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"Conserving Scotland's Maritime Heritage" by Jim Tildesley, former director, Scottish Maritime Museum: Edinburgh meeting of 13 November 2012

Jim Tildesley addressing members on d

Jim Tildesley addressing members on "Conserving Scotland's Maritime Heritage".

© John Yellowlees, 2012

Conserving Scotland's maritime heritage has been a roller-coaster tale, with derelict docks and buildings too often replaced by those that don't relate to their surroundings, a loss probably greater in Scotland than elsewhere in these islands because we once had over one hundred shipyards round our coast.

There are also the remains of ships that litter the coast, including most notably the Carrick. Only wrecks enjoy statutory protection, which is selective in its coverage, but museums retain a superb collection of artefacts.

In the 1990s an unlikely alliance of the Treasury, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, and the Heritage Lottery tried to list historic vessels, and identified no less than 2800 of which it put 55 into its core collection with another 70 of regional signifance. Scottish vessels on the list comprised the Unicorn, the Discovery, Reaper at the Scottish Fisheries Museum and the Glenlee, a sailing cargo vessel built long after steam propulsion had been developed.

The Unicorn at Dundee is one of the oldest surviving ships but because there was no war at the time of her commissioning she was put in ordinary with no mast but a roof, and is the only example in the world of a ship in ordinary, which survived for the training of seafarers. There is no partnership with its more famous neighbour the Discovery, and the Unicorn never gets more than a project grant from the Lottery but needs to be taken out of the water since the last time this was done in 1971 a serious hogging was identified. A further 4 years will elapse before this serious problem can be addressed.

By contrast the Scots-built clipper the Cutty Sark had been preserved out of water at Greenwich so the top half was crushing the bottom half. Major work to address this was started and it then caught fire: she is now lifted up so that you can walk underneath. This method of display has attracted criticism from experts concerned about the long term future of the vessel. Her restoration has now consumed £55M. The HLF contribution is the equivalent of many years funding of the other historic vessels in the UK. As with some other historic vessels only a small proportion of the original vessel survives.

There are more historic Scottish ships in other countries' museums than here. Aberdeen Maritime Museum specialises in North Sea oil, Anstruther has the best fisheries museum in UK, while the new Riverside Museum in Glasgow has good models but there are more in Greenwich and Chatham, but the National Museums of Scotland concentrate on aircraft.

The Scottish Maritime Museum was founded when enthusiasts acquired a puffer and only the Irvine Development Corporation offered it a home. The Linthouse engine-shop was moved there as the main display building. Unfortunately it always leaked so has had to be closed to fix the roof. The collection now contains the oldest complete Scottish vessel, a cast-iron coaster, an 1890s steam yacht, lifesaving craft, ships engines, turbines, tools, boilers, buckets, a small collection of models, rope-making equipment, anchors from NATO depots, figureheads, costumes, handcarts and handtools and also several paintings.

At Dumbarton the Denny Tank for testing vessels has been part restored with a Government grant, and maritime conservation has received more funding since the SNP came to power in 2007. A controlled environment storage area for archives has been built in the Linthouse building, but traditional maritime skills training was wound up in 2001.

Known until 1922 as the City of Adelaide, the Sunderland-built Carrick is a luxury clipper, with 13 first class cabins, that for 28 years carried passengers between Australia and England, then became a hospital ship before transferring as an RNVR base to Greenock from 1922 to 1947, then served at the Princes Dock as an RNVR club where she was listed as a historic building by virtue of being attached to the quay. They gifted her to a group of enthusiasts that managed to sink her in a year.

Historic Scotland encouraged the Maritime Museum to rescue her. Restoration began but unfortunately Strathclyde Regional Council and Irvine Development Corporation were wound up on same day in 1996 to be replaced by cash-starved Councils with other priorities so it took three years for completion of a land-sale to assist the Museum : and the Scottish Government said that they would fund the Museum only if it got rid of the City of Adelaide.

With a campaigner for her return to Sunderland upsetting the site-owner by his occupation of the ship, it was fortunate that interested parties in Australia raised £4M for her return for preservation at a new development in the city whose name she originally bore, and the rudder is already on its way there, but now the Museum must satisfy the Australian authorities on timber importation so that the hulk can be towed on a barge to Rotterdam where she will be craned into a larger ship for the journey down under.

At Braehead planning permission for the shopping centre was conditional on a historic ship being accommodated, and the display proved award-winning but a new owner persuaded the Council to allow its removal for expansion.

Only a tiny proportion of Scottish Government grant aid goes to industrial collections at the Maritime, Fisheries, Lighthouse, Mining Museums and the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, Almond Valley, Wanlockhead and the Discovery. The Maritime were close to demolishing the City of Adelaide when the Australians came to her rescue. The National Museums and Galleries will always ensure that they have first call on available funding.

Report & photograph by John Yellowlees.


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