THE shipyards of Port Glasgow are forever. In paint, at least.

Along the grey planked walls of a walkway linking the town’s station to its centre, there is a row of paintings celebrating a now nearly lost industry.

There is a picture of Henry Bell’s 1812 Comet, the world’s first commercially viable steamboat, as it carries gentlemen in top hats and ladies in frilly bonnets “doon the watter”.

Opposite, lit by a gun-metal sky through the tunnel’s glass roof, are images of Clyde shipbuilding in its pomp, of the giant Scott Lithgow yard and of

a smaller slipway, next to a castle. “Ferguson’s”, reads a sign on the painting. “Proud shipbuilders.”


Gill Jones

Lithgow’s is long gone, and so is the wealth, of sorts, it brought Port Glasgow. Ferguson’s survives, for now. Still proud.

“This is where I explained our heritage to my daughter, Eleanor,” says Gill Jones, as she looks at the station paintings. “She was asking about the boats and what it all meant, about the yards.”


Ms Jones is Port Glasgow born and bred, but she does not live here any more. A bank worker, she is based in Gibraltar. Eleanor is 12.

READ MORE: Scots face paying out millions to nationalise shipyard

She is back in the port for the funeral of her father, Billy Carnegie. The engineer died aged 79, a former shipyard worker, a former Ferguson man. Mr Carnegie’s father was also Billy. He also built ships. Because that is what men in Port Glasgow do. Or did.


“We create things here,” Ms Jones says. “That is our history and our heritage. My dad worked in the yards and so did his dad. Ferguson’s is a symbol of our town; it’s an institution.”

There is no question about how important shipbuilding is to history in Port Glasgow. But how about to its future?


The gates of Ferguson Marine

Amid mutual recriminations, a government ferry contract has gone wrong. The private owners, fronted by Monaco-based multi-millionaire Jim McColl, have indicated an intention to enter administration. The Scottish Government is talking about nationalisation. Ms Jones backs that.

“I work in banking,” she says. “After the financial crisis, we all bailed out the banks. There was a lot of controversy about that. But it was not about bailing out fat cat bankers, it was about saving all the people and businesses who used the banks. Well, if they can bail out the banks, they can do the same for theyard. It’s really important for this part of Scotland.”


Annemarie Payne

The walkway and its pictures of former glories leads out on to John Wood Street (named, of course, after a shipbuilder), which slopes down towards Ferguson’s.

Here, Victorian red sandstone tenements, and the solid-looking Royal Bank and the Star Hotel, catch a glint of sun in the rain.

Retired machinist Annemarie Payne is inching up the road. Behind her can be seen the hulk of the last ship built in Port Glasgow, an ill-fated ferry called the MV Glen Sannox.

Mrs Payne is pushing a three-wheel stroller, her “buggie,” she jokes, on her way for her messages.

“There used to be so many more shops,” she says. “You could get anything, clothes, shoes, we had the butcher, the baker, candlestick maker.”


Glen Sannox

Mrs Payne lives in Highholm Street, just over the railway tracks. She has been there every one of her 68 years, just moving to a bigger house to make space for her four sons and two daughters.

Her father was a shipbuilder – “isn’t everybody’s?”– and Mrs Payne knows the trade that defines her town, or, as she jokingly calls it, “the dirty wee port”.

“When I left school, at 15, there was a job in the yards for all the boys, guaranteed. Not any more,” she says. “I don’t care how they save the yard, just as long as it doesn’t shut.”


Port Glasgow, dominated by the Glen Sannox

Her view was echoed by Alexander McBroarty, 73. He did his time in the yards, first as a plumber’s helper, then as a plater’s helper. He volunteers with the Salvation Army, helping groups that try to wean addicts off drugs. “There is so much poverty,” he says as he does chores in John Wood Street.

Ferguson’s – or Ferguson Marine Ltd, to use its formal name – stands behind great blue fences, topped with iron railings twisted to look like a ship’s prow.

It has new construction sheds. On its slipway stands an unnamed rust-brown hulk, “Hull 802”, supposedly a future high-tech ferry for Scotland’s west coast services. A few workers potter about in hard hats.

Berthed next door is the former “Hull 801”, now the MV Glen Sannox.


Hull 802

It was launched, gleaming, with its red CalMac funnels, a year-and-a-half ago. Now it looks like it is being broken up rather than built, its superstructure covered in scaffolding.

Paul McGroggan looks at the ship from Port Glasgow’s showcase

Clydeside green space, Coronation Park, opened in 1937 and commemorated in the station’s walkway.

“It looks less finished than it did when it was launched,” says Mr McGroggan, 39, who is the son of – what else – a former Fergusons worker. “The funnels have even been taken off. Hopefully, they’ll sort something out.”