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CILT visit to Fairfield Heritage: Thursday 8 September 2016

The Scottish Region visited Fairfield Heritage on the evening of Thursday 8 September 2016. This was a joint visit with the Nautical Institute.

The Scottish Region Chairman, Ken Thompson, opened the event by welcoming those present and members of the Nautical Institute who had joined the CILT for this event and introduced Brian Baker of Fairfield Heritage who was our host and guide for the event.

Brian welcomed the party and outlined briefly the aims of Fairfield Heritage and the format of the evening. The building had been acquired by Govan workspace Ltd. in a derelict condition in 2010 and opened in 2014 as a premises offering high quality office space and the heritage museum dedicated to the history of the Fairfield shipyard. In addition to the Fairfield building, Govan Workspace currently has three sites, located at Elderpark, Harmony Row and at Alexander Stephen House, all in Govan.

The Fairfield Building, the former shipyard general offices in Govan Road, Glasgow.d

The Fairfield Building, the former shipyard general offices in Govan Road, Glasgow.

© John Fender 2016

The visit began with a video showing the restoration of the building in the superbly restored boardroom. The restoration cost £5.8 million and was funded by the European Development Fund.

The building was built for the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company between 1889 and 1891 when the shipyard was the most advanced in the world at the time. The directors decided that the offices should reflect the importance of the company and compete with the finest of Glasgow's merchant buildings.

Designed by John Keppie of the architects, Honeyman and Keppie, the building is a long classical sandstone office block, with a wide projecting central entrance flanked by with modern French detail and pilastered first floor windows to the open plan drawing offices. It featured a Doric columned tower at the west and had a brick rear. Internally, notable features are the mosaic floored vestibule and ornate wrought iron stair balustrade and large stained glass windows.

The building became Category A listed in 1970 but became surplus to requirements in 2001 and fell into such a state of repair that it was placed on the Buildings at Risk register. In 2008 Govan workspace Ltd began investigating new uses for the building and acquired in in March 2009. They drew up plans to convert it into commercial offices and the former ground floor management offices would house the heritage space.

The Fairfield Shipyard has a long history and the shipyard was opened in 1864 by Randolph, Elder and Co. Ltd. Who purchased the former Fairfield Farm at Govan to allow expansion of their shipbuilding business. This company had started business as Randolph & Elliot in 1834 making machinery and in 1852 John Elder joined the business and the business began building ships at the Old Govan Shipyard.

HMS Duncan on the slipway at Fairfield shipyard just before its launch in 2010d

HMS Duncan on the slipway at Fairfield shipyard just before its launch in 2010

© John Fender 2016

John Elder died in 1869 and was renamed John Elder & Co. Ltd by his widow and in 1885 the business became the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd. During the 1880's the yard build many Blue Riband record breaking ships, leading to orders for fast liners.

In the early 1900's the yard received orders from the Admiralty for destroyers, cruisers and battleships. In 1912 the yard had 12 ships under construction at the same time. During the First World War, the yard built 50 warships in addition to other vessels.

By the 1930's Admiralty work had ceased and the yard focussed mainly on refitting and maintenance of ships. In 1935 the yard was taken over by Lithgow Brothers and not long after, orders began to be placed for warships as the Second World War loomed. During the war, the yard build destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers and battleships as well as other ships for the navy.

After the war the yard returned to building commercial shipping and including tankers, ore carriers and general cargo ships. The Admiralty continued to place orders, mainly for cruisers and frigates.

In 1965 the business was nearly bankrupt but in 1968 the government merged the yard with five others to form Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) under proposals in the Geddes Report. In 1970 Govan shipbuilders Ltd was formed to address some of the problems with working practices. During this period the yard was building large bulk carriers for a variety of customers. In 1971 UCS collapsed and Govan Shipbuilders was later nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders. When British Shipbuilders was broken up under denationalisation in 1988, the Fairfield yard was sold to the Kvaerner Group who modernised the yard which then specialised in building liquefied natural gas and chemicals tankers.

Scottish Region Chairman, Ken Thomson (left) presenting Brian Baker (right) with with one of the Scottish Region's engraved glasses.d

Scottish Region Chairman, Ken Thomson (left) presenting Brian Baker (right) with with one of the Scottish Region's engraved glasses.

© John Fender 2016

In 1999 the yard passed to BAE Systems and destroyers, sections for the Royal Navy's two new aircraft carriers and logistics support ships have been built there. The yard is currently working on the second and third of three offshore patrol ships for the Royal Navy.

The party were then given a tour of the building, starting with the museum where many artefacts from the yard are displayed, along with models of ships built by the yard over the years, ranging from paddle steamers to warships, tankers and cargo ships. There are numerous interactive displays and a detailed history of the yard and the people who worked there.

Some of the office space was also shown to the party, this being bright and modern. The businesses that occupy the offices are small, new businesses and start-up businesses can rent office accommodation ranging from a single desk to a full office suite, depending on their needs. Govan workspace is to be commended in securing the future for the building and bringing new work opportunities to the Govan area of Glasgow.

After the tour there was a wine reception and at the conclusion of the evening the chairman presented Brian Baker with one of the Scottish Region's engraved glasses as a memento of the event.

The Scottish Region would like to thank Govan Workspace Ltd and Brian Baker for hosting the event.

Full details of Fairfiled Heritage can be found at:

Report and photographs by John Fender.


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