A River Runs Through It

Located on both the north and south banks of the River Clyde, West College Scotland inherits a rich legacy of innovation, enterprise and industry.  

We at West College Scotland are inspired by this legacy.  We are determined to continue those traditions of innovation and enterprise, and to play our part in helping our communities prosper. 

Here we take a brief look at the industrial heritage of the three main towns we serve – Clydebank, Greenock and Paisley.

We look forward to a different future but we are proud of our history and the culture it forged.

Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire

Sitting immediately to the west of Glasgow, what we now call Clydebank was until the 1870s largely agricultural and rural.

But as demand for “Clydebuilt” ships started to rise, so did demand for shipyards and the land to build them on. The Clyde Bank Iron Shipyard in Glasgow, needing to relocate from Govan on the south bank of the Clyde, bought land north of the river. By 1886 the area had become fully industrialised, densely populated and large enough to apply to become a police burgh, though it still needed a name. They took the name of the original shipyard and Clydebank was born!

The greatest of all the town’s yards was John Brown & Company who built some of the finest and most important ships in history, including the Queen Mary (1934), Queen Elizabeth (1938) and the QEII (1967).

The last ship built at the yard was in 1972 and the yard itself was closed in 2001. In 2008 Clydebank College’s state-of-the-art building was opened on the site of the John Brown yard and this is now the Clydebank campus of West College Scotland.

But there was more to Clydebank than shipbuilding. As early as 1885 the town was home to the biggest factory on earth -- Singers which employed 3,500 workers.  By 1913 – the peak of production - the company was producing 1.3 million sewing machines annually and employed 14,000 people. As late as 1960, 15,000 people worked at Singers. But competition from abroad and a failure to embrace new technologies saw Singers close in 1980.

Today, Clydebank is home to the Golden Jubilee National Hospital, Radio Clyde and host of small and medium enterprises.

Like so many other towns of the industrial age it faces special challenges. West College Scotland, through our long association with the town, is committed to helping the people of Clydebank and West Dunbartonshire meet those challenges by providing leadership in the community and offering a modern fit-for-purpose curriculum that will provide them with appropriate vocational skills.

Greenock, Inverclyde

Greenock sits on the south side of the River Clyde at the “Tail of the Bank”, the point where the river expands into the Firth of Clyde (Clyde Estuary).

It’s an ancient town which can be found in documents dating back nearly 1,000 years. It was, though, transformed first by the opening of trade routes to the Americas following the 1707 Treaty of Union, and then by rapid industrialisation.

And it was a Greenock man, James Watt, who was largely responsible for the process which transformed his home town. Watt – regarded by many as the most important engineer who ever lived - developed the modern steam engine in the 1770s while working at Glasgow University. In the following decades it unleashed the industrial revolution across Britain.

James Watt is remembered in Greenock in place names, memorials and statues. Indeed, for more than a century the local college bore his name until the formation of West College Scotland in 2013.

Greenock’s proximity to the growing metropolis of Glasgow and the city’s need to import and export goods from around the world, meant the town’s docks and quay grew quickly, along with its population. One early luxury item imported to the town was sugar from the Caribbean.

Like Glasgow and Clydebank further up-river, Greenock has a rich shipbuilding heritage. Scotts was founded in 1711 and became the world’s oldest shipbuilding firm.  Lithgows (founded 1874) was at one point the largest privately-owned shipyard on earth. The companies merged in the 1960s but Scott Lithgow, like so many other great names, were out of business by the 1980s. Today, only Ferguson’s of Port Glasgow still builds ships on this part of the Clyde.

Greenock is still a busy working port and freight from across the world is handled at the town’s Ocean Terminal, which is also a destination for some of the world's finest cruise ships. The M8 motorway to Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as excellent railway connections means it has excellent links to the rest of Scotland.

West College Scotland works closely with our business partners in Greenock and across Inverclyde, including with Ferguson Marine and with Inverclyde Council, thereby playing an important part in re-establishing Greenock as an important centre for employment, innovation and enterprise.

Paisley, Renfrewshire

18 miles west of Greenock and before you come to Glasgow, lies Paisley – Scotland’s biggest town.

It has an ancient history, reputedly founded by the Irish monk, St Mirin, in the sixth or seventh century. In the next few centuries, its Abbey developed into one of Scotland’s great religious and educational centres. The great Scottish patriot, William Wallace was educated here.

Like Clydebank and Greenock, Paisley was shaped by the rapid industrialisation of the nineteenth century. Unlike those towns, though, Paisley was transformed not by shipbuilding, engineering or heavy industry but by textiles.

For 150 years, the town was the undisputed thread capital of the world, initially through the work of small weavers. It was these weavers who gave the world the famous Paisley Pattern and Paisley Shawl. However, innovation, the adoption of modern production techniques and American cotton saw the transformation of textiles from a family enterprise into a massive industrial undertaking.

The huge mills, owned in large part by the Coates and Clarke families, dominated employment in the town and they still dominate its skyline today. The last mill closed in 1993 but the magnificent Grade-A listed buildings have been restored and are now used for residential and commercial purposes. The street names of Paisley also act as a permanent reminder of its heritage, among them Gauze Street, Cotton Street, Mill Street and Silk Street.

On the route of the M8 motorway, the town and the surrounding area have in recent years seen huge investment in retail and leisure developments. Its proximity to Glasgow Airport makes it an ideal hub location for many businesses.

West College Scotland has had a presence in the town for nearly 70 years (as Reid Kerr College until 2013), and retains a deep commitment to Paisley. We are actively engaged with Renfrewshire Council and others partners to revitalise and regenerate the town centre for the benefit of our communities and as an acknowledgement of a glorious heritage.