CURATOR Emily Malcolm leads the way through a rabbit warren of corridors at the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre. The facility, on the south side of the city, is home to around 1.4 million objects ranging from artworks and armour to zoology specimens. We are looking for the ships.

Malcolm, whose remit covers transport and technology, has spent more than a decade working on the first fully illustrated record of all 676 ship models held in the Glasgow Museums collection.

Gathered across 150 years, the models represent ships built on every part of the Clyde. There are famous ocean liners, such as Cunard's three Queens – Mary, Elizabeth and QE2 – as well as river steamers, tea clippers, oil tankers, yachts, battleships, dredgers and tugs.

Published in a glossy coffee table book format, Glasgow Museums: The Ship Models – A History and Complete Illustrated Catalogue, showcases a fascinating heritage and shines a spotlight on the craftsmanship and skill of the model makers.

"There are two purposes for ship models," says Malcolm. "One is to design the ship in the shipyard. The other is to be sent to an exhibition so that people will see it and marvel at this new ship. Models were also commonly found in booking offices."

Malcolm leads the way into the ship models store where the towering shelves and surrounding floor space contain many of these pieces in the flesh, so to speak.

There's the long wooden half hull model of Aquitania, complete with the intricate grid markings and measurements used by shipbuilders when plating the liner at Clydebank.

Malcolm points along the shelves in another section of the room. "This area has representation of all the different shipyards, from Rutherglen, which is as far upriver as they ever built ships, then it goes down through Govan, Meadowside and Whiteinch to Greenock, Port Glasgow, Ayr and Troon."

There are intriguing objects from further afield too, such as a model made by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars, constructed using animal bones which were cut into thin slivers and polished.

Many of the ship models – which range from palm-sized to more than six metres in length – show painstaking attention-to-detail, including patterned floor tiles, a spindled staircase and even an engine order telegraph.

Glasgow Museums photographer Jim Dunn has spent hundreds of hours photographing the models for the catalogue. "The photography is what brings it to life," says Malcolm. "It is stunning."

Alongside facts and figures, the book's pages are packed with gems. "What we have done is talk about the model first and then gone on to say what the ship itself was like," says Malcolm. "We have tried to foreground the model, with the history of the ship as secondary.

"A lot of past museum interpretations or writing about the models, simply use the facts about the ship that it was made to represent. What we want to do is talk about the physical object and emphasise that it has a life that is completely separate from the actual ship.

"In many cases, the model has lasted a lot longer than the real ship has. There are models in our collection of ships that sank on their maiden voyage. Likewise, there are models that have never left Glasgow, whereas the real ship sailed the world."

READ MORE: Burnistoun star Robert Florence on his new BBC Scotland show The State Of It

Malcolm crouches down next to a half hull model of Aquitania. "This was used to guide the platers on how to plate the whole ship, particularly the difficult areas where there are curves or it is narrower," she explains.

"It is numbered like a grid, so every plate has a letter reference and number reference. It runs stern to bow and keel to top. You can see how much of an overlap each plate had with the one next to it and also where they are going to cut the gangway doors. It is almost like a dress pattern."

The catalogue contains beautiful black-and-white photographs showing model makers at John Brown and Co. of Clydebank hard at work on the Aquitania model.

"It makes me feel quite emotional when I look at this because there is a big knot in the wood here and yet, the stage they are at in the carving of the model in the photograph, they don't know the knot is there," says Malcolm.

"You can see on the model where they had to fill it in. A couple of days after that picture was taken, they would have found it. On the image, you can just see a shadow where it is going to appear."

The catalogue also highlights the collaborative relationship Glasgow Museums has with shipbuilders and ship owners. Malcolm cites the example of Livadia, a steam yacht built by John Elder & Co.

"The ship was built in 1880 and the model was almost immediately put on display at the big industrial exhibitions," she says. "Then they lent it to Kelvingrove. There is a letter file where you can see that we keep writing to Fairfield – who owned it – saying: 'We love this model. Would you consider donating it to us?'

"This was during the 1920s and 1930s. They would reply and politely say: 'It's a very popular item with guests to our shipyard and we would like it back when you are finished …' It's not until they are on their last legs that they donate the collection to us as whole."

There are other examples too. "The first model in the catalogue, Oxford, an English admiralty model owned by the shipbuilder Robert Napier, was bequeathed to the museum in 1876 after he died. That is one of the earliest ship models in the collection.

"Then, going as far up to date as we can, there is a model of the Loch Shira, the ferry that goes between Cumbrae and Largs. CalMac and Ferguson shipyard facilitated donating this to us in 2013."

While Malcolm has spent more than 10 years at the heart of the project, she is keen to emphasise that the catalogue's publication couldn't have happened without contributions from fellow museum staff, professional experts and volunteers, nor without the financial backing of private donors.

She is sanguine when asked her favourite part of the project. "It was all the little details that we found out about the model makers," says Malcolm. "The professionalism, craftsmanship and skill of those working in that sideline to shipbuilding is astounding.

READ MORE: Burnistoun star Robert Florence on his new BBC Scotland show The State Of It

"Shipbuilding is such an important part of Glasgow's history and that vision was delivered through these models. Anything we can reveal about the working lives of the model makers feels like such a privilege to do."

Here Malcolm talks us through some of the models in the collection:


A shipowner's display model given by Burns & Laird Lines Ltd, Glasgow. The port side has cutaway sections detailed with wood veneers and brightly coloured paint to show accommodation for steerage passengers at the bow and first-class passengers at the stern; glass inserts represent portholes. The Heron/Ostrich was a passenger steamship (751 tons) built in 1860 by William Denny & Bros, Dumbarton, for G & J Burns, Glasgow.

"This one has a cutaway section like a doll's house," says Malcolm. "They used lovely braid ribbon and pieces of silk for the upholstery. It is a super model and designed to make people say: 'That's incredible' and 'I will travel to America on that ship.'"

Black Prince

A builder's display model that was exhibited in Glasgow in 1880-81, 1888, and 1912, then Liverpool in 1886. The Black Prince was a warrior-class frigate (9210 tons) built in 1861 by Robert Napier & Sons, Glasgow, for the Royal Navy. Their second iron-clad frigate, it was broken up circa 1923.

"This model is on show at Riverside Museum. It is named after Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III of England. That is him as the charming figurehead at the front. Black Prince was a sister ship of HMS Warrior which is now a museum in Portsmouth."


A shipbuilder's display model given by Fairfield. It was exhibited in Glasgow in 1880-81, 1884, 1888 and 1911, London in 1882 and Antwerp in 1894. Livadia was a luxurious steam yacht (7262 tons) designed by Admiral Popov. Powered by three screw propellers, it was built in 1880 by John Elder & Co., Govan, for Tsar Alexander II of Russia.

"This circular-shaped yacht was based on the design of a Russian gunship and it was thought that it might stop Alexander II getting seasick on the Black Sea. It has these huge, fat sponsons on the side. To get to the Black Sea, it had to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar and encountered a terrible storm. The yacht was badly damaged, but it didn't sink. The year after it was delivered, Alexander II was assassinated, so seasickness was perhaps the least of his worries."

Glen Sannox

A shipowner's display model lent by London, Midland & Scottish Railway. Glen Sannox was a Clyde passenger steamship (610 tons) built in 1892 by J & G Thomson Ltd, Clydebank, for the Glasgow & South Western Railway Co. Ltd, Glasgow. Used on Clyde routes, it was broken up in 1925.

"There are often several models made and, in this case, we have two: the model built for the eventual owner – it came from the Glasgow & South Western Railway Co – and the one that J & G Thomson built for themselves. J & G Thomson attended a big exhibition in Chicago in 1893 and we presume this must have been built at such quality to send it to that."

Flying Cormorant

A shipowner's display model given by Clyde Shipping Co. Ltd, Glasgow. It was made by Kelso & Co., Glasgow. The Flying Cormorant was a harbour tug (203 tons) built in 1908 by Ferguson Brothers (Port Glasgow) Ltd, for the Clyde Shipping Co. Ltd. It was requisitioned during the First World War and Second World War. Sold to Dundee, Perth & London Shipping Co. Ltd, Dundee, in 1946, it was renamed Buddon before being broken up in 1953.

"This is a little tug with a fantastic amount of detail. The doors are painted on but shown as if they are slightly open. You can see lifeboats, the engine order telegraph and lights."

Queen Elizabeth

A shipbuilder's display model made by Bassett-Lowke, Northampton, and given by Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. It was exhibited in London in 1947. Queen Elizabeth was a passenger liner (83,673 tons) built in 1938-40 by John Brown & Co. Ltd, Clydebank, for Cunard-White Star Ltd, Liverpool. It was requisitioned as a troopship during the Second World War, then served the Southampton-New York route. The liner was sold to the Island Navigation Corporation Ltd, Hong Kong, in 1970 and lost in a fire two years later.

READ MORE: Burnistoun star Robert Florence on his new BBC Scotland show The State Of It

"This is another where we have more than one model. We have the John Brown & Co. display model and the half hull model. The three Queens – Mary, Elizabeth and QE2 – are on show at Riverside. They were previously at the Clyde Room at Kelvin Hall and before that at the old Glasgow Museum of Transport at Albert Drive."

Group of miniature models

Made in the 1930s to 1960s by Millars Marine Models, Duke Street, Glasgow, for sale on board passenger vessels and in specialist shops such as the Clyde Model Dockyard, Glasgow. The six models illustrated in the catalogue are typical of the 83 in the collection, most of which have original boxes.

"These are palm-sized and come in their own individual boxes. People would have bought them as souvenirs or pocket money toys."


A shipowner's display model made by Bassett-Lowke Ltd, Northampton, given by Cunard White Star Line, Glasgow. The cutaway side of the model is painted to show internal arrangements and is placed around 10cm from the mirrored back of the case, giving a view of both sides of the model from a single standpoint. Aquitania was a passenger liner (45,647 tons) built in 1914 by John Brown & Co. Ltd, Clydebank, for the Cunard Steamship Co. Ltd. It was used on the Liverpool-New York route, served as an armed merchant cruiser, troopship and hospital ship in the First World War, and then as a troopship in the Second World War, before being broken up in 1950.

"This is another where we have a couple of models of the same ship: the half hull plating model and a semi-section model which has had a slice taken out of the side. The latter model has a painted decoration on the flat side showing everything from the fuel tanks filled with the oil to the luxurious first-class dining room and accommodation. You can see the steerage areas and third-class dining room down in the bowels of the ship. Aquitania was one of the most popular ships of the 1920s and held the Blue Riband. They called it 'the ship beautiful' because it was so elegant."


A designer's display model made by Skien Modellverksted, Norway, for Lobnitz Holdings Ltd. Berghavn is a non-propelled dipper dredge designed by Seadrec Ltd, Paisley, and built in 1980 by Ankerlokken Verft Glommen A/S, Frederikstad, Norway, for the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. Used in harbour construction and maintenance, it remains a working vessel.

"This is another recent acquisition and came into the collection last year. What's interesting is that Berghavn is still in service today."

Cambus Wallace

A shipowner's display model given by R Russell & Co., Glasgow, in 1914. Cambus Wallace was a passenger/cargo sailing ship. Three-masted, barque-rigged (1651 tons), it was built in 1894 by Russell and Co., Greenock, for R Russell & Co,. Glasgow. It was wrecked in 1894 on its maiden voyage.

READ MORE: Burnistoun star Robert Florence on his new BBC Scotland show The State Of It

"They divided the backing board where the water line would be with a cloud effect in the maple above and then the ripple effect of the waves below. I think that is so clever and shows creativity. I don't know who made that model, but it gives a little bit of insight into how they must have felt about crafting something beautiful as well as just doing their job. The ship was wrecked on its maiden voyage, but 125 years later we are able to enjoy what it looked like thanks to this model."

Glasgow Museums: The Ship Models – A History and Complete Illustrated Catalogue is co-published with Seaforth Publishing, priced £35. It is available to buy from Riverside Museum and by emailing