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The Scottish Maritime Museum celebrates the rise of Scotland’s seaside resorts and the golden era of steamboat travel ‘doon the watter’ in this year’s Summer exhibition, which opens tomorrow (Saturday 1 July).

‘Dream Destination’, which goes on show in the Museum’s Linthouse building on Irvine Harbourside, charts the growing popularity of sailing down the Clyde to Helensburgh, Gourock, Largs, Ayr, Millport, Dunoon and Rothesay for the day or a ‘staycation’ from the early 1900s.

The exhibition also delves into the rivalry between railway and steamship companies as they first worked together then competed for tourist income.

Highlights include scenic landscapes captured by the Scottish Colourists, railway posters and photographs drawn from the Museum’s national art collection.

The Museum will also run a series of exhibition events during the summer and ‘My Fantastic Ship’, a children’s art competition with winning entries going on display as part of the exhibition in September.

Exhibition events include ‘It was fine when it left us….’, a Titanic Discovery Family SessionWhite Star Line – The Beloved, the Damned and the Forgotten – an evening with cocktails/mocktails, a talk and exhibition viewing, both with local historian Bill Fitzpatrick as well as A Sailors Log – From Square Rigged Ships to Submarines. This evening talk and exhibition viewing will be led by the Scottish Maritime Museum Chair of Trustees Laurie Sinclair who will recall his Stevenston Grandfather’s maritime career.

Eva Bukowska, Exhibitions and Events Officer at the Scottish Maritime Museum, explains:

As more and more of us choose to holiday at home and explore the beautiful islands and mainland of Scotland, we thought it was the perfect time to display our fabulous collection of travel posters and paintings and explore the attractions of ‘going doon the watter’.

“It wasn’t always plain sailing and our exhibition uncovers the changing relationship between the railway and steamship companies as travel, once only accessible to the wealthy, came within reach for everyone.

“It is a fascinating story which visitors of all ages will enjoy.”

Dream Destination explores the burgeoning Scottish tourism industry during the Victorian era. At first, only the wealthy could afford to travel for pleasure. With the introduction of steamship and rail services at affordable prices, the western coast of Scotland became a dream destination within reach of those wanting to escape the city and their daily routine.

In Glasgow, workers escaped the factories and shipyards for a day on a Clyde steamer. Though the resorts, boats, and trains could be overcrowded, it was a refreshing alternative to the usual urban environment and became especially popular during the Glasgow Fair Weekend.

The new seaside resorts offered holidaymakers a wide variety of entertainment including outdoor swimming pools, cinemas, amusements and dance halls.

Onboard, the rail and steam companies worked hard to ensure the experience of the journey was equal to the destination. Passengers could expect well-stocked bars and silver service catering and, on the steamships, live bands and games.

At first the railway and steamship companies worked together. Train lines were extended with many terminating near local ports or famous lochs, making it easier for travellers to depart the steam trains for steamboats, taking them on to their holiday destination.

Glasgow and Greenock Railway were one of these companies, opening a new line along the south bank of the Clyde to meet up with ‘doon the watter ‘sailings. The trains terminated at Greenock’s Cathcart Street Station located only a few minutes’ walk from the town’s Steamboat Quay.

Co-operation sometimes stalled and, in some cases, the rail companies and steamship services competed. Frustrated with relying on independent steamboat operators pushed the Caledonian Railway Company, for example, to buy steamers and create the ‘Caledonian Steam Packet Company’. This became the Clyde’s most popular steamer company until steamships fell out of regular use with the arrival of turbine driven vessels and, eventually, ferries.

Dream Destination runs at the Scottish Maritime Museum until 1 October 2023.

More information about Dream Destination, the Summer Events Programme and ‘My Fantastic Ship’ children’s art competition can be found at:
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram @scotmaritime 

Issued on behalf of the Scottish Maritime Museum by
Joanna Harrison, Mobile: 07884 187404

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