THE new shop inside Fairfield, Govan’s museum of shipbuilding, is home to a lovingly curated display of books and posters, mugs, stationery, bags and more which help to tell the story of this historic place.

One of the bestselling items is a t-shirt, proudly proclaiming: “Born in Glasgow. Made in the shipyards.”

Pat Cassidy, managing director of Govan Workspace, who own the building, explains: “The people who come to visit us are very proud of their shipbuilding heritage. They are from shipbuilding families and you’ll often hear them chatting to our volunteers, saying, oh, my auntie worked here, or my grandad was a shipbuilder…”

Glasgow Times: Fairfield workers at the Govan yard. Pic: Newsquest

He adds: “This is a shipbuilding community. Govan is still full of shipbuilding families – it might be their grandfathers and grandmothers now, but the links to the industry are still there.”

The shop, and extended opening hours which mean Fairfield can finally welcome visitors seven days a week, have been made possible by funding from Museums and Galleries Scotland.

Museum co-ordinator Abigail Morris explains: “This is a huge boost for us, because it means people who can’t get here during the week because of work or school commitments, for example, can now come at the weekends. It’s great news for the community, who have been asking us to do this for a long time.

Glasgow Times: Fairfields Shipyard

“We’re delighted to receive the funding from Museums and Galleries Scotland and grateful to our amazing volunteers – it means we can welcome visitors seven days a week, from 1pm until 4pm.”

The large, impressive building on Govan Road in which Fairfield Museum has taken root, was once the headquarters of the most successful shipyard in the world.

Designed by renowned architects Honeyman and Keppie and completed in 1891, it still has many original features in place, carefully and sympathetically restored by Govan Workspace, who took on the building in 2009.

Glasgow Times: Abigail Morris, Fairfield Heritage co-ordinator. Photograph by Colin Mearns

In the elegant boardroom Pat and Abigail agree it is not difficult to imagine the grand space back in the late 19th century, full of bowler-hatted managers and directors, making plans to ensure Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd became the best in the world.

“You can almost smell the cigar smoke,” smiles Abigail. “There was a wine cellar off the boardroom, once, and it’s no coincidence the two fireplaces in the building were in here and in the managing director’s office.

“They knew how to look after themselves down this end of the building.”

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Fairfield sat unwanted and unloved for around eight years, before Govan Workspace took it on. The company has been converting redundant buildings in Govan for more than 40 years and has so far let to around 100 businesses, employing 500 people.

“Fairfield lay empty and rotting for years, and the community wanted to do something with it,” says Pat. “There had been other suggestions – a residential plan, council offices – but none were viable. So we approached the owners, and they said, ‘okay, see what you can do with it..”

The team initially raised enough funding to save the building, then set about securing grants to restore it. After a mammoth £5.8m refurbishment, it opened its doors in 2014.

The building’s beautiful interior includes sandstone walls and ornate wooden fixings. The old counting house – “a substantial area, given there were 9500 employees to be paid,” says Pat – is now office space, rented out to a range of companies including some working at the cutting edge of design and technology.

Glasgow Times: Abigail Morris, Fairfield Heritage co-ordinator. She is pictured in the Fairfield Heritage museum of shipbuilding in Govan looking at an interactive display that tells the history of the shipyard.
Photograph by Colin Mearns

“Renowned engineering was what made Fairfield, and the building continues to provide a home to excellence in a variety of fields,” smiles Pat. “When we took it on, the whole building was painted white. It took us a long time to peel away all those layers to get to the original sandstone, but it was worth it.”

Newsquest 1955

The plan was to create a business centre, similar to other Govan Workspace projects, but Fairfield was different, as Pat explains.

“We felt very strongly there should be a heritage element,” he says. “There was nothing in Govan to celebrate its shipbuilding heritage, its tremendous place in the world.”

He adds, in exasperation: “Glasgow is missing a trick here. People come from all over the world just for the city’s maritime heritage.

“Walk into a shipbuilding museum in Barcelona, and what is the first thing you see? A Clydebuilt ship. The same is true in Sydney.

“One of the problems is the image that crept in during the 80s that engineering and shipbuilding were all about metalbashing, instead of recognising them as highly skilled, high-tech industries.”

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He adds: “There should be a national museum of shipbuilding in Glasgow, and Govan should be the place for it. Fairfield is a small project, and the community is very proud of it, but the city deserves something much bigger.”

Fairfield is now open from 1pm until 4pm, seven days a week. Entry is free and there is no need to book. For more information, visit the website