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KS3/4 Geography: Shipbuilding and Clydeside

A selection of very different fiction and non-fiction films are used to explore industrial decline.

Main image of KS3/4 Geography: Shipbuilding and Clydeside
AuthorGemma Starkey
Key Words Scotland, River Clyde, Clydeside, shipbuilding, shipyard, employees, workers, propaganda, campaign film, documentary, jobs, unemployment, Cinema Action, dispute, work-in, political film, working class
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A selection of very different fiction and non-fiction films - Seawards the Great Ships (1960), UCS 1 (1971) and Sweet Sixteen (2002) - are used to explore industrial decline.

Running through the Scottish city of Glasgow, the Clyde River was a very important reason for the growth of shipbuilding and trade in Britain since the early 18th century. Each of the films in this lesson were filmed in the Clydeside region. From Seawards the Great Ships (1960) which documents Clydeside at the peak of its success, the campaign film, UCS 1 (1971), which records the anger and frustration at the closure of the yards, to the subsequent unemployment and poverty explored in Sweet Sixteen (2002), these films provide a fascinating glimpse of the changing fortunes of an industrialised area over a mere 40-year period.

Lesson Objective

Geographers are interested in how space and place impacts on human relations and social organisation. Both the local community and economy are placed at the heart of this lesson which encourages students to think about how changes in the industrial landscape can have wide-ranging implications for the surrounding population.



The students should already have some grounding in industrial development and its effect on the landscape. Some understanding of the broader political and economic trends in Britain of the last 40 years would also be helpful, such as increasing competition from abroad, lack of government investment in heavy industry, and increasing tensions between workers and the government.

Ask the class to brainstorm what they think the key factors are (physical, economic and human) that are essential for industry to develop and survive in a location, for example - labour, raw materials, energy supply, good transport network, and so on. Capture these thoughts on the board.


Main Attraction

Play through the whole of our short film exploring the documentary Seawards the Great Ships. You'll find it in the Shipbuilding Tour - tab at the top of this page. Alternatively you could choose some extracts from the film itself - link on the right. While watching, students should note down what they notice in the film about industry and the Clydeside area. This should lead on to a discussion around the focal question: What can we learn about shipbuilding on the Clyde from this film? Students should also think about:

  • When might this film have been made?
  • What kind of film is it?
  • Who made the film and why? From whose perspective is it?

Now show the class some extracts from Ken Loach's social realist drama Sweet Sixteen. Shot around the economically depressed area of Greenock, a former shipbuilding town near Glasgow, the film highlights the lives of those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Made only forty years after Seawards, Sweet Sixteen really hammers home the extent of the gulf between 'now and then' as it portrays the plethora of social problems, such as poverty and the erosion of community, which could be linked to the closing of the shipyards thirty or so years before. Students should once more make some notes about what they discover about the Clydeside/Greenock area in this film and be able to answer:

  • When was the film made?
  • What kind of film is it?
  • Who made the film and why? From whose perspective is it?

Now ask the class to consider the same focal question: What can we learn about shipbuilding on the Clyde from this film? Some points which might be worth considering:

  • How valuable do they think a fiction film is compared to a promotional documentary in answering this question?
  • Ken Loach is a filmmaker particularly noted for his portrayal of the marginalised and under-represented in society. His films therefore often tend to have a political agenda. How does this affect the students' understanding of Sweet Sixteen?

This debate should lead nicely into a discussion on what might have happened to this area in the interim years. Students should go back to the key 'success factors' they identified at the start of this lesson and brainstorm their thoughts.


End Credits

End the lesson with a screening of the campaign film UCS 1 from 1971. Made by Cinema Action, the film highlights the plight of the Clydeside shipbuilders whose livelihoods were threatened by the government's plans to close the shipyards. Significantly, the film records the occupation of the Upper Clyde Shipyard by its workers from the inside. Some suggestions for suitable extracts:

  • First 3 minutes depict workers marching - campaigning for the right to work 6 minutes in - a discussion about the difficulties of getting employment if you have no work experience in the shipyards.
  • 8 minutes - about apprentices being trained for redundancy.
  • Just over 13 minutes - reference to closing the shipyards means closing the gates of Scotland and turning it into a 'ghost town'.
  • 15 minutes in - outline of what the protest is about i.e. a demand for the right to work. Comparison to the 1926 General Strike.
  • 20 minutes in - inside view of the work-in with speeches. Final shots show a donation request which is good for highlighting the type of film this is.

Ask the students to consider:

  • How does this film help us understand what might have happened to the shipbuilding industry in Clydeside?
  • How far does it fill in the gaps between the other two films?

External Links
Seawards the Great Ships at the Scottish Screen Archive
Ken Loach's Sixteen Films
Ken Loach speaking at BFI London Film Festival 2010

Video Clips
Seawards the Great Ships: Complete film (28:16)
UCS1: Complete film (21:57)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Sweet Sixteen (2002)Sweet Sixteen (2002)

Read more about this film

See also

Thumbnail image of Cinema ActionCinema Action

Film collective

Thumbnail image of Loach, Ken (1936-)Loach, Ken (1936-)

Director, Writer