GLASGOW’S lost public transport does not just include trams and trolley buses.

While contemporary systems are restricted to overground or underground services like the buses, trains and subway, there once was an alternative - the river Clyde.

In April 1884, four passenger ferries began operating up and down the Clyde between Victoria Bridge and Whiteinch.

Built by Thomas B Seath & Sons of Rutherglen, each 72-foot-long ferry was sold for £2050 to the Clyde Navigation Trust. The Trust was responsible for the widening, deepening and maintenance of the river. It also provided cross-river services, including moving platform ferries at Finnieston and Whiteinch.

Glasgow Times: A Clutha alongside the landing stage, Meadowside Quay, c1900 Pic: Glasgow City Archives

The passenger ferries were immensely popular and soon, more were ordered to expand the service. The construction of the last six took place at Dumbarton and Port Glasgow rather than Rutherglen.

By 1898, there were twelve of these ferries. Every one of them was named Clutha (an 18th century name for the Clyde) and numbered from one to 12. Each Clutha could carry between 230 and 350 passengers and the service was frequent at every fifteen minutes. There were ten landing stages between the city centre and Whiteinch which at that time was part of the burgh of Partick. These landing stages are named on a map of the River and Forth of Clyde (dated 1900) in our collections.

The Cluthas carried workers who commuted to shipyards and engineering workshops along the Clyde. They were especially popular among the residents of Govan and Partick and were also a major employer of Gaelic-speaking sailors.

Their heyday was in 1897, a year in which three million passengers sailed with them. However, space onboard was at a premium. Passengers were crammed in and extra space was only afforded to those who could pay a bit extra. Additional onboard space included the ladies’ cabin and the smoking room.

We hold many archives relating to the Cluthas in our Clyde Navigation Trust collection, including reports, statements of accounts, papers concerning trials of new ferries and photographs.

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Among a group photographs are pictures of two former Clutha superintendents: Alexander McPherson and Robert Grieve. Elsewhere, we hold the general arrangement, profile and main deck plans for Clutha No. 1 which was built in January 1884. Several models of various Cluthas are also held among the Glasgow Museums ship models collection.

The rise of alternative riverside transport heralded the end of the Cluthas. When Glasgow’s tram system became electrified in 1898, it offered a cheaper and more efficient way to get around.The Cluthas were discontinued in 1903 although the cross-river services remained.