Govan was for 100 years the centre of shipbuilding on the Clyde. Robert Napier (1791-1876), often called ‘the father of shipbuilding on the Clyde’, took over a small wood shipbuilding yard there in 1841 and developed it into a huge enterprise. Not only was he an innovator who produced high quality work notably for the Admiralty and the Cunard Line, but he also trained many of the next generation of shipbuilders such as the Thomson brothers, who established John Brown's Shipyard in Clydebank, John Elder and William Pearce.
Fairfield, the incongruous name deriving from the farm than once stood on the site, began in 1864 with Randolph, Elder & Co, which then became John Elder & Co. John Elder (1824-69) was an inspired marine engineer responsible for developing the compound engine, the fuel efficiency of which enabled ships to make much longer voyages. Elder died aged only 45 in 1869. Boehm’s sculpture of Elder in Elder Park shows him standing beside one of his compound engines. William Pearce (1833-88) took over management of the yard and the company went from strength to strength. Along with Napiers it became one of the principal suppliers of the Royal Navy and during the 1880s repeatedly won the Blue Riband for fast transatlantic crossings.
In 1888 the yard became Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company and grew to become the largest and most successful of all the Clyde shipyards, building warships, liners and steamers. In 1912, for instance, 12 ships were simultaneously under construction.
With the decline in shipbuilding after the Second World War and increasing competition from abroad, Fairfield went bankrupt in 1966. It was quickly reconstituted and has undergone a number of transformations and different names in recent years including Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Lithgow and Kvaerner. It is now part of BVT Surface Fleet.