Glasgow Airport & Inchinnan Business Park

Published: April 21, 2021

Glasgow Airport

You can`t do a feature on Inchinnan without mentioning Glasgow Airport as the village lies just a stone`s throw from the main runway. Just a few years before the pandemic struck, the airport was on track to achieve a record 10 million passengers per annum, but the travel industry was already beginning to experience a major downturn. Even so, the large-scale regeneration outlined in the Clyde Waterfront & Renfrew Riverside Project is already well-advanced. This includes the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District Scotland (AMIDS) off Abbotsinch Road incorporating the Glasgow Airport Investment Area (GAIA). This Science Park will include a £56-million Medical Manufacturing Innovation Centre (MMIC) and the £65-million National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland (NMIS) with the surrounding area benefitting from a major upgrade to its road and cycle network. This will include a new cycle / footbridge over the Black Cart Water, another over the White Cart and, eventually a new vehicle bridge over the River Clyde replacing the existing passenger-only Renfrew – Yoker ferry.

Prior to the pandemic, Renfrewshire held its annual Doors Open Days in September each year with venues across the county, many not normally accessible to the general public, admitting visitors. These included museums, town halls, schools, parks, fire stations, sports centres, theatres, leisure centres and numerous churches including Inchinnan Parish Church which celebrated its 50th Jubilee in 2018. Although the building is only 50 years old, it features splendid furnishings and stained glass windows from the previous 1904 All Hallows Church that was demolished in the 1960s to make way for Glasgow Airport.

The site of the original church, which stands on the west bank of the Black Cart Water and looks right down the airport`s main runway, always attracts a steady stream of visitors, many keen to learn about the local history, with a band of friendly volunteers on hand to answer any questions, but most people just want to watch the aviation-related activity at close quarters from a unique angle.

Another excellent vantage point for watching the planes, albeit from a distance, is the grassy area in Freeland Drive on the southern edge of Inchinnan village, at the top of the footpath which climbs from the A8 opposite the India Tyres building. There`s even a couple of benches for people to make themselves comfortable while admiring the view on fine days.

The site on which Glasgow International Airport now stands was previously occupied by a military airfield, known for most of its operational life as HMS Sanderling. Initially Abbotsinch Airfield was an RAF base first occupied by No 602 Squadron (City of Glasgow) Auxiliary Air Force which transferred from Moorpark Aerodrome, Renfrew, in 1933. Between May and October 1939, the unit flew Supermarine Spitfires from Abbotsinch, but relocated to southern England by August of the following year and played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain. In 1940 a joint services Torpedo Training Unit was formed at the airfield to train both Royal Air Force and Royal Navy crews. On 11 August 1943 the RAF vacated the airfield and Abbotsinch became Royal Navy Air Station HMS Sanderling. After the war it became a large storage and maintenance facility, as well as playing host to squadrons of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. Fleet Air Arm aircraft such as the Grumman Avenger, Hawker Sea Hawk, de Havilland Sea Venom and Fairey Gannet were kept here in large numbers while awaiting disposal. The Royal Navy left Abbotsinch in October 1963 and the site was incorporated into the new Glasgow Airport which opened in May 1966.​

Spitfire F.21 LA198 which hangs from the ceiling within the city`s Art Gallery and Museum above giraffes, moose and elephants is understandably one of Kelvingrove`s most popular exhibits. Although this particular aircraft never saw action during the Second World War, it served with 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron at Abbotsinch between 1947 and 1949. 

On 22 July 1949 the aircraft crashed on the runway and sustained damage which relegated it to Gate Guard duties at various RAF bases. It was returned to the City of Glasgow by Parliamentary Approval in 1998, and following a lengthy restoration period at the Museum of Flight in East Fortune, the iconic aircraft was presented to Kelvingrove.​ 

The sculpture on the right, honouring ​602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, is one of eight by environmental artist Kenny Munro which sit atop pillars lining the main path through Clyde View Park in Renfrew. Celebrating aspects of the area`s rich history, each sculpture is enclosed in a stainless steel sphere and accompanied by an information plaque. Other sculptures feature shipbuilding, engineering, a famous aviator, and the Beardmore factory at Inchinnan which produced aircraft and massive airships including the R34. (See below).


The White Cart and Black Cart waters meet west of Renfrew to form the River Cart where early travellers crossed, initially via a ford and later by ferry. In 1759 a nine-arch stone bridge was built to assist trade as the location lay on the busy main route from Glasgow to Greenock. To recoup the cost of the bridge`s construction a toll was levied on passengers, coaches and carts apart from mail coaches which were exempt. Then, in 1786 an adjacent canal with a swing bridge was cut to allow ships to bypass the bridge without lowering their masts. The nine-arch stone bridge was destroyed during a severe flood in 1809 and later replaced by two bridges. ​Remnants of the original bridge`s foundations can still be seen at low-water. Its replacement, the present-day one which still spans the Black Cart, was completed in 1812 and again a toll system operated until around 1874, by which time the cost of building the bridge was repaid and the tolls abolished. That was also the theory behind the toll system on the Erskine Bridge when it opened almost a century later. Tolls would be collected for 20 years by which time it was expected that revenue raised from motorists using the bridge would be sufficient to pay the construction costs. Rather than the tolls being abolished as originally announced, however, it was found that the capital raised fell far short of the required amount and as a result the tolls not only continued in place but were raised. Fortunately, after years of protest the unpopular tolls were finally cancelled in 2006. ​

​The Inchinnan bascule bridge at Renfrew, which dates from 1923, ended the requirement for the swing bridge over the canal. It is just one of many such structures built by the famous engineering company founded by Sir William Arrol (1839–1913). Arrol was born at Houston in Renfrewshire and despite leaving school at 9 years of age to work in a cotton mill and later as a blacksmith he attended night school where he learned the principles of civil engineering. By 1872 he had established his own business in the east end of Glasgow which was expanded to incorporate the Parkhead Crane Works.

In the years that followed, even after Arrol had died, his company built some of the best known bridges in the British Isles. These include both Forth Bridges, the Tay Railway Bridge of 1887, Tower Bridge in London, the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge, and bridges over the Humber and River Severn. Although the Inchinnan bascule bridge over the White Cart remains in situ for most of the year, it is raised for testing and occasionally to allow tugs and barges upriver to transport large components from the Renfrew factories. Recently, however, any such activity has been related to the ongoing construction at the new science park development. 

The following view, looking south over the area, area shows the confluence of the White Cart and Black Cart waters and their respective crossings. The Normandy Hotel can be seen bottom left, with the Inchinnan Business Park, top right. It`s the fields on the left that are currently under development.

Just east of the bascule bridge, adjacent to the grounds of the Normandy Hotel, are the Argyll Stone and St Conval`s Chariot. One of the moss-covered boulders is the pediment and the other the base of a cross said to have been erected to the memory of the said saint who is thought to be buried nearby. The stones were moved to their current location, which was part of the Blythswood Estate, sometime prior to 1836 and the cast-iron Gothic ornamental fence was erected to protect them. 

The whereabouts of the missing parts of the cross have not been established. Water from the hollow in the cross-base, St Conval’s Chariot, was thought to have healing and medicinal properties and even more bizarrely, the saint is said to have crossed the sea on this stone from Ireland! The pediment, the Argyll Stone, got its name from Archibald Campbell, the 9th Earl of Argyll, who led the Argyll Rising against Royalist forces in support of the failed Monmouth Rebellion in England (May – July 1685). Due to a lack of support and following a series of defeats and desertions, Argyll was forced to go on the run. Accompanied only by a Major Fullarton, both men, in disguise, were stopped by suspicious militiamen while fording a river near Inchinnan in June 1685 and taken prisoner. Argyll is supposed to have sat on this boulder while his fate was being decided. He was subsequently taken to Edinburgh where he was executed with his remains interred in the city`s Greyfriars kirkyard. 

St Conval was one of the major founders of monasticism in the British Isles. According to legend, he was a son of an Irish prince and a spiritual student of Saint Kentigern (St Mungo) who became patron saint of Glasgow. One day as he stood on the edge of the Irish sea he asked for God‘s guidance for his life. The stone on which he was standing broke loose and carried him to Inchinnan where a chapel was built to commemorate the event. In the 10th century, 300 years after his death, Irish monks based at Inchinnan in Renfrewshire founded a series of churches in his name on the south bank of the River Clyde. These churches form the basis of the parishes that we know today. ​This Clyde View Park sculpture commemorates both Saint Conval and Somerled, the Lord of the Isles, who fought at the Battle of Renfrew in 1164 during his failed campaign to assert his authority over the Western seaboard of Scotland.

Inchinnan Business Park

The area on which the present-day business park stands was once occupied by ​​William Beardmore & Co, one of the most diverse and enterprising heavy engineering and shipbuilding businesses on Clydeside. It was active between about 1890 and 1930 and at its peak employed approximately 40,000 people. Beardmore`s main complex at Dalmuir on the opposite side of the Clyde turned out numerous merchant vessels, warships and aircraft including the B.E.2c and Sopwith Pup, both of which were widely utilised during the Great War. Locomotives and vehicles were also produced.

As the main facility on the Clydebank side was surrounded by industry and tenement housing, the company acquired the 600 acre site at Inchinnan, primarily for military airship construction. A massive shed, similar to that at Cardington in Bedfordshire, was built to protect the workers and evolving structures from the elements. Although the Inchinnan factory built several airships, the most famous by far was the R34 which went on to set several records in July 1919. Nicknamed `Tiny`, R34 was enormous – at just under 196 metres, it was double the length of an Airbus A380, currently the world`s largest passenger plane. The state-of-the-art craft was powered by five engines, each of 275 horse power.  

​R34 first flew on 14 March 1919 and was delivered to her operational base at East Fortune near Edinburgh on 30 May that year. Soon after, R34 made her first endurance trip of 56 hours over the Baltic and in preparation for an East-to-West crossing of the Atlantic that summer. Extra accommodation was arranged by slinging hammocks in the keel walkway. The trip, although not without incident, was successful and the huge airship and her crew went into the history books. On 6 July after a flight of 108 hours with virtually no fuel left, she arrived at Mineola, Long Island, in the United States, to become the first aircraft to make such a trip. ​As the reception party in the USA had no experience of handling large rigid airships, one of the officers, Major EM Pritchard jumped by parachute onto the landing field and so became the first person to reach American soil by air from Europe.

R34`s epic trip was made just two weeks after Alcock and Brown, in a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber, made the very first Transatlantic flight, but in the opposite direction. The R34, however, could also claim two additional, rather bizarre records: On board the airship was not only the first airborne stowaway, William Bannatyne from Newcastle, but also his cat Whoopsie! Bannatyne had been one of the crew members but, having been selected to stay behind to save weight, he sneaked on board with his pet and hid throughout the journey. Needless to say the press were delighted and Bannatyne & Partner became instant celebrities. The return flight to Pulham in Norfolk, England, took 75 hours but following several disastrous crashes by other airships, and the growth of the fixed-wing aircraft industry, production of airships ended. 

​​William Beardmore and Company vacated the Inchinnan site in 1922 and the land was subsequently purchased by The India Rubber Company, more commonly referred to as India Tyres. The new owners were able to utilise part of the original shed as a rubber mill, as well as a store for raw materials. ​In 1930, the India of Inchinnan building was commissioned to serve as the company`s flagship office. ​​The business was prosperous and houses, named Beardmore Cottages, were built in Allands Avenue and India Drive (below) to accommodate the 2,500 employees of the tyre factory. ​These houses were of good quality and most survive and are still occupied today.​

​​Following the outbreak of the Second World War, the plant was heavily involved in producing tyres and other components for the military. Years of neglect took their toll on the main building and it finally underwent a multi-million pound refurbishment in 2003. India of Inchinnan was taken over by software firm Graham Technology and today the building is home to several businesses. Prior to the COVID outbreak, the R34 Restaurant on the ground floor, was open to the public.

The India of Inchinnan building was designed by Thomas Wallis (1873–1953), the founder of Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, a British architectural partnership responsible for the design of many Art Deco buildings in the UK in the 1920s and 1930s. Among the best known are the Albion Motor Car Company works in Scotstoun, Glasgow, plus the Wrigley`s Factory, Victoria Coach Station and the Hoover Factory in London. 

​India of Inchinnan showcases many of the typical characteristics associated with Art Deco. Red, black and green tiles tie-in with the corporate colours of the building’s original tenants and spell out the company’s logo within a terrazzo floor in the entrance vestibule. An airship-inspired roof and other structures have since been added to the original building in recognition of Inchinnan`s considerable contribution to engineering and the aviation industry in particular.

Rolls-Royce is best known for its aero-engines but also makes power systems for aircraft and naval vessels. The company`s Inchinnan plant produces seals and fan blades in addition to servicing aero-engines. Although contracts have fallen steeply due to the pandemic, Rolls-Royce said it is committed to forming part of the new Manufacturing Institute beside Glasgow Airport  and will do its utmost to protect local jobs.

The Airbus A380, the world`s largest passenger plane, is offered with the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine. 

The embankment beside the Rolls-Royce factory is a prime vantage point for photographing aircraft just before they land.

Unfortunately Emirates` scheduled A380 service between Glasgow and Dubai was short-lived.

The Business Park`s wide boulevards are popular with joggers and there`s even a reed-fringed duck pond to encourage wildlife.

​Every year, particularly during the autumn migration, sizeable flocks of various species gather in the fields adjacent to the Black and White Cart waters and on the surrounding farmland to feed. Most problematical for aircraft are geese, crows, wood pigeons, lapwings and large groups of starlings. Whooper Swans used to overwinter here in numbers reaching around 200-300 birds, but this amount has drastically reduced. Nowadays, a dozen or more together is a good count. Roe Deer are occasionally spotted foraging along the river banks. 

Berry Picking

One of the most popular local family day outs in summer and autumn is berry picking at East Yonderton Farm in Walkinshaw Road.

This content has been compiled specifically for the community website by Brian Moyes of Please note that all images in this feature belong to the Photographer. They are subject to copyright and must not be reproduced without permission.

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