The Ballast Trust: 100 tons of records

Who: Ballast Trust Team
Job: Archivist
Where: Port Glasgow
When: 1988
Repository: National Records of Scotland / University of Glasgow Archive Services

The Ballast Trust has helped to preserve important records of business and industry in Scotland since 1988 by providing a rescue, sorting and cataloguing service for business archives with an emphasis on the technical records of industry. The Ballast Trust works in partnership with businesses and archive services to do this. However, these collections are frequently voluminous and often amount to several tons of material leading to some unusual working conditions.

One of the first and largest collections the Ballast Trust processed were the records of Scott Lithgow Ltd, a famous shipbuilding company based on the River Clyde at Port Glasgow and Greenock.  William Lind, the founder of the Ballast Trust had agreed with Scott Lithgow that given the scale of the task, all the surviving records of the constituent companies should be centralised onsite in the Joiners Shop at the Kingston Yard and the Ballast Trust would operate from there. This job (initially estimated to last 9 months) eventually took over three years and necessitated working with little or no heating all year round in an enormous workshop, processing records on an equally enormous scale.

Joiners Shop

Central sorting and processing area in the Joiners Shop

In total over 100 tons of records were processed on site from 1988 to 1992. Material covering all aspects of the business of shipbuilding was found in varying states of organisation in offices, attics, warehouses, loft spaces and even a water tower (which contained wage slips and boxes of nineteenth century correspondence). All this was brought by hand or on trolleys to the central sorting and processing area, where it was appraised and catalogued.

Records were rescued from across the yard and brought together for processing.

Records were rescued from across the yard and brought together for processing.

The records are now held by the University of Glasgow Archive Services (under the charge and superintendence of the Keeper of the Records of Scotland) where they serve a variety of academic, enthusiast, and personal research purposes being one of the fullest collections of a Scottish shipbuilding business. The collection covers a period of 120 years, spanning over 150 linear metres of storage and treasures include correspondence from a Confederate paddle steamer captain about blockade running during the American Civil War, nineteenth century photograph albums and a series of yard manager diaries.

Today, the Ballast Trust continues to believe business collections are essential in understanding Scotland’s rich industrial and economic past and that technical records provide important contextual information to aid in the understanding of these collections. Fortunately, we tend to work in much nicer conditions!

If you would like to know more about the records of Scotts’ Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd (GD319), please contact the University of Glasgow Archive Services.

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