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Drawing of dome at Govan Town Hall

Drawing of dome at Govan Town Hall


Govan originated as part of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde where the local language was a form of Cymro-Celtic, related to modern-day Welsh. The terms Gov, Govan, Govant were all used to designate an artist or a smith who prepared metal from raw ore. It has been suggested that the workshops of the early Christian artisans may have given its name to both the village and the parish.
The parish of Govan was separated from the Barony parish of Glasgow by the River Kelvin on the west. It lay on both sides of the Clyde and extended as far as Gorbals on the south side of the river. "Little govan" in the south east corner of this 1795 map is now known as Govanhill.
There are many manor houses surrounding the old village of Govan which later became associated with local place names. The houses at Fairfield, Linthouse and Broomloan are all shown in the map along with many other familiar names.

Map of the Parish of Govan, 1795

Map of the Parish of Govan, 1795


The extracts below were published before the industrialisation of Govan. The first shows the various settlements on the route from Glasgow to Renfrew around the time when the above map was published. Fairfield was occupied by Mr John Cumming and Mavisbank by Mr James Hamilton.
The later extract describes Govan and the surrounding areas shortly before its enormous expansion. It's not too complimentary about the older parts of the town. The reference to "Culdee times" goes back to the age of the monastic communities of the early Celtic church.

Extract of road trip from Glasgow to Renfrew c.1800 Extract of description of Govan pre- industrialisation


The ancient church at Govan was dedicated to St. Constantine who founded a monastery near the Clyde around the same time as St. Columba established his community on Iona. Constantine converted the local population to Christianity and after suffering martyrdom he was buried at his monastery at Govan.
There have been a number of different church buildings at Govan since the foundation of the first church by St Constantine in 565 AD. The last mediaeval church was replaced by a new church in 1762, which in turn was replaced by the church shown in the engraving, below, which was built in 1826. This church was designed by architect James Smith who modelled the tower and spire from the church at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Engraving of Govan Church, built 1826

Engraving of Govan Church, built 1826


The foundation stone of the present Govan Parish Church was laid by Mrs Isabella Elder on Saturday 6th December 1884. The church, which was designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, was formally opened on Saturday 19th May 1888 with a dedication service attended by noted clergy and dignitaries including the Lord Provost of Glasgow.

Govan Parish Church

Govan Parish Church


Interior of Govan Parish Church

Interior of Govan Parish Church


Inside the church there are a number of early mediaeval carved stones from the time when Govan was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde.
The highlight of the display is an ornate solid stone sarcophagus. There are also "hogback" burial stones and the intricately carved remnants of ancient crosses. Some of the stones feature carvings with Scandanavian influences, reflecting the Viking presence in the area from around the middle of the ninth century.

Stone sarcophagus at Govan Parish Church

Stone sarcophagus displayed at Govan Parish Church


Early mediaeval stones at Govan Parish Church

Some of the early mediaeval stones at Govan Parish Church


Hogback gravestone in Govan Churchyard

Photograph of hogback gravestone in Govan Old Parish graveyard c.1900


Govan Old Church is situated close to the parish church. It was built in 1873 as St Mary Govan Free Chuch with a simple three-gabled façade and no tower. The architect of the church was Robert Baldie.

Govan Old Church

Govan Old Church


St Anthony's R.C. Church in Govan Road was designed in the Italian Romanesque style by John Honeyman. The church features a square tower with an open arched belfry. St Anthony's opened on 26 October 1879.

St Anthony's Church, Govan

Tower and belfry of St Anthony's Church, Govan


Govan Town Hall

Govan Town Hall

Govan Council 1864

The industrial expansion of Govan and the associated rise in population led to the town and the wider area achieving burgh status in 1864.
The burgh's first Provost was Morris Pollock who led the earliest council (left), which had nine Commissioners and two magistrates.
Govan became part of the City of Glasgow in 1912 along with the nearby burghs of Partick and Pollokshaws. Govan Town Hall lost its administrative function and became just another one of the city's many public halls.

Govan Town Hall repaced the original municipal buildings in Orkney Street which became the Police Station. The new hall was designed in the Edwardian Renaissance style by the architectal practice of Thomson & Sandilands and built with red sandstone from Dumfriesshire. It was formally opened in 1901 by James Kirkwood, Govan's Provost. The building contained two public halls and municipal offices with a large suite of rooms for council business.

Exhibition drawing of Govan Town Hall, 1898

Exhibition drawing of Govan Town Hall displayed at the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, 1898


Drawing of interior of Govan Town Hall, 1899

Drawing of interior of Govan Town Hall, 1899


Govan is world renowned for its place in the history of modern shipbuilding, which had began on the Clyde as part of the massive industrialisation of Glasgow in the mid-1800's when the railway network was being developed and many novel uses were being found for mass-produced iron. Locally made iron products were used in the construction of bridges, ships, locomotives, mills and factories.

Robert Napier

Robert Napier (left) was a pioneer of modern shipbuilding and marine engineering on the Clyde. He built his first successful engine in 1823 and by 1830 he had established extensive mechanical workshops in Finnieston. In 1838 he was appointed as the main supplier of marine engines for vessels procured by the Royal Navy.

As well as being an engineer, Napier was a remarkably successful shipbuilder on the other side of the Clyde at Govan.
In 1841 he took over a small old-fashioned shipyard at Govan and reconstructed it as a facility specially designed to build iron ships. Napier's yards contained the slipways from where numerous warships, cargo vessels and ocean-going liners were launched.
The iron plates and machine parts for the ships and their boilers were manufactured at the Parkhead Forge, where Napier would take outright control in 1848.

One of Napier's most noted associates was John Elder, who went on to establish his own successful business in Govan.


Launch of an iron ship at Napier's Shipyard in Govan, c.1861

Launch of an iron ship with screw propeller at Napier's Shipyard in Govan, c.1861


The Fairfield Shipyard takes its name from the manor house and associated farm where the final occupier was Mr Alexander Thompson. The development of the yard began in 1864 under the guidance of John Elder a former engineer at Napier's shipyard who is credited with developing an improved compound marine engine.
When Elder died in 1869 the equally famous William Pearce took over the management of the yard which expanded to become the biggest shipyard in the world before the inevitable decline of the late twentieth century.

Aerial view of Fairfield Shipyard, Govan

Aerial view of Fairfield Shipyard, Govan

The shipyard is currently operated by BAE Systems Surface Ships Ltd, one of the world's largest builders of naval warships. The same company own the former Yarrow shipyard on the other side of the river at South Street, Scotstoun. The two yards work together in the fabrication of new vessels, primarily for the Royal Navy.


The Fairfield offices, below, were designed in 1890 by John Keppie, the future mentor of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The offices served their original purpose until 2001 when they became unoccupied and gradually fell into a state of disrepair.
Govan Workspace purchased the building in 2009 and have carried out emergency repairs in preparation for ongoing refurbishment.
Plans have been prepared for the creation of the "Fairfield Heritage Centre" as a visitor attraction within the office block.

Ofices at Fairfield Shipyard, Govan

Ofices at Fairfield Shipyard, Govan


RMS <I>Empress of Britain</I>, built at Fairfield's shipyard and launched on 11 November 1905

RMS Empress of Britain, built at Fairfield Shipyard and launched on 11 November 1905


Statue of John Elder

Statue of John Elder with his compound marine engine

The statue stands in beautifully landscaped Elder Park, facing Fairfield Shipyard, which was gifted to the people of Govan by Mrs Isabella Elder, the widow of the famous engineer and shipbuilder. Mrs Elder also provided the library at the corner of the park which pre-dates Glasgow's fine Carnegie Libraries, and is featured in my Andrew Carnegie page. Carnegie never visited any of the libraries he funded in the city but paridoxically he performed the official opening of Elder Park Library on 5th September 1903.


These kissing “lovebirds” were created by sculptor Helen Denerly in 1994 to sit outside the Fairfield Shipyard gates. The birds are cormorants, which can often be found sitting about the Clyde at Govan.
The cormorants were constructed with steel bolts, chain links and other bits-and-pieces recovered from the shipyard.

Sculpture of cormorants in Govan

Sculpture of cormorants in Govan

Cormorant on the Clyde at Govan

This proud cormorant was spotted in the Clyde near the Govan Town Hall, sitting on a buoy in midstream of the river.


The Pearce Institute opened in 1906, providing community halls and recreation rooms to the people of Govan. It was designed in the popular Edwardian Renaissance style by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson . The façade is richly decorated with sculpture, topped by a model of a fully-rigged galleon.
The institute was gifted to the people of Govan by Lady Dinah Elizabeth Pearce, the widow of Sir William Pearce, who had become the manager of the Fairfield Shipyard in 1869 and its sole owner in 1878. Pearce retired from business after the 1885 general election when he had become the first Member of Parliament for the new Govan constituency. In 1894 a statue by Onslow Ford was erected in honour of Sir William, who had died 6 years earlier in 1888.

Pearce Institute, Govan

Pearce Institute and statue of Sir William Pearce


Sketch of Pearce Institute, Govan

Edwardian sketch of Pearce Institute, Govan


The Aitken Memorial Fountain was first placed at Govan Cross in 1884. It commemorates the contribution to the health and welfare of the local population by Dr. John Aitken, who served as the Police Surgeon and Medical Officer to the Burgh of Govan from 1864 until his death in 1880.
Over the years the fountain had been allowed to deteriorate, but in 2011 a full refurbishment of the decaying ironwork restored it to provide the beautiful landmark shown below.
The fountain is the only surviving example of the elaborate cast-iron drinking fountains produced at the Denny Works of Cruikshanks & Co.

Aitken Memorial Fountain, Govan

Aitken Memorial Fountain, Govan Cross


The MV Second Snark has been operating as a ferry between Govan and Yorkhill Quay since August 2011.
In the view of the ferry, below, you can get a glimpse over the river to the Tall Ship SV Glenlee at the Riverside Museum.

Second Snark, Govan Ferry

The MV Second Snark and the SV Glenlee

A fully illustrated history of the Clyde ferries in Glasgow is included in my Clyde Ferries, Cluthas & Docks page.


Govan Ferry Terminal, Water Row

Govan Ferry Terminal, Water Row c.1900


Street scene at Water Row, Govan, c.1900

Street scene at Water Row, Govan, c.1900


Elder Cottage Hospital, which opened in 1902, was designed in the Edwardian Renaissance style by J J Burnet. It was originally intended to be a maternity home, hence the relief of a mother nursing her baby over the main entrance of the building.

Elder Cottage Hospital

Elder Cottage Hospital


Linthouse St Kenneth Church was originally built for the United Free Church. It was designed by architect James Miller and opened in 1900.

Linthouse St Kenneth Church

Linthouse St Kenneth Church


The original buildings of the Southern General Hospital were part of the Govan Combination Poorhouse which was built on the Merryflats Estate in Shieldhall in 1872.
The institution was built as a replacement for the Govan Poorhouse in Eglinton Street, Gorbals, which had to be removed to make way for the new railway track and station buildings needed for the expansion of the approaches to the proposed Glasgow Central Station. A "before & after" view of the development of the railway is featured in my Eglinton Street Station page.

On 26th July 1872 the inmates of the old poorhouse and asylum were moved to the new establishment, which had been built for the parishes of Govan and Gorbals at a cost of £100,000. Much of the finance came from the railway companies who had bought the old site. The new poorhouse had accommodation for over 700 destitute people and the asylum for over 200 patients, described in the unsentimental language of the time as “paupers” and “lunatics”.
New hospital blocks were added in the 1880's and 1890's and a nurses home was built in the surrounding grounds in 1905. There was further expansion throughout the twentieth century to create the complex with which we are now familiar.

Map showing main entrance to Govan Poorhouse

Map showing main entrance to Govan Poorhouse


Entrance to Govan Combination Poorhouse

Entrance to Govan Combination Poorhouse, designed by James Thomson


Clock tower at Southern General Hospital

Clock tower at Southern General Hospital


The most spectacular example of modernistic architecture in Govan is the refurbished Luma Building in Shieldhall Road.

Aerial view of Luma Building

The former Luma Lamp Factory was built in 1938 in the fashionable Art Deco style of the time.
In 1997 the building was extended and converted to form an apartment block with an internal courtyard behind the landmark tower. Three new blocks were built in marching style to the rear of the original building.

Art Deco tower of the Luma Building

Art Deco tower of the Luma Building

Wild flowers on the riverside in Govan

Wild flowers on the riverside in "Sunny Govan"



  

Church on the Hill, Langside

Muirend to Cathcart
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Old Cathcart
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Newlands
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White Cart Walk, Linn Park
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Mount Florida
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White Cart Walk, Pollok Park
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Langside and Battlefield
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Pollok Park & the Burrell
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King's Park
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Rivers: Brock, Levern & Cart
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Castlemilk
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Pollokshaws & Auldhouse
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Queen's Park Churches
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Pollokshields, Garden Suburb
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Govan
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Strathbungo & Crossmyloof
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 Cathcart Circle - A Railway Tour

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All original artwork, photography and text © Gerald Blaikie 2014
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