Case Study: Survey and Recording of Harbours

Some general synopses of vernacular harbour works are present in the literature (see e.g. Hume, 1976; 1977a; Graham, 1969; 1977; 1984; Jackson, 1983) but there is a need for more detailed survey and recording work. Such a programme could provide the following outcomes:

  • Establishing the principles of harbour design: covering elements such as protective bulwarks in relation to prevailing weather patterns, the value of stilling basins and spending beaches, designs of piers and quay spaces, including the provision of craneage, enclosed docks and facilities for ship maintenance and repair.
  • Reviewing the range of construction techniques in vernacular harbours: in relation to sources of available local building stone and to the patterns of wind and tide in various locations.
  • Repair and maintenance strategies; and the cost of harbour works in different places and times.
  • The introduction of structures such as leaf-gates for retaining tidal water in dock basins: (both as an aid to loading and un-loading at all states of tide and also, at places such as St Andrews, to assist with harbour maintenance by the use of sluices to flush sediment from harbour basins).
  • The impact of new technology: for example 19th century use of concrete construction; introduction of graving docks and patent slips for repair work.
  • A review of the work of the Stevenson family of civil engineers: whose projects extending many vernacular harbours in the 19th century were well-recorded in the company’s records (many now in the NLS Map Room and the National Archives). Their adaptation of traditional methods to 19th century projects could be evaluated afresh in terms of survival of their work on the ground.


Maps and plans showing the Stevenson family engineering firm infrastructure projects are available to view on the National Library of Scotland website ©NLS

Leave a Reply