “The Cunard Company have now readied the limit of draught permitted by the entrance to New York. Measures, however, are being taken to dredge away or rather disperse the bar to the extent of 2 ft., by a machine called a dredging plough, which is designed to disturb the bar and disperse the sand by air force when the currents are setting seawards. Still, when this is done it will only permit vessels coming east to be fully laden instead of as at present leaving freight unshipped. The ship-owner and ship-builder can now do little more for the ease of an Atlantic voyage; they wait upon the harbour and dock authorities for permission to increase the breadth and depth, and therefore the steadiness and comfort, of their steamers.”

The liver Mersey is only about 56 miles in length, but at Liverpool is much wider than the Clyde at Glasgow, being a thousand yards in width between Liverpool and Birkenhead. An immense area of sand-banks exists at the mouth of the river; various channels exists through these banks, kept in equilibrium by the flow of the tide. On the bar at the mouth of the main channel the depth at low-water of spring-tides is as little as 10 feet, and at high-water 40 feet, thus giving an extreme range of 80 feet. The total water area of the Liverpool docks is about 80S acres. The total water area of the Birkenhead docks is about 1641 acres. Total, 532£ acres. See Paper in Trans. Inst. Naval Architects, 1887, by G. F. Lyster.

As the range of the tide in the Clyde is not so great as at Liverpool or London, there is less necessity for having docks or basins with locks or gates upon them; but to increase the quay area several basins or docks have been made opening to the river by entrances sufficiently wide for ordinary traffic, and which are crossed by swing-bridges. The first basin so constructed is known as the Kingston Dock, and was excavated in 18G7 out of the lands formerly known as the Windmill Croft; the water area covers fully 5 acres. The Queen’s Dock, excavated on the old lands of Stobcross on the north side, was opened in 1882, and has a water area of 33 acres. The quays alongside have a lineal extent of 3334 yards, are fitted with hydraulic cranes and capstans, and there is a railway connection with the main lines. Considerable difficulty was experienced in excavating part of this dock, where the till or boulder-clay had been largely deposited, and which from its tough tenacious nature offered great resistance to the pick or the more powerful action of explosives.

Additional docks are being made on the south side of the river immediately opposite the Queen’s Dock, the entire area of which when finished will be about 38 acres, with 3786 lineal yards of quays. Two large graving-docks have been constructed within the last few years, both in the neighbourhood of the docks in process of construction on the south side of the river. It may be sufficient to give an idea of the size of these docks if we say that the City of Rome, the longest steamship afloat—always excepting the Great Eastern, which has long had the misfortune to be out of employment— was docked in No. 1 Graving Dock a year or two ago. No. 2 Graving Dock was opened in 1886, and is close to No. 1. The two docks are very similar in design, and the following extracts from description of No. 2 Dock,

“The wing walls and apron of entrance are carried on triune concrete cylinders, 9 ft. in external and 5 ft. 9 in. internal diameter, sunk 24 ft. into the ground, and filled up with concrete, their tops being 3 ft. below the level of top of sill at centre.” This system of concrete cylinders has also been successfully used by Mr. Deas in the other works of dock and quay Avails from time to time in the extensions made by the Clyde Trust. “ The whole body of the dock is of concrete, except the side Avails of entrance, the stairs, timber slides, top altar course, and cope, Avliich are of granite, and all the other altar courses, seventeen in number, of granolithic 14 in. on the tread and 181 in. rise, except the bottom courses which is 30 in. average rise.” “The floor of caisson chamber is a brick-in-cement invert, Avith granite stones and cast-iron blocks alternately for carrying the rails upon Avliich the caisson travels.” “The caisson for closing the entrance is of iron, rectangular in shape.” The steam pumping machinery of No. 1 Dock is also employed for No. 2 Dock. The cost is stated as not exceeding £100,000. No. 1 Dock cost £127,500. by Mr. James Deas, C.E., the engineer of these works, Avill giAre a correct idea of their character:—

The principal shipping quays on each side of the Clyde extend from the Broomielaw to the entrance of the Queen’s Dock. Additional wharfage exists both further down and above the Glasgow Bridge, the total length of quayage being about 6 miles.

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