THE project to make Glasgow and the Clyde began with various schemes to deepen the river.

This was followed by ambitious plans to develop dock facilities to deal with the resulting increase in trade.

The first successful project to deepen the Clyde was by John Golborne, commissioned in 1775, and completed in 1781. Further alterations were made in 1800, 1840 and 1876. This led to a rapid increase in Glasgow’s trade.

To cope with this rise Glasgow introduced the Clyde Navigation Act 1840, which enabled the city to establish much-needed harbour facilities. The act forced industry to move down river leaving the area alongside east of the River Kelvin to be developed as docks.

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Until 1858 the development of the Clyde was the responsibility of the Town Council of Glasgow through its River Improvement Trust. In 1856 a new Clyde Navigation Act established the Clyde Navigation Trust. Its main task was to provide dock accommodation for ships using the port of Glasgow. The council was represented on the new body.

In 1858 there was only one small private dock belonging to Tod McGregor on the upper reaches of the Clyde. The success of this dock and the need for more berths encouraged the trustees to build more accommodation.

The trust established quays at Mavisbank and Plantation on the south bank and at Finnieston and Stobcross on the north side, and tidal basins were constructed at Finnieston and Stobcross on the north bank, and more were constructed at Kingston Dock in 1867, the Queen’s Dock in 1877 and at Prince’s Dock in 1897.

The land used for Prince’s Dock (initially called Cessnock Dock) lay between the south side of the river and Govan Road. The area had previously been used as a market garden. This required the trust to buy land on the south side of the river. It purchased the estates of Cessnock. Middleton, Bankton and Haughhead to the east of Govan and south of Plantation Quay.

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These were bought in small lots by individual trustees, avoiding higher prices as they came on the market. When the purchase of the 100-acre site was almost complete, the trustees sold the land to the trust.

The main opposition was the Burgh of Govan. This was not to the building of the docks. Its objection was to the diversion of Renfrew Road, an important route to Renfrew, Port Glasgow and Greenock. It was also the main link between Glasgow, the shipyards and the other industries of Govan.

The trustees planned to divert Renfrew Road by building a new road, taking this road across the entrance of No 2 dock by two swing bridges.

The Tramways Company also raised various objections to the swing bridges. This included greater tear and wear on the rolling stock and the danger of foot passengers, particularly the young falling into the water.

Glasgow Times:  Garden Festival site Garden Festival site (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

It said: “On Saturdays especially, there is a perfect exodus of the young and boisterous classes of shipbuilding operatives from Govan to the various places of amusement in the city; and goodly proportion of these may always be returning at late hours under the influence of liquor, many of them quite incapable of taking proper precautions for their own safety.”

The dock was completed in 1897 when it was renamed Prince’s Dock in honour of the Duke of York, who performed the opening ceremony.

It was equipped with the latest technology, including a 130-tonne steam crane, one of the largest in the world. Erected in 1895 it was used to fit engines and boilers in newly built ships.

In the inter-war period of 1919 to 1939, the volume of world trade grew very slowly and trade in Glasgow Harbour declined markedly from 1960. Its docks became derelict and began to close. In 1971 the main quays at Prince’s Dock closed. Its basins were filled with rubble from a variety of sources, including demolished Victoria tenements, St Enoch’s Station and Hotel and Cathcart Castle.

In 1983 the Prince’s Dock was sold by the Clyde Port Authority to Laing Homes for the development of residential accommodation. It was leased by the company to the Scottish Development Agency for the Garden Festival, held in 1988. The theme of the festival was “a day out of this world”.