"They Once Were Shipbuilders: Leith-Built Ships" by R. O. Neish is an example of a type of book we particularly enjoy: books that take little-known yet fascinating subjects and give their readers definitive accounts of them. The result in this case is an engrossing book that will have a lasting value.
Scotland has a rich shipbuilding heritage, but most of us are probably at best only vaguely aware that this extended much beyond the glories of the Clyde shipbuilding industry. "Leith-Built Ships" is a testimony to the skill of the men who built the ships and to those who sailed or served on them. Leith was once - and was for a long time - Scotland's largest port. Shipbuilding began here some 400 years before the development of the great shipyards on the Clyde, and Leith-built ships reached all corners of the globe, touching many people's lives. Some had sad histories while others took part in some of the great conflicts of the times; many were just ordinary working vessels that carried their crew safely through long working lives. With a pedigree of shipbuilding second to none going back over 660 years, the ships built at Leith deserve their place in history and this book begins the story.
It "begins" the story because it is the first in what will become a three volume series about Leith's rich maritime heritage. This volume takes the story of shipbuilding in Leith from its earliest days through to the First World War. The author has spent his working lifetime in the shipbuilding industry so you'd expect this book to be superbly researched and knowledgeably written. It doesn't disappoint. It is also readily accessible to the non-expert and the well-written text is supplemented by a number of nice B&W photos. At the end is a list of the 270 ships built at R&F Shipyard in Leith and a really comprehensive and helpful glossary.
The book takes a generally chronological approach to its subject. After covering the historical background in the introduction, the author moves on to look at "The Early Years 1850-1875"; then the change from "Iron to Steel"; then there are two chapters taking us to the end of the century; followed by two which look, in turn, at shipbuilding in the first decade of the 1900s and in the First World War. The concluding chapter looks at the exploits of Leith-built ships built in earlier years in the war.