Scotland's Industrial History



Due to a favourable combination of coal reserves, iron ore availability, free market economy and a pool of intellectual talent, Scotland found itself at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution which took hold in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Activities encompassed iron and steel, shipbuilding, cotton spinning and steam engine manufacture.

Visitors who wish to connect with this dynamic era can chose from a selection of sites, as listed below, most of which can be found in western and central Scotland.

James Watt (1736-1819)

Scots inventor, James Watt, is famous for refining the existing steam engine, thus making it more efficient and thereby acting as a catalyst to the Industrial Revolution. Watt is reputed to have had his 'Euraka' moment whilst walking in Glasgow Green, not far from the centre of modern-day Glasgow.

City of Glasgow from Glasgow Green



Whilst Watt was struggling with practical implementation of his ideas a businessman who owned a local iron works and was leasing Kinneil House, Bo'ness, (about 20 miles N.W.
west of Edinburgh) at the time provided Watt with a 'research facility' (cottage/workshop) just a few yards from Kinneil House to work on his engine in a secure and private area. Watt subsequently moved south to Birmingham, England where his engine proved a success.

Workshop at Kinneil House


 Stanley Mills.

The site was in production for about 200 years, until final closure in 1989. During the long period of operation the site was mainly used for producing cotton based products using free energy in the form of water power from the River Tay. Today, there is still a hydro-electric scheme in operation on site which produces power for the local community.


Location is about 10 miles north of Perth in central Scotland.

New Lanark

This massive cotton manufacturing plant has its origins in the the late 18th century when it was originally established by David Dale (1739-1806).  Original power source was free and very eco-friendly in the form of the River Clyde. This resulted is some very advanced and impressive engineering to harness the power of the water supply which remains in evidence today. Apart from the sheer scale of this enterprise, New Lanark is remembered for the social pioneering of subsequent owner, Robert Owen who focused on the workers quality of life as manifested in improved working conditions, a school, adult education and a village store.


Location is about 30 miles S.E. of Glasgow.

Anchor Mills, Paisley
  • Built 1886 for John Clark of the eponymous Paisley based family of thread manufacturers. Clark & Co merged with J & P Coats in 1896 as well as other businesses in England and the USA. This new company had its headquarters in Glasgow, and upon flotation had a market value in the region of £22 million, with roughly 25,000 shareholders. This was one of the world’s first truly global companies, employing around 21,000 people worldwide.
  • Constructed in red brick and extends to 36,000 square feet.
  • The interior features a central well topped with an unusual glass lantern light. This design allows light to flood in and provide space for drive belts to reach machines on top floor from engine on ground floor.
  • The anchor mills complex reached a peak of 51 acres in 1952 but work ceased in the 1980s.
  • After a period of dereliction, the site was regenerated under auspices of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust (Prince Charles) and was re-opened in 2005 as a combined location for business units and private apartments.
Museum: At the Mile End Mill on Seedhill Road there is a  museum is dedicated to the story of thread making in Paisley from commencement in1722 to final closure in 1993. The facility is open on every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon, all year round.



Location is about 12 miles west of Glasgow

Titan Crane, Clydebank, Glasgow
  • This magnificent structure dates from 1907 and was once part of the famous John Brown shipbuilding works on the River Clyde. After a long and illustrious history dating back to the mid 19th century, shipbuilding went into prolonged decline and the yards were finally demolished in 2002.
  • The Crane was listed as a Category ‘A’ structure (highest possible) and has been transformed into a tourist attraction in context of an initiative to regenerate the Clydebank area. A lift takes visitors to the top of the crane where there is information and a film on the proud shipbuilding tradition of the Clyde, not to mention the stunning views of Glasgow to the east and Erskine Bride to the west.
  • Famous ships built at the John Brown yard include: Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Royal Yacht Britannia, QE2, Lusitania and HMS Hood.
Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life
  • Aided by local supplies of coal and iron plus a transport infrastructure initially based on canals and then railways the Summerlee area was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution which gained momentum post 1815 in central Scotland with Glasgow as a hub. Products included steam ships, steam engines, boilers and textile machinery. Huge fortunes were made by entrepreneurs who adroitly exploited the new industries.
  • The museum at Summerlee is both indoor and outdoor. Outside, visitors can view the massive Garrett Locomotive, site of iron works, canal, tram depot, coal mine, miners houses and a colliery engine. Inside, the Exhibition Hall has themed sections including blast furnace, pig iron, canals and railways, coal mining, pre-industrial and more, including art displays.

Location is about 10 miles east of Glasgow

Paddle Steamer, Waverley

This vessel is usually based at Glasgow  History as follows:
  • Built 1946 by A&J Inglis at Glasgow.
  • Hull is 240 feet long, 58 feet wide and of traditional construction.
  • Originally certificated for 1350 passengers since reduced to 860 now.
  • Rebuilt in 2000 and 2003.
  • Engine is a 2100 h.p. diagonal triple expansion which normally operates at 44 rpm to give a 13 knot service speed.
  • Paddles are 17 feet across and each has floats of 11 feet by 3 feet.
  • The ship undergoes extensive maintenance during the winter period and during April undergoes a full hull survey, painting and repairs.

Paddle steamers had carried commuters and tourists on the Firth of Clyde since Victorian times. By 1900 there were over 50 such Clyde Steamers operating. The Waverley was the only paddle steamer built after WW2. However, demand for cruising declined in tandem with increasing car use and changes of holiday habits.

The Waverley usually sails on the Clyde during June, July and August calling at sixteen ports.

Tall Ship, Glenlee 

This vessel is moored on the River Clyde at Glasgow, close to the new Riverside (Transport) Museum.

The Glenlee was built in Port Glasgow in 1896, just a few miles away from its current moorings. Here are some important facts and figures relating to the ship:
  • Length 74.4m, Beam 11.4m and Depth 6.8m.
  • Gross tonnage: 1613 tons.
  • Cargo capacity: 2,600 tons.
  • Originally named Glenlee but renamed Islamount i 1899.
  • Employed as a cargo vessel under the British flag until 1919 when sold to an Italian company and renamed Clarastella.
  • Completed four circumnavigations of the world.
  • Acquired by Spanish Navy in 1922 for sail training purposes and renamed Galatea.
  • Acquired by Clyde maritime Trust in 1992 and returned to the Clyde.
  • Restored and opened to the public in 1999.
Steam Trains

Visitors have a choice of three steam trains all of which operate around the period April-October, viz:
  • Jacobite Express: Fort William to Mallaig in the Highlands.
  • Strathspey Steam Railway at Aviemore in the Highlands.
  • Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway, about 20 miles N.W. of Edinburgh.
Check respective websites for details.

Forth & Clyde Canal

This canal has a long history, being at the forefront of the industrial revolution when it was built in the late 18th century (work commenced 1768) to link the east and west coasts of Scotland’s industrial heartland. It operated until 1963 and was subsequently re-opened in 2001. The canal covers a 35 mile route which, intriguingly, closely follows the line of the Antonine Wall built some 1600 years previously by the Romans. Today’s rail and road routes follow a roughly similar line of communication.

It is possible to cycle and/or walk along the canal between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Today, the canal is mainly used by leisure craft and has become something of a wildlife refuge.There are 39 locks in total.

Canal scene near Linlithgow.


© Nigel P Cole/Catswhiskerstours Limited

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