On the banks of River Clyde, in the town of Clydebank, in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, a towering cantilever crane rises. A hundred years ago, this area was a major shipbuilding hub and the crane was at the heart of its operation. The 150-foot-tall Titan Clydebank lifted heavy equipment such as engines and boilers, during the fitting-out of battleships and ocean liners at the John Brown & Company shipyard. The crane assisted in the building of some of the largest ships of the 20th century, including the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth 2, as well as numerous battleships and destroyers. The shipyard no longer exists, but the crane is still there. It has been transformed into a popular tourist attraction and beautifully illuminated at night. On a clear evening one can see the mighty cantilever crane from miles away.
Titan Clydebank was constructed in 1907 by the Scottish engineer Adam Hunter, who was working as Chief Engineer for Arrol & Co. The dock was used for fitting out vessels, and the crane would lift engines and boilers into ships. Titan Clydebank was the world's first electrically powered cantilever crane, and the largest crane of its type, at the time of its completion. It could lift 160 tons when built and was upgraded to 203 tons in 1938. The lifting capacity of the Titan, and the location of the yard at the confluence of the River Clyde and River Cart, contributed to the success of the yard as it could build extremely large ships. During the First World War, the shipyard was almost exclusively occupied in building warships. By the end of the war it had built more destroyers than any other British shipyard.
By the end of the 1950s, however, technology had changed and shipbuilding yards in other European nations, and in Korea and Japan, capitalized on it and became highly productive. But Clydebank shipyard, just like many other British yards, continued to use outmoded working practices and largely obsolete equipment, making themselves uncompetitive and uneconomic.
In 1968, the yard was amalgamated into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders along with four others, in an attempt to increase competitiveness. But the new government that came into power in 1970 stopped funding the yard, resulting in the closure of John Brown's. The shipyard was bought by an oil rig construction company who used it to build oil rig platforms for the North Sea oil industry. The shipyard was sold off again to a French company in 1980. The new owners closed the yard in 2001.
The historic Titan Clydebank was restored in 2007 and turned into a unique attraction. A new flight of stairs and a lift was installed. The lift shaft was punctured with tall windows to provide spectacular glimpses of the existing structure during ascent. The viewing platform at the top allows visitors to walk along the jib, 150 feet above the River Clyde, and take part in adrenaline rushing activities like bungee jumping and swing.
HMS Repulse is being fitted at John Brown & Co shipyard at Clydebank in 1916. The Titan Crane is on the right. Photo credit
Queen Mary under construction at John Brown & Co shipyard at Clydebank in 1932. Photo credit
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