Minutes of an Ordinary Meeting of the
Old Glasgow Club
Held at Adelaides, 209 Bath Street
On Thursday 9th January 2014 at
Ms Petrina Cairns (President)
Ms Cairns welcomed all
members and visitors to the first Old Glasgow Club meeting of 2014 and
said that it was going to be a big year for Glasgow. Ms Cairns also said
that she hoped that everyone had a fun festive period.
Ms Cairns explained the fire
drill procedures, housekeeping rules and requested that all mobile
phones be switched to silent or off.
Margaret Houston, Gaynor
MacKinnon and Margaret Thom
The minutes of the last
ordinary meeting, held on 12th December 2013 were approved and proposed
by Ian Frame and seconded by Joyce McNae. There were no amendments or
Ms Cairns said that she would
like to thank Dr Paul Maloney for his talk on Scottish Pantomime at
Decembers meeting and said that it had been the perfect time of year for
the talk and hadn't the footage from the old shows been great.
- A Day In The Calton (February meeting)
"We have around 100 Magic
Lantern slides digitised, showing unique scenes around Glasgow Green and
the Calton area. These were taken by Mr Peter Ffyfe, a Sanitary
Inspector who actually gave a talk to the club in 1917. The Directors
would like to present these images to the members of the club before we
let them loose on the wider public.
- Abbotsford, Melrose
The 2014 Club Summer outing
is to the home of Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford near Melrose on June
14th. The house reopened July 2013 after two years closure for its
multi-million pound restoration. There is a new visitor centre with an
exhibition featuring rarely seen items from the Abbotsford collections.
There is also a coffee shop, restaurant and shop.
Details regarding cost of
trip and High Tea will be confirmed at the Feb/March meeting but people
interested can give their names from the February meeting.
Ms Cairns said that she
didn't think that there would be a lot on at this time of year but says
that she was wrong.........
St Mungo Festival
9th-18th January. Events are
St Mungo Ecumenical Service
will take place at Glasgow Cathedral on Sunday 12th January at 6.30pm.
Attending will be Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Civic and Church leaders
and representatives of Trades House, Merchants and groups from across
the city. The St Mungo Singers, Russkaya Cappella and the Salvation Army
Monte Carlo Classic Car Rally
- The only UK
starting point for the rally will leave at 6pm on January 23rd from
Paisley Abbey. Paisley to Monte Carlo 1,670 mile (2,688km).
Events at the Mitchell
Library - Square
Mile of Murder workshop on Thursday 23rd January. Treasures and Tea.
Burns Collection on Wednesday 29th January at 2.30pm. Events can be
or you can call on 0141 287 2999. Booking is essential for these events.
- 16th Jan- 2nd Feb.
Glasgow's annual Winter music festival, featuring artists from around
the world. More information can be found at
Glasgow Film Festival
- 20th Feb - 2nd March.
Tickets for Glasgow's annual film festival are now on sale. More
information can be found on
- 4th-12th April at the
Mitchell Library. The brochures will be available soon. You can also
sign up for the newsletter or follow on Twitter and Facebook at
Ms Cairns congratulated
Glasgow Women's Library who were awarded
£460,000 from the
Regeneration Capital Grant Fund to upgrade an historic building in
Landressy Street, Bridgeton.
- Included in President's Report. Mrs McNae (Secretary) is standing in
for Ms Thom (Treasurer) for this meeting.
Ms Cairns introduced Mr Burns
Shearer, a member of the Nomads and giving his first talk to the Old
Glasgow Club tonight. The talk is titled 'The Comet, the Clyde, the
It is my great pleasure to be
here this evening. It feels as if I am coming home. I was involved in
the development of Adelaides when it was a dilapidated church. It was
an imaginative project that reused the space to provide the facilities
that are here today.
In the background I have
several slides showing which I will explain at the end of my talk.
For those of you that watch
the heavens and take stock there was an astonishing event taking place
in the skies in March 1811. Honoré Flaugergues spotted the Great Comet. It was the talking point of Europe.
Clear skies allowed the comet to be visible in the northern sky. It had
a tail 100,000 miles long and by October 2nd it was 12 times the
diameter of the moon.
What would this mean by 1812
- Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Henry
Bell on the Clyde.
Henry Bell was born on 7th
April 1777 at Linlithgow. In 1780 he was apprenticed to a local
stonemason for 3 years. He decided this had limitations for advancement.
From the age of 16-20 he worked with Glasgow engineer, James Inglis at
Bellshill. He then moved to London to work with the Scottish engineer,
John Rennie. In 1790, now 23, he returned to Glasgow to take up work as
a carpenter. His real interest was was in steam powered boats and he
regularly corresponded with Robert Fulton, the American engineer who
came to Britain to study art, ended up studying engineering and who
later built the North River Steamboat.
He was influenced by the work
of fellow Scotsman William Symington who had patented his improved
atmospheric engine in 1787. Symington's boat the Charlotte Dundas,
maiden voyage 1803 (named after Lord Dundas' daughter when he gave his
approval for the boat), had a horizontal steam engine directly linked to
operate paddles which was aimed at avoiding damage to the canal banks.
Plans to introduce boats on Forth and Clyde Canal were thwarted by Lord
Dundas when he said that it would ruin the walls of the canal.
Henry had a vision and was
convinced that Symington's invention had merit and was very keen to
understand his work. He was particularly interested in discovering how
the Charlotte Dundas had worked, talking at length with those involved
in her design and construction.
In 1800 Bell tried, without
success to get the British Admiralty to support studies into the use of
steam power in ships.
In 1803 his second attempt to
persuade the Admiralty, was once again unsuccessful, although it Lord
Nelson wrote to the Admiralty saying "My Lords, if you do not adopt Mr
Bell's scheme, other nations will, and in the end vex every vein of this
Empire. It will succeed and you should encourage Mr Bell".
Henry also explored the idea
with James Watt, who was very pessimistic about the project, who thought
that the power of steam would not be brought to navigation.
In 1807 Henry, and his wife,
Margaret moved to Helensburgh, which had only been created a Burgh in
1802. They built the Baths Inn (later became the Queen's Hotel) to run
as a spa. The water was drawn from the Clyde by a steam engine to fill
the tubs. This was ran by Margaret, while Henry worked as an architect
and engineer, while also pursuing his aim to build a steam powered boat.
Henry was also the first Provost of Helensburgh from 1807-09.
In 1809 Bell made a smaller
model boat to take an engine, 13 feet long with a 5 feet beam. It was
successful in my view and by 1811 he thought he could make any vessel
In 1811, Bell commissioned
Port Glasgow shipbuilder, John Wood to build a paddle steamer, which was
to be called the Comet, a fiery traveller in space and an apt name for a
boat. It was 55 feet in length, 7ft 6" breadth for a cabin which could
be divided into compartments and 12ft 6" for the engine and machinery.
It had 2 paddle wheels on each side, driven by engines rated at 3hp.
The 2 engines were made by
James Robertson of Glasgow, and the boiler by David Napier. Robertson
and Bell had been in discussion regarding the engine wince 1807. There
was 3lb per square inch in the engine and I wonder what kind of
difficulty they had in loading the engine.
The Comet was prettily
painted, a neat craft with a square sail and it sailed remarkably well.
Henry Bell had mortgaged the
land, Inn and buildings, presumably to raise funding to build The Comet.
Bell had a reputation and owed money. There is no record of the
£14 balance being paid
for the engine. Neither Robertson or Napier were paid in full, although
Napier didn't seem to hold it against him.
August 1812 and the Comet was
delivered to her home berth, 21 miles upriver at Broomielaw.
The Comet's maiden voyage was
in August 1812 under it's Captain, William MacKenzie and 4 staff. The
Comet, using steam and wind-power could sail from Port Glasgow to
Broomielaw in 3 1/2 hours. It could make 5 miles an hour against a
The first commercial voyage
was around Thursday 13th or 15th August and was 4 shillings for the best
cabin and 3 shillings for the second cabin. Captain MacKenzie said that
he had no previous experience, he was in charge of making it a
commercial success. It took 6 hours to do the same journey by coach and
the coach didn't run during the Winter months.
The Clyde was a totally
different river to the one we know now, it hadn't been widened when The
Comet made her maiden voyage. Arrival and departure of The Comet drew
large numbers of onlookers although sailors were still adverse to her.
According to one eyewitness The Comet was referred to as the 'stinkpot'.
The Comet was the first
commercially successful steamboat service in Europe.
What was the outcome for the
Clyde - there was the dredging of the river and a surge in shipbuilding.
The Comet awakened the mind to much quicker voyages. In 1815 steamboats
made passage from Glasgow to London and you could now go to Inveraray
and back the next day.
1880, some 68 years after the
launch of the Comet there were 70 shipbuilding yards. The Clyde
shipyards have built 30,000 ships in under 200 years since the time of
The success of the service
inspired competition and 39 steam boats were built (many of them by John
Wood), with services down the Firth of Clyde and the sea lochs to Largs,
Rothesay, Campbeltown and Inveraray. Within 4 years the Comet was
outclassed by newer steamers.
Bell had the Comet lengthened
and the original 3hp engine was replaced by a 6hp engine. From 1819 the
Comet ran a service to Oban and Fort William (via the Crinan Canal), a
trip which took 4 days.
The original 3hp engine that
had been removed from the Comet was taken to the Science Museum in
London. The designer, John Robertson was invited to oversee the
installation of the engine in the museum.
Tragedy struck the Comet
around the 20th December 1820. The ship was caught by the tidal flow off
Craignish Point, near Oban and was shipwrecked, with Bell onboard. No
lives were lost.
Bell had a replacement vessel
built in 1821, Comet II, but here the end was even worse. On an October
evening in 1825 she collided with the steamer 'Ayr' off Kempock Point,
Gourock. Comet II sank in a mere 3 minutes, killing 62 of the estimated
80 passengers on board. The crew of the Comet II were accused of
abandoning the passengers. The Comet II having not been seen by the
Captain of the Ayr did not stop and lend assistance. She turned round
and headed to Greenock. After the loss of his second ship, Bell
abandoned his work on steam navigation.
Bell reaped no personal
advantage from the widespread adoption of steam powered ships. The lack
of financial backing, mortgaged house and enormous expenses crippled
Bell financially. Henry Bell, once Helensburgh's first Provost, and his
wife, Margaret, lived in poverty in their later years. Touched by his
plight a special fund was set up by Dr Cleland and other friends, such
as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel wrote "Bell did what we engineers
failed in. He gave us the sea steamer: his scheming was Britain's
steaming". The trustees on the River Clyde also granted him an annuity
£100, which was
continued to his widow, Margaret on his death in November 1830.
Henry Bell is buried in Rhu
Churchyard. The impressive monument above his grave was paid for by his
good friend, Robert Napier.
Should The Comet be held in
the same esteem as the Golden Hind and Cutty Sark ? I will leave that up
to you to decide.
Q I found that a very
interesting talk, I have family connections with the Napiers. Can I
correct you in that it was Robert
Napier and his cousin
David Napier who was the Napier in question and not the brother of
Robert. Perhaps the
confusion could be
because they were brothers-in-law.
Q Did Henry Bell have any
A Not to my knowledge. The
Bath Inn passed on to other hands and became The Queen's Hotel. I'm not
happened when he died.
Q Seeing as Napier was
mentioned in your talk regarding his engines, as a railwayman it was
Napier's train steam
engine. Did you not
consider him as your main topic.
A When I was preparing my
talk, I realised that Robert Napier had so much established information
about him that I
decided to stay with
Henry Bell. I think Henry was an amazing man.
Q The price of a ticked was
4 Shillings. What would the cost be in modern money and what type of
A 4 Shillings was a
significant amount of money. To put it in perspective, Irish labourers
were paid 1 Shilling a week so
I presume that only
wealthy people would have used it. 2nd class was 3 Shillings. I think it
was mainly Merchant
classes using this
Vote of Thanks
Mr Brian D Henderson (past
President) gave the vote of thanks.
"President Petrina, fellow
members and friends of the Old Glasgow Club, ladies and gentlemen, join
me now in a hearty vote of appreciation to our honoured guest speaker,
Burns for the fascinating "journey through time" which we have enjoyed,
with him, this evening. Back to...1811, and the "Talking Point of
Europe" - with the comet of the sky; To 'The Flying Boats" - and his
hilariously vivid account of the boat which went nowhere...because the
anchor - was still in the water; To a "potted history" of Helensburgh -
with Henry Bell as first provost; And to Henry Bell - and his "Marine
Monster" steam ship "Comet"... which achieved 3.5 hours from Greenock to
A very single-minded pioneer
with an unfortunate lack of business acumen, but who set the scene for
the River Clyde as a ship-building centre, and for the remarkable growth
of our City of Glasgow.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope
you will agree that Burns has given us a real "Taste of Living History"
this evening. Burns, on behalf of the Club, please accept this small
token of our thanks. Thank you very much indeed."
John Cameron answered
correctly that the Great Glasgow Storm was on 15th January 1968.
Mr Cameron said that the
reason that he remembered the date so clearly was because it was his
first night living in Glasgow, having just moved from Perth. He was
staying in the top floor of an hotel and thought the roof was going to
Next Directors Meeting
- Thursday 6th February
Next Ordinary Meeting
- Thursday 13th February 2014
Ms Cairns thanked everyone
for coming and wished all a safe journey home.