Now a new sculpture by world-renowned artist Tom McKendrick will make sure the workers who paid for the building of such vessels with their health will never be forgotten.
The Framebenders, to sit at the head of the old John Brown dock in Clydebank, will serve as an international memorial to all workers who have died from asbestos-related diseases with the families of victims chiefly paying for the art work.
Clydebank recently recorded the highest rate of mortality in Britain from the respiratory disease mesothelioma.
Mr McKendrick, who worked in the Clydebank shipyards during the 1960s before taking up a place at art school, will complete the 36ft-high sculpture for free in tribute to his many friends who have died from the disease.
The sculpture will speak to the work of the shipyard frame- benders who would shape white-hot steel into the shape of the hull, with the job considered to be one of the most gruelling in the trade, given the soaring temperatures and the massive hulks of steel being handled by hand.
Mr McKendrick said: "The whole idea behind the memorial is a simple one. You have all these graceful frames reaching towards heaven to create the hull of the ships.
"I have taken those frames and inverted them. They no longer go to heaven, but hell.
"It's evocative of danger. The asbestos was ever-present in the shipyards and it would be drifting backwards and forwards while these beautiful vessels were being built. There was always this danger lurking and it wouldn't show itself for 40, 50 or 60 years.
"The memorial is very stark, quite ugly and abrasive, but there is this peculiar beauty about it too."
Mr McKendrick, who continues to live and work in Clydebank, also likened the structure to a ribcage, the protective shield for the lungs
By 1885 there were at least 19 asbestos manufacturers and distributors in Glasgow and by 1960 there were 42 shipbuilding and ship-repairing establishments in Scotland, with 32 yards located on the River Clyde.
Those supporting the memorial will have their name inscribed on the sculpture's foundations with hopes that The Framebenders will be in place sometime later this year, depending on planning permission.
He said: "It will be like a memorial where people will be able to see the names of their fathers and their grandfathers. It's a monument to sacrifice, but it's not all doom and gloom. It is also monument to achievement, to those who worked without regard to the hostile conditions to actually build these iconic objects with pride and dignity.
"The people who worked on the shipyards were fiercely proud, they worked hard without regard to the hostile conditions, the management."
The Framebender will be located on the tip of the John Brown yard, the most prestigious point from which to have watched the ships – including the QE2 – setting out down river. He said: "The bottom line is, where do you go to contemplate what shipbuilding on the Clyde was?
"You could go to a transport museum and view a model in a glass case, but they don't tell you anything about the cold steel or the brutality of the working conditions, or the history of the people who built them, the union conflicts or the decay. Working in a shipyard you known you would never walk on the decks in the lap of luxury. You built it and you waved it farewell."
The Framebenders was commissioned by Clydebank Asbestos Group.
Bob Dickie, chairman of Clydebank Asbestos Group, said: "My own personal view is that this is a very important memorial. Worldwide, around 4000 people a year die from illnesses linked to asbestos fibres. I sincerely hope that the sculpture will be in place in the very near future."