by Chris Jones on April 7, 2010

Named after the Brumelaw Croft, a stretch of land running along the north bank of the Clyde, the street known as the Broomielaw extends from Jamaica Bridge to Finnieston Quay. It was Glasgow merchant Walter Gibson, “the father of the trade of all the west coasts”, who financed the building of Glasgow’s first quay, at the Broomielaw in 1688. Significant progress in bringing shipping into the heart of Glasgow would have to wait until the Clyde was made more navigable and major obstacles such as the sandbank at Dumbuck cleared. By 1775, the channel from the Broomielaw to Dumbuck was almost 8 feet deep depending upon the tide. Europe’s first commercial steamer service in the form of Henry Bell’s “Comet” departed from the Broomielaw in 1812. It was the Scottish civil engineer, Thomas Telford who redesigned the Broomielaw quays to handle the busy steamboat traffic as thousands of immigrants came over from Ireland in the mid 19th Century to work in the new industries generated by the Industrial Revolution. Glasgow was becoming an industrial powerhouse.

The name Broomielaw was often associated with the wharves but they take their name from the street that runs behind them, on which traffic flowed to and from the quaysides. This 1910 scene shows the view looking west along the Broomielaw from the junction with Oswald Street. At that time, all the merchant traffic was horse-drawn. Many of the carts shown here are heavily laden and it must have been hard work for the horses to haul those loads over the cobblestones. The cart on the left belongs to the United Cooperative Baking Society Ltd., famous for its biscuits, some of which are probably packed in those containers destined for the steamers and their ports of call. On the right are several businesses including a café shaded by an awning and offering ice cream. Next door is a restaurant and then a bar, the Argyle Vaults. Clearly, a wide variety of refreshments would have been available to the steamboat passengers. Above the café and restaurant are the premises of the Edinburgh Roperie & Sailcloth Co. Ltd., a company founded by merchants in Edinburgh and Leith in 1750 to supply the maritime industry. The domed building on the corner with Robertson Street is a recent addition to the Clyde Navigation Trust building, having been completed in 1908 to a design by the noted architect J. J. Burnet. It survives as a Grade A listed structure today. ( From a Stereo view by Stereo-Travel Co., Corona, New York City. Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection. )

In this early 1880’s view by James Valentine looking east over the river from the tower of the Sailors’ Home, the steamer Dunoon Castle in her two-funnelled phase is just pulling away from her berth. Five bridges are visible spanning the Clyde and they are, from nearest the camera; the Caledonian Railway Bridge (completed 1879), Thomas Telford’s Glasgow Bridge (1836), the Suspension Bridge (1853), Victoria Bridge (1854) and the City of Glasgow Union Railway Bridge (1870). The Albert Bridge beyond, completed in 1871, is not visible. The stepped steeple on the left is the Merchant’s Steeple (1659) and on the right is the tall steeple of Gorbals Parish Church (1810). ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

In this scene, captured at least 15 years earlier in 1865 by Thomas Annan, part of the Broomielaw wharf is under construction. The vantage point is again the tower of Sailors’ Home and the railway bridges have not yet been built. The railway companies were still encountering stiff resistance in their efforts to span the Clyde in central Glasgow. The two-funnelled steamer in the picture is the Eagle which had just entered service the year before. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

In this early morning scene, photographed by George Washington Wilson (GWW) in 1876, the stepped arrangement of the Broomielaw quays is clearly shown, permitting vessels to overlap and thus use the quayside space more economically. The steamer Windsor Castle is in the foreground and moored beside her is the Balmoral. Beyond are the Undine, Vesta and Eagle. The Guinevere and Carrick Castle are parked across the river. Early morning was clearly a good time of the day to work on the funnels, when they would have cooled down overnight. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

The overlapping arrangement of the steamers is clearly shown in this George Washington Wilson photograph taken around 1870 and featuring from left to right, the Marquis of Bute, Lancelot and Sultana. The shed on the quayside is open and served as a shelter for passengers unlike the sheds further down which were enclosed and primarily intended for storage. Behind the shed, on the Broomielaw, is a Temperance Hotel and further down the street Murray’s Portrait Rooms occupy the top floor of a building and there is a studio on the roof. Commercial photography was becoming more accessible and was proving extremely popular with the public. The round tower in the distance is part of the Sailors’ Home at 150 Broomielaw and the vantage point for the first photographs in this series. The building was designed by John Rochead and opened in 1855/56. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

In this wider view of the Broomielaw quayside taken around 1870, the steamers Eagle, Dunoon Castle ( in her early single funnel form ) and the Lancelot are featured from left to right. Beyond them, some sailing vessels are moored. The Glasgow Fish Market was located at the Broomielaw for nearly a hundred years, from 1755 to 1853, after which it was transferred up river to Glasgow Green between Albert Bridge and the Weir. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

In this 1876 view by George Washington Wilson, the steamer Carrick Castle is reversing into her berth which is sandwiched between the quayside, the bow of the Marquis of Lorne and the stern of the Benmore. This would require considerable skill and the crew would be well-practiced. For manoevres such as this, it was certainly beneficial to have the wheel behind the funnel. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

This photograph by George Washington Wilson shows the same three steamers as in the previous view now all at the quayside and filling up with passengers for the Clyde resorts. The Benmore usually sailed to Kilmun while the Carrick Castle was the regular Lochgoilhead steamer and the Marquis of Lorne sailed to Dunoon and Rothesay. These three steamers normally departed at different times of the day and so the fact that all three are boarding and in steam, ready to sail, suggests a special occasion such as a Fair Saturday or the following Monday. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

This famous photograph by George Washington Wilson shows the Benmore leaving the Broomielaw packed with passengers on Fair Saturday morning in 1885 and bound for Kilmun on the Holy Loch. You can imagine the excitement on board as most of the passengers had probably been looking forward to this trip for months. Notice that the seaman at the wheel is having to lean far to the right so that he can see around the funnel. The steamer Meg Merrilies is at the quayside. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

This scene, photographed by Thomas Annan in 1895, features the steamers Daniel Adamson and Benmore moored in the foreground and the Iona canting in midstream. One of the Clutha river ferries is passing by, heading for the Glasgow Bridge landing. This close up view of the Daniel Adamson shows that she is simply appointed with a rather spartan upper deck. There is a simple bench set behind the wheel and then a few benches for passengers arranged down the centre of the deck. There is also seating around the periphery, bolted onto the railings. There are no life rafts, only a lifebelt and a single lifeboat at the stern, and there are no ventilators present so it must have been quite stuffy below decks and particularly in the engine room. ( Postcard published by the Reliable Series. )

In this view, taken by Thomas Annan a few minutes after the previous scene, the Daniel Adamson is now leaving while the Iona is still positioning herself ready to reverse into her berth. More details are visible of the quayside where there are bales of hay stacked up and an area reserved for boarding the famed MacBrayne’s steamers, Columba and Iona. ( Postcard published by Raphael Tuck & Sons. )

In this 1897 scene, the steamer Victoria is in the foreground, reversing into her berth, and beyond is MacBrayne’s famed Iona. Both steamers were well-known but for completely different reasons. The Iona had been in service since 1865 and, when completed, she was the fastest and most comfortable steamer on the Clyde, the first to be fitted with deck saloons which extended nearly three-quarters of her length and afforded shelter for most of her passengers. Together with her famous stable mate, the Columba, she was renowned on the Firth and was the carrier of mail on the Royal Route as far as Ardrishaig. In contrast, the newer Victoria, completed in 1886, had a chequered history and, at the time this photograph was taken, was known as the Sabbath-breaking boat. Although she sailed every day of the week except Wednesday, it was her Sunday outings that caught the attention of the press and particularly her attempts to land passengers at Dunoon when the pier was closed to them. On several occasions, the Victoria’s passengers stormed the pier’s gates in an effort to enter the town. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

The passengers are just getting settled on board the Isle of Cumbrae in this Edwardian scene, most likely photographed in 1904/5, soon after the steamer had entered service with Buchanan’s fleet. When new, she had been the Jeanie Deans, in service with the North British Railway and for many years was the fastest steamer on the Firth. Then, after a brief spell as the Duchess of York, she was purchased by Captain Buchanan and renamed the Isle of Cumbrae. She has a small deck astern, suitable for passengers who prefer less exposure. It is interesting to note the choices of seating on board; very simple slatted seating bolted onto the railings and providing poor back support, and much more robust benches that could probably do double duty as church pews. ( Part of a stereoview published by Underwood & Underwood, New York & London. )

This photograph taken much later, in 1911/12, also features the Isle of Cumbrae which has just left the quayside and is sounding her siren to warn traffic as she heads down river. Another Buchanan steamer, the Isle of Arran, is moored and Bryant & May’s famous “Swan Vestas” matches are advertised on the quayside shelter. ( Courtesy of the Graham Lappin Collection )

Two very fine steamers, the Ivanhoe which is departing and the Eagle III moored, are captured in this photo, taken sometime between 1912 and 1914. The beautifully appointed Ivanhoe was actually 30 years older than the Eagle, having been built in 1880, and was originally the temperance steamer under Captain James Williamson. However, temperance ultimately gave way to profits. There had been talk of falling receipts and when the steamer entered railway service with the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. in 1897, bars were installed in the lower saloons fore and aft and passengers were able to enjoy a “wee refreshment” during their journey. Prior to this, the “Ivanhoe” flask, which had found a ready sale in Glasgow, substituted for the purpose.

Legends © Christopher J. Jones

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Steamer | Kreativenews | Post
December 26, 2016 at 6:43 am

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron Lawton September 12, 2013 at 12:28 am

Hi Chris
Thanks so much for letting me know where you got the marvellous Bromielaw steamer image from. I’d like to source the image as soon as possible, so I wonder if you could ask Graham to contact me, or let me have his email address so I can contact him directly with the enquiry. Again, any help you can give in this matter would be very much appreciated.

Thanks again for all the help and for the wonderful website!

Bob September 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Hi Chris,

Fascinating website, enjoying it very much.
Do you have any information regarding a haulage contractor John McNeil & Sons? He had an office in Douglas Street and I think, being so close to the Broomielaw, that he would probably have carried out work at the docks.
Any information would be very much appreciated.


Bryan Giemza October 28, 2013 at 7:56 pm

What a fine collection of photographs you have. I’m at work on a novel that has a chapter set in 19th century Glasgow, and I count myself fortunate to have wandered into your treasure house. These photographs complement the small collection found in William Kenefick’s ‘Rebellious and Contrary’: The Glasgow Dockers, 1853-1932. But it must be said that yours are marvelously evocative. I feel I could alight on one of those ships. Thanks for sharing such a vision of the past.

Chris Jones November 3, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Thank you Bryan for your comments. I’m continuing to add new material although the pace has slowed somewhat because of my other commitments. I wish you the best of success with your novel.


Wendy Rolls August 20, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Hi Chris,

I’ve been researching my family history and came across the 1861 Census which had my great grand mother living at 202 Broomielaw. Would there any photos of the residences?

Regards Wendy

Chris Jones October 16, 2016 at 10:02 pm

Hi Wendy,

I consulted the 1927 Glasgow Directory which is available online and found that 202 Broomielaw is located between the second and third streets to the left of the circular tower ( the Sailors’ Home ) shown in the attached photo. This is the best example I could find of the general location from the existing archive.

Best wishes,


Clare July 25, 2017 at 1:48 am

Hi Chris,

Fantastic pictures. I have been searching for what was known as the Scandinavian Boarding House as was run by my Norwegian great great grandfather Erasmus Benson and his wife Mary Cole. So it is now known as the Sailors’ Home. Interesting.

Thank you.


Chris Jones August 4, 2017 at 10:42 pm

Hi Clare,

Thank you for your kind comment and for the information regarding your Norwegian ancestors. Do you know when they ran the Scandinavian Boarding House and was it located at 150 Broomielaw? My understanding is that the Sailors’ Home was purpose-built at that location and opened on 6 January, 1857.

Best wishes,


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