Collections and Storytelling

Collections and Storytelling

Interpretation and Redisplay

When the project began in 2019, the collections were housed in the boathouse. The stairwells and corridors were filled with photographs from the 1880s onwards, framed pennants and vintage boats and oars were hung from the ceiling and displayed on the walls of the gyms and clubrooms. The building was rammed with sporting memorabilia and the building had a chaotic charm that appealed to visitors and club members alike.

The redisplay plan aims to recapture that informal, friendly vibe, but with greater balance and representation of more recent history. The clubs are keen to promote greater diversity and inclusion, and this needs to be foregrounded within the redisplay, in particular by telling the story of women’s rowing. The cultural and natural history of the river has also become a key narrative thread in the plan.

The restored boathouse is due to open in autumn 2022, and the interior layout has changed substantially from its original configuration as a semi-detached building, with Clyde occupying one end and Clydesdale in the other. When the rowers return, Strathclyde University Boat Club will join the original tenants and the building will be shared between all three clubs. Much of the clubs collections will be going back up on the walls and will be threaded throughout the building, rather than siloed in a ‘heritage area’. 

This is not without its challenges – the new layout has reduced the space available to display items in the stairwell and main first-floor corridor, which had previously hosted many historic photographs. These are now fire-protected areas. There is, however, scope to include some reproductions or reinterpretations of historic items in fire-proof materials such as etched metal. 

In discussion with the clubs and volunteers, we are working on our plan and have developed a set of key goals and considerations to guide us in the redisplay. With a large, diverse collection and a combined history of 350+ years, identifying a set of simple goals and messages has helped us work through the stories we want to tell.

Interpretation Goals

  • Signal a welcoming, friendly and inclusive space
  • Commemorate the reopening of the boathouse
  • Engage new audiences
  • Celebrate sporting heritage
  • Encourage behavioural and attitudinal change towards the river and banks
Consideration Response
The West Boathouse is not a museum and will have limited public access The digital offer (website + digital resources – YouTube, Guidigo, Sketchfab and Ehive) are crucial in sharing and disseminating collections. The website and EHive will be supported for 4 years. A selection of resources, key images and content archived on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.
Part of the project is evaluating the process of recording and sharing collections for other small clubs/heritage groups with limited resources – where possible solutions should be accessible, low-cost and easily refreshed and updated, but as close to best practice as possible   All resources have been developed with this in mind. Share our journey and promote resources to other groups through our Scottish Archives Council collaboration. Our recording system, documentation and resources will be made freely available via the website. Interactive digital material will be hosted on the internet. All interpretation within the building will be analogue.
Displays should not interfere with club operations (need to work closely with members to ensure displayed material won’t be accidentally damaged by members) Work closely with clubs to ensure interpretation and displayed material is safely displayed. Clubs will commit to the long-term care of archives and objects held within the building. Members and volunteers will be given training in basic care and management.
Ensure balanced representation for all clubs.  Each club will have their own specific display cabinet and material for communal areas will be selected in consultation with all.
The building is B-listed – any external signage needs to meet HES standards  Signal that the building is a welcoming space by using decals on porthole windows and main entrance. Use large, square windows as flexibly, temporary, interpretation space.
The entrance, stairwell and top corridor are fire-protected areas – no flammable materials Explore alternative materials – etched metals, jesmonite etc
Explore options to creatively reuse original elements of the building that were taken out e.g. original stair treads Potential reuse of stair treads as seating, benches, planters etc


Key Narratives and Stories

  • The story of rowing on the Clyde and individual club histories
  • The growth and success of womens’ rowing
  • Caring for the River Clyde

On the face of it, the narratives are fairly straightforward, however, sports clubs are very proud of their specific histories and triumphs, and this needs to be balanced against the wider context of rowing on the Clyde. Women’s rowing will also be spotlit – an area that had previously not received much attention. Over the past few years, we’ve gathered oral histories, objects and items from former rowers and trawled the archives for evidence of early pioneers, right up to Olympic champions such as Dame Katherine Grainger and Gillian Lindsay.

We are also looking to tell the story of the river along the ‘rowing reach’ from Glasgow Green to the Cuningar Loop. The history of this stretch of the River Clyde is often ignored in favour of the merchants and shipbuilders of the city centre and Govan. As it meanders through the east end of the city, the upper reaches has a rich, fascinating history of textiles, water management, pollution and popular protests. This also ties in with the West Boathouse ‘Green Policy’ and a drive to encourage the rowing community to take a more active role in advocating for the river and its wildlife.

Long-term Care

While most of the material will be returned to the boathouse and will go on display or be carefully stored in archival boxes, the question of what to do with some the older and more fragile material was an issue we needed to address in consultation with the clubs. Currently, the burden of care for material, some of which dates back to the 1850s, lies with the clubs. Following consultation with the clubs, the decision was taken to deposit items pre-dating the Second World War with the Mitchell Library. This allows the clubs to retain ownership and ensures the most fragile and rare parts of the collection will be professionally cared for in the long term. High-quality reproductions will stand in for the originals. While this will inevitably impact the feel of the building, and doesn’t have the same authenticity as the originals, club members were in agreement that this was the best strategy to ensure their survival.