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October 8, 2008

‘Riveting’ tales from the Govan shipyards

Within living memory, ‘Clydebuilt’ was known the world over as a mark of quality. For a time, Scotland was the greatest shipbuilding nation on earth. The Govan yards were at the heart of this, and around them grew strong communities with proud traditions. But in a relatively short space of time much of this heritage has been lost. A new project is trying to do something about it


That’s a big laddie you’ve got there – he’ll soon be as tall as the Fairfield Crane!’

Many a proud Glasgow mammy would have beamed with joy at her bonnie wee wean being compared to what was at one time the tallest crane (pronounced ‘cran’) in the world, towering over the Govan shipyards – and their workers – all through the last century.

But what about today’s mammies – would they understand the compliment? Sadly, it would probably be only the grannies – and granddads – who would know what the Fairfield Crane was. In these days of service industries and call centres, with the most famous ‘Apprentice’ being the winner of Sir Alan Sugar’s TV show, we’ve lost a lot of working class culture and language.

However, one project, based in Govan, is trying to reverse all that. The Sparr project is looking to interview former shipyard workers and their families, with the aim of collecting their ‘stories’ and experiences on film. The documentary film will be used to make educational materials for Scottish schools, so that the next generation will be able to understand and appreciate this vital aspect of working class culture and heritage.

It’s not just older people who will be involved in the project – Sparr is recruiting young people to train as documentary film makers and researchers so that they can be at the forefront of collecting stories from their own communities, maybe even from their own families!

So why is a project about Glasgow shipyard workers called ‘Sparr’? Well, its a Gaelic word which loosely means ‘to prise open’ – and the Sparr project will be opening up the histories and Gaelic roots of many of today’s Govanites, whose ancestors came down from the Highlands and Islands to work in the shipyards in the 19th and 20th centuries. Fablevision is co-ordinating the project: a collaboration between Theatre Hebrides in Stornoway and Cran Theatre Company in Govan. Many other Govan organisations are partnering in the process – including the GalGael Trust – to research the ancient boatbuilding traditions and ancestry of these modern day Govanites.

A web based learning resource and a full-scale theatrical production will be produced – both based on the lives and experiences of shipyard workers and their families as told to our young film makers.

Do you have any interesting, funny or sad stories about your days in the yards? If not you, do you have a father or grandfather with a lot of stories? Should these stories be lost over time or would you like to help us collect them and treasure them forever? Are you a young person who would like to train as a documentary film maker in order to help us collect these stories?

Do you want to talk to someone about Sparr and how you could contribute to keeping working class culture alive? Then contact Di Jennings, Sparr Co-ordinator, at 0141 425 2020 or 07933 389307, or email her at If you want to read more about his exciting project and how you can get involved, look up our website: Come on – it’s your culture and heritage – don’t lose it!