River Clyde

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Clyde (Celt. clwyd, 'strong;' the Ctota of Ptolemy), a river and a firth of western Scotland, and one of the chief commercial highways of the world. As to where river ends and firth begins, authorities differ. At Glasgow, say some; at Dumbarton, more; and not until Gourock, according to Sir John Hawkshaw: where it seems best to side with the majority. Another moot point is as to the Clyde's turn source. Little Clyde's Burn, its commonly reputed head-stream, rises in Crawford parish, S Lanarkshire, 3¼ miles NW by N of the meeting-point of Lanark, Peebles, and Dumfries shires, at 1550 feet above sea-level, between Pin Stane (1695 feet) and Clyde Law (1789), and within ¾ mile of head-streams of the Annan and the Tweed. So that, according to the time-honoured rhyme-

'Annan. Tweed. and Clyde
Rise a' out o' ae hill-side;
Tweed ran, Annan wan,
Clyde fell. and broke its neck owre Corra Linn.'

Thence it runs 4½ miles W by S, falling into the Clyde proper 3¾ miles SSE of Crawford village. The ` Clyde proper,' we say, inasmuch as the Clyde's real source, must rather be looked for in Daer Water, which rises in the extreme S of the parish of Crawford and of the shire of Lanark, at 2000 feet above sea-level, on the NE slope of Gadd Hill (2190 feet), within ¼ mile of the Dumfriesshire border and of a sub-affluent of the Annan. It flows thence 10½ miles northward to a confluence with Patrail or Powtrail Water, which, also rising in Crawford parish, and also close to the Dumfriesshire boundary, has a north-north-easterly course of 7 miles; and their united waters from this point onward are called, in the Ordnance Maps, the River Clyde.

The river Clyde has a total length, if one follows its windings, of 106 miles, viz., 17½ from the head of Daer Water to its union with the Powtrail, 7 thence to Crawford, 365/8 from Crawford to Lanark Bridge, 141/8 from Lanark to Hamilton Bridge, 2¾ from Hamilton to Bothwell Brig, 14 from Bothwell to Glasgow Bridge, 10 from Glasgow to Old Kilpatrick, and 4 from Old Kilpatrick to Dumbarton. Its drainage area has been estimated at 1481 square miles. of which 39 belong to the South Calder, 50 to the North Calder, 22 to the Rotten Calder, 127 to the Kelvin, 93 to the White Cart, 107 to the Black Cart, and 305 to the Leven. Excepting for an eastward bend near Biggar, round the eastern base of Tinto, the Clyde at first takes an almost due northerly course to the near vicinity of Carnwath, receiving, on the left hand, Elvan Water, Glengonner Water, Duneaton Water, Roberton Burn, and Garf Water; on the right, Little Clydes Burn, Midlock Water, Camps Water, and Medwyn Water. Along its left bank lie the parishes of Crawford, Crawfordjohn, Wiston-Roberton, Symington, Covington, and Pettinain; along its right, of Crawford, Lamington-Wandel, Culter, Biggar. and Liberton. Next it winds west-by-southward, south-westward, and north-westward to Lanark, receiving Douglas Water on the left, at the point where it makes its sharp north-westward bend; forming above Lanark the famous falls of Bonnington, Corra, and Dundaff Linns; and having Pettinain, Carmichael, and Lesmahagow parishes on the left, Carnwath, Carstairs, and Lanark on the right- From Stonebyres Linn, below Lanark, the last of its four falls, it sweeps north-westward to Hamilton, and on to Bothwell and Uddingston, along the 'Trough of the Clyde,' its principal affluents here being the Nethan and the Avon to the left, Mouse Water and the South and North Calders to the right, whilst parishes on the left hand are Lesmahagow, Dalserf, Hamilton, and Blantyre, and on the right hand Lanark, Carluke, Cambusnethan, Dalziel, and Bothwell. From just below Uddingston to Rutherglen its course lies almost due W, with Cambuslang and Rutherglen parishes on the left, Old Monkland, Shettleston, and Calton on the right, and the Rotten Calder on the left being its principal tributary. Lastly, from Rutherglen to Dumbarton it resumes a north-westerly course, Govan, Renfrew, Inchinnan, and Erskine parishes lying to the left, Glasgow, Maryhill, Renfrew, New and Old Kilpatrick, and Dumbarton to the right, whilst on the left hand it receives the confluent White and Black Cart, and on the right the Kelvin and the Leven. The approximate altitude of its channel is 2000 feet above sea-level at the source, 655 at Thankerton, 400 above Bonnington Linn, and 170 below Stonebyres Linn. Such are the general features of the river Clyde, details being supplied in the articles on the above-named parishes, and the sub-articles therein referred to. But we cannot refrain from quoting this masterly sketch by Professor Geikie:-` Of the three rivers, the Clyde, the Forth, and the Tay, perhaps the most interesting is the Clyde- Drawing its waters from the very centre of the Southern Uplands, it flows transverse to the strike of the Silurian strata, until, entering upon the rocks of the lowlands at Roberton, it turns to the NE along a broad valley that skirts the base of Tinto (2335 feet), at this point of its course approaching within 7 miles of the Tweed. Between the two streams, of course, lies the watershed of the country, the drainage flowing on the one side into the Atlantic, on the other into the North Sea- Yet instead of a ridge or hill, the space between the rivers is the broad flat valley of Biggar, so little above the level of the Clyde that it would not cost much labour to send that river into the Tweed. Indeed, some trouble is necessary to keep the former stream from eating through the loose sandy deposits that line the valley, and finding its way over into Tweeddale. That it once took that course, thus entering the sea at Berwick instead of at Dumbarton, is probable; and if some of the gravel mounds at Thankerton could be reunited, it would do so again. The origin of this singular part of the watershed is probably traceable to the recession of two valleys, and to the subsequent widening of the breach by atmospheric waste and the sea. From the western margin of the Biggar flat the Clyde turns to the NW, flowing across a series of igneous rocks belonging to the Old Red sandstone series. Its valley is there wide, and the ground rises gently on either side into low undulating hills. But often bending back upon itself and receiving the Douglas Water, its banks begin to rise more steeply, until the river leaps over the linn at Bonuington into the long, narrow, and deep gorge in which the well-known Falls are contained. That this defile has not been rent open by the concussion of an earthquake, but is really the work of subaerial denudation, may be ascertained by tracing the unbroken beds of Lower Old Red sandstone from side to side. Indeed, one could not choose a better place in which to study the process of waste, for he can examine the effects of rains, springs, and frosts, in loosening the sandstone by means of the hundreds of joints that traverse the face of the long cliffs, and he can likewise follow in all their detail the results of the constant wear and tear of the brown river that keeps ever tumbling and foaming down the ravine. A little below the town of Lanark, Mouse Water enters the Clyde through the dark narrow chasm beneath the Cartland Crags. There, too, though

'"It seems some mountain, rent and riven.
A channel for the stream has given."

yet after all it is the stream itself that has done the work. Nay, it would even appear that this singularly deep gorge has been in great measure cut out since the end of the Age of Ice, for there is an old channel close to it filled up with drift, but through which the stream has evidently at one time flowed. Running still in a narrow valley, the Clyde, after receiving Mouse Water, hurries westward to throw itself over the last of its linns at Stonebyres, and to toil in a long and dark gorge until, as it leaves the Old Red sandstone, its valley gradually opens out, and it then enters the great Lanarkshire coalfield. From the top of the highest Fall to the foot of the lowest, is a distance of 3¾ miles, in which the river descends about 230 feet, or 61 feet in a mile. From Stonebyres Linn to the sea at Dumbarton, the course of the Clyde is a distance of fully 42 miles, yet its fall is only 170 feet, or about 4 feet ½ inch in a mile. As it winds among its broad meadows and fair woodlands, no one ignorant of the geology of the district would be likely to imagine that this wide level valley really overlies a set of strata which have been tilted up and broken by innumerable dislocations. Yet such is the fact. The flat haughs of the Clyde were not laid out until after the curved and fractured coal-measures had been planed down, and no extant trace of these underground disturbances remained. The sea may have had much of the earlier part of the work to do, and may have lent its aid now and again during the successive uprisings and sinkings of the land, but we shall, perhaps, not greatly err in attributing mainly to the prolonged action of rains and frosts, and of the Clyde itself, the excavation of the broad valley in which the river flows across the coalfield until it reaches the sea between the hills of Renfrew and Dumbarton.'

The Firth of Clyde has a length of 64¼ miles, viz., 4¾ from Dumbarton to Port Glasgow, 2½ from Port Glasgow to Greenock, 5 from Greenock to opposite Kirn, and 52 thence to Ailsa Craig, midway between Girvan and the Mull of Kintyre. Its breadth is 1 mile at Dumbarton; 3¾ miles from Greenock to Helensburgh; 1½ from Kempock Point to Kilcreggan; 33/4 from Cloch Point to Barons Point, 3 to Strone Point, and 1¾ to Dunoon; 2 from Wemyss Point to Inellan pier; 5½ from Largs Bay to Scoulag Point; 11/8 from Largs to the nearest part of the Great Cumbrae; 2¼, at the narrowest, from the Great Cumbrae to Bute; 1½ from Bute to the Little Cumbrae; 97/8 from Farland Head to Sannox in NE Arran; 13 from Turnberry to Dippin Head in SE Arran; and 37 from Girvan to the Mull of Kintyre. It divides in its course the shires of Renfrew and Ayr from those of Dumbarton, Argyll, and Bute, having, on the left hand, the parishes of Erskine, Port Glasgow, Greenock, Innerkip, Largs, West Kilbride, Ardrossan, Stevenston, Irvine, Dundonald, Monkton, Prestwick, Newton-upon-Ayr, Ayr, Maybole, Kirkoswald, and Girvan; on its right, Cardross, Roseneath, Dunoon-Kilmun, Bute, and Kintyre- Both shores are bordered with the low green platform of the old sea-margin-a natural terrace thickly fringed with towns and villages and pleasant mansions- Beautiful itself, with its backgrounds of hill and mountain, the Firth of Clyde sends off five branches that equal, if not surpass, it-Gare Loch, Loch Long, Holy Loch, Loch Striven, and the Kyles of Bute. The tide ascends it up to Glasgow; and as low as Greenock its channel is beset with shoals and banks, which appear at low water, but which, ceasing there, give place to the unbroken stretch of firth that, widening and contracting, then widening out again, at last bends southward on its way to the open sea.

In 1566 the townsfolk of Glasgow, Renfrew, and Dumbarton attempted, seemingly with scant success, to open up a formidable sandbank at Dumbreck, above Dumbarton; in 1622 the magistrates of Glasgow, buying 13 acres, laid out thereon the town of Port Glasgow, with harbours and the first graving-dock in Scotland; in 1688 they built a quay at the Broomielaw; and in 1740 ` the Councill agreed that a tryal be made this season of deepening the river below the Broomielaw, and remitted to the Magistrates to cause do the same, and go the length of £100 sterling of charges thereupon, and to cause build a flatt-bottomed boat, to carry off the sand and chingle from the banks. ' In 1755 Smeaton presented a report, in which he notes that of twelve different shoals between Glasgow and Renfrew the 'shoalest' places, Pointhouse Ford and Hirst, had a depth of 1¼ and 1½ feet at low, and 32/3 and 3¼ feet at high, water; these, now the western limit and within the harbour of Glasgow, having a present depth of 14 at low, and 24 feet at high, water. By Smeaton's advice, the first Act of Parliament (1759) was applied for, whose preamble runs:-' Whereas the river Clyde from Dumbreck to the Bridge of Glasgow is so very shallow in several parts thereof that boats, lighters, barges, or other vessels cannot pass to or from the City of Glasgow except it be in the time of flood or high-water at spring-tides; and if the same was cleansed and deepened, and the navigation thereof made more commodious by a lock or dam over the same, it would be a great advantage to the trade and manufactures of the city and parts adjacent and to the public in general.' But the earliest marked improvement in the navigation was started in 1768 by Mr John Golborne of Chester, who initiated the system of contracting the river by the construction of rubble jetties, and of removing the gravel shoals by dredging and ploughing. His ` Estimate- of the Expense of improving the Navigation of the Clyde ' amounted to only £8640. In 1769 James Watt, examining the declivity of the river's bed from the Broomielaw Quay to Dumbreck Ford, found the low-water depth to be 14 inches at Hirst Ford, and at Dumbreck Ford 2 feet. The second Act was passed in 1770, under which, three years later, Golborne contracted to make Dumbreck Ford 6 feet deep and 300 feet wide at low water; its actual depth was 14 feet in 1781. Next Rennie in 1799 recommended the shortening of some of Golborne's jetties, the lengthening of others, and the construction of 200 new ones, from 50 to 550 feet long, between Glasgow Bridge and Bowling; and both Telford and Rennie presented reports in 1806 and 1807, which were followed by new Acts of 1809 and 1825, the first giving power to deepen the river till it is at least 9 feet deep in every part thereof between Glasgow and Dumbarton, the second to deepen it between Glasgow and Port Glasgow till such time as it is at least 13 feet deep. The deepening, widening, and straightening of the channel was carried on till 1836, when Mr Walker reported that ` there is now at the Broomielaw from 7 to 8 feet at low water, while the lift of a neap-tide at Glasgow Bridge- which was only sensible in 1755-is 4 feet, and of a spring. tide 7 or 8 feet, making 12 feet depth at high water of a neap, and 15 feet of a spring, tide; so that the river which, by artificial means, was to be rendered capable of taking craft of about 30 or 40 tons to Glasgow, has, by what Golborne calls "assisting nature," been rendered capable of floating vessels nearly ten times the burthen.' A fifth Act was passed in 1840; and under this, with minor Acts of 1857 and 1873, the river improvements have since been carried out, with the result that the available depth of channel—only 15 feet at high water in 1839—is now 24 feet, and that the river's bed is now as deep at Glasgow as at Port Glasgow, being virtually level throughout. The changes, again, in the width of the river at various points is shown in the following table:—

Where at. 1800 1840-49 1881
Mouth of the Cart, 800 ft. 275 ft. 500 ft.
Renfrew,. . . . 340 ft,, 245,, 410,,
Finnieston Quay,. .. 160,, 400,,
Napier's Dock,. . .. 150,, 490,,

Narrowing the channel by jetties, ploughing, and harrowing have all at times been employed, but dredging has been the principal means. The first steamdredger was started in 1824, and 'it is undoubtedly,' says Mr Deas, 'to the application of steam power to dredgers, and to the adoption of steam hopper barges for carrying away the dredged material to the sea, that the rapid enlargement of the river and harbour in recent years are due; but for the introduction of the latter it would have been well-nigh impossible to have disposed of the enormous quantity now lifted '-1,180,000 cubic yards in the year 1877-78; 1,502,696 in 1878-79; 1,392,604 in 1879-80; and 23,606,382 in the 36 years 1844-80. 'The deepening and widening,' he sums up, ` of the Clyde have increased the value of the lands on its sides through Glasgow and seaward a hundredfold; created Govan, Partick, and the various other burghs which environ Glasgow; given wealth to thousands, and the means of life to hundreds of thousands; and what has been the total expenditure up to 30 June 1880-only £8,786,128, of which £2,306,766 was paid for interest on borrowed money.' The revenue of the Clyde Trustees was £311,502 in 1878-79; £323,804 (the largest ever received) in 1879-80; and £248,062 in 1880-81. The expenditure in the last year was £222,431, including £64,460 for dredging and general maintenance; and in the same year the goods exported and imported amounted to 3,053,113 tons.

Details of the Clyde's commerce and full descriptions of its harbours must be reserved for articles on the head ports, Glasgow, Port Glasgow, Greenock, Ardrossan, Troon, Ayr, and Campbeltown; but its shipbuilding trade, dating from 1718 or thereabouts, and now the most important in the kingdom, may here be glanced at. In January 1812, Henry Bell launched on the Clyde his Comet, the first European boat successfully propelled by steam; during the seven years 1846-52 there were built here 247 steamships of 147,604 tons. Of vessels, both sailing and steam, Clyde yards turned out 220 of 184,000 tons in 1864; 232 of 174,978 (8 war ships) in 1868; 240 of 194,000 (3 war) in 1869; 234 of 189,800 (1 war) in 1870; 231 of 196,200 (6 war) in 1871; 227 of 232,100 in 1872; 194 of 261,455 in 1873; 225 of 266,200 (4 war) in 1874; 276 of 228,200 (3 war) in 1875; 266 of 204,770 (4 war) in 1876; 228 of 168,000 (2 war) in 1877; 279 of 221,432 (10 war) in 1878; 191 of 168,460 in 1879; 241 of 239,015 (8 war) in 1880; and 194 of 259,445 in the first ten months of 1881. In 1880 paddle-wheel steamers aggregated 7368 tons, screw steamers 195,575, and sailing vessels 15,206 tons; whilst the total value of vessels built was estimated at about £6,000,000.

The river improvements are credited with having destroyed one industry-the salmon fishing that flourished once above Dumbarton. Even to-day the Clyde Trustees pay upwards of £200 a year to the burgh of Renfrew for damage done to its fisheries. It seems questionable, however, whether the fish could have survived another hurtful agency-that pollution, namely, which has formed the subject of Reports by Dr Frankland and Mr Morton in 1872, Mr M`Leod in 1875, and Sir John Hawkshaw in 1876. According to Mr M`Leod, nearly 100 miles of natural and artificial sewers, within the bounds of Glasgow city alone, conveyed to the Clyde, by 42 outlets (33 of them below the weir), the sewage of 101,368 dwelling-houses and 16,218 sale shops, warehouses, factories, and workshops, whilst 31 factories discharged their waste outflow by private drains directly into the river. Experiments made with floats in 185758 by Messrs Bateman and Bazalgette showed that sewage entering the river at the centre of the city, when the volume of water was small, travelled only 2½ miles a week; and this slow progress can hardly have been quickened by the levelling of the river's bed below Glasgow, or by the large abstraction of water caused by the River Supply Works at Westhorn, 2½ miles above the city, which, with two reservoirs, each holding 400,000 gallons, were completed in 1877 at a cost of £30,000. So that, ` in summer weather, the time during which the river is made to loiter on its way to the sea is more than sufficient to establish in full operation those processes of putrefactive fermentation-inevitable whenever the thermometer exceeds 55o Fahr.-to which the formation of sewer gas and other filthy products of this fermentation is due.' Glasgow is the chief, but by no means the only offender; the paraffin oil, iron, coal, paper, cotton, and dye works, of New Lanark, Blantyre, Airdrie, Coatbridge, and other seats of industry all helping to swell the liquid mass of pestilence. Schemes have been proposed to remove, or at any rate abate, the nuisance; but their consideration must be reserved for our article on Glasgow. In the waters of the upper Clyde and its tributaries good trout fishing still may be got, at Abington, Roberton, Lamington, and Crossford; and even still a few salmon ascend as high as the Falls. Strangely enough, too, they and their fry are now and then taken above the Falls; but these must be Tweed fish, and not Clyde fish at all, carried over from Biggar Water in times of heavy spate. On the Clyde's memories we must not linger, more than to indicate the curious contrasts offered along its banks-hill-forts and a Roman road in Crawford parish, and the Caledonian railway; the 'Mucklewraths' of Bothwell Brig, and Livingstone toiling in Blantyre cotton-mill; Blantyre's and Bothwell's ruins, and Cambuslang, with its memorable 'Wark;' Glasgow's cathedral, and Glasgow's factories; Antoninus' Wall and the chimneys of Paisley; Dumbarton Rock, and Port Glasgow; Greenock, and Cardross where died the Bruce; Agricola's and Haco's war-galleys, and the royal yachts of Victoria and Alexander. Our river has found its sacer vates in John Wilson, whose Clyde, A Deseriptive Poem, appeared in 1764; but a finer, because less laboured, picture of its beauties is given by Dorothy Wordsworth, who, with her brother and Coleridge, drove down its valley from Lanark to Dumbarton in the August of 1803. See pp. 31-62 of her Tour in Scotland (ed. by Princ. Shairp, 1874); Prof. Arch. Geikie's Scenery of Scotland, viewed in connection with its Physical Geotogy (1865); Sir John Hawkshaw's Report on the Pollution of the Clyde and its Tributaries (1876); an article on ` Glasgow and the Clyde,' by M. Simonin in the Nouvelle Revue for November 1880; and Mr James Deas' River Clyde and Harbour of Glasgow (1881).—Ord. Sur., shs. 15,23,24, 31,30,29,21,13,1864-73.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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