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Vulcan iron boat replica opens to the public

A nineteenth century boat that revolutionised maritime design across the world has returned to its original home on the Monkland Canal as an innovative heritage exhibit following a £300,000 renovation programme.

Named for the Roman god of forge and fire, the design of the 63-foot-long Vulcan was considered revolutionary when it was launched on the Monkland Canal in 1819, inspiring the development of iron riveted ships and transforming Scotland’s shipbuilding industry.

Following an extensive internal refit, the vessel has taken up its new role as an interactive educational exhibit. Utilising a range of media and artefacts, the attraction celebrates the history of the canals, ironworking in North Lanarkshire, and the Vulcan’s role in revolutionising shipbuilding.

The replica, which closely follows the design and construction of the original, is significant in its own right as the last boat built on the Clyde using traditional riveting techniques. Its construction marked the end of a trade that had flourished for the intervening 160 years since the original was built.


Hilary Howatt (pictured above and below) the descendant of shipwright Thomas Wilson, was delighted to see her ancestor’s greatest work returned to life. She said: 'Nearly 200 years ago in 1819, Thomas Wilson, my great, great, great grandfather, built the Vulcan, the world’s first iron boat, at Calderbank near Coatbridge and it’s fantastic to see that rich history brought to life today.

'Unbeknown to Scottish Canals, I worked for 30 years in transport planning in west central Scotland and further afield, but had no inkling of the depth of the family connection with Scotland’s canals, their heritage and the Vulcan. I was involved in many transport projects in the Monklands area; I had no idea I was retracing my ancestor’s footsteps.

'It is a huge privilege to have made this link and very exciting to see the project to restore the Vulcan completed. I am sure the Vulcan’s relaunch will be a great success and encourage even more people to discover the rich history of the area, the canals, and the vessel itself.'


Built in Calderbank on the Monkland Canal by shipwright Thomas Wilson and local blacksmiths John and Thomas Smellie, the iron-hulled Vulcan was the subject of much derision during its construction. Local bargemen considered the scheme a folly and threw pennies into the canal near where the vessel was being constructed, stating that the Vulcan would float just as well as the coins.

Wilson was shocked one morning to find an incredulous group taking to the banks of the canal to test his plans on a smaller scale – with pots and pans!

The naysayers were proven wrong when the vessel was launched in 1819, scything through the water of the canal with grace and changing the shipbuilding industry forever. The horse-drawn Vulcan plied her trade on the Forth & Clyde Canal, ferrying passengers along the waterway until she was scrapped in 1873. A replica of the famous vessel was constructed for the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1986 before being brought to Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life following the event.

Summerlee Museum of Industrial Life, Heritage Way, Coatbridge, ML5 1QD; tel: 01236 638460; website.

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