History and Tradition in Govan

Medieval legend has it that a 7th-century King of Strathclyde, named Constantine, founded a monastery in the area now known as Govan, located on the south bank of the River Clyde west of the city centre of Glasgow. At one time a separate burgh, Govan became part of the city in 1912, while retaining its unique history, and even to some extent its culture, with some residents still considering themselves to be Govanites, rather than Glaswegians. In the Middle Ages, Govan served as a port for the ferry running between the town and Partick on the opposite bank of the River Clyde. Textile mills and coal mining were important to the economy in the 18th and 19th century, with shipbuilding taking over as the main industry in the 19th century.

Based in Govan, Fairfield’s Shipyard was at one time the largest shipyard in the world, employing more than 5,000 workers. Established by Robert Napier, the shipyard produced ships of the highest quality, supplying the Admiralty and the Cunard Line. Known as the “father of shipbuilding on the Clyde”, Napier trained shipbuilders who went on to establish their own firms, most notably William Pearce, John Elder and the Thomson brothers of John Brown’s Shipyard in Clydebank.

Archaeological studies have revealed that a Christian church in Govan dates back to the 5th or 6th centuries when the area was ruled from Dumbarton Castle. Carved tombstones have been found in the Govan Old Parish Church dating back to between 900-1100 AD. The first written reference to Govan is found in 12th century Latin writings attributed to an English chronicler known as Symeon of Durham, referring to Durham Priory. Over the centuries, at least three churches had occupied the ground on which Govan Old Parish Church now stands. The current Gothic-style church, with its stained-glass windows was designed by architect Rowand Anderson. It was completed and dedicated in 1888.

Govan’s picturesque Elder Park was established by Mrs Isabella Elder in 1885 as a tribute to her husband. Statues of the renowned shipbuilder and his wife are features of the park. An educated woman herself, Mrs Elder was a philanthropist who was particularly interested in promoting education for women and was influential in making it possible for women to receive medical training. Fitting then that Scottish sculptor Archibald Shannan’s statue of Mrs Elder features her dressed in academic robes.

More recent well-known Govanites include Olympic Gold Medalist Belle Moore; Sir Alex Ferguson; football player Kenny Dalglish; football player Johnny Quigley; actor Iain Robertson; writer James Kelman; Glasgow Rangers footballer David Meiklejohn; and Leo Blair – father of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.