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Govan Town Hall.jpg
Govan Burgh Hall
Grid reference: NS555655
Location: 55°51’41"N, 4°18’30"W
Post town: Glasgow
Postcode: G51
Dialling code: 0141
Local Government
Council: Glasgow
Glasgow South West

Govan is a town and parish in Lanarkshire, adjacent to the border with Renfrewshire, which has long since been subsumed into the City of Glasgow. Govan proper now forms a south-western district 2½ miles west of Glasgow city centre, on the south bank of the River Clyde, opposite the mouth of the River Kelvin and Partick. The parish extends north of the Clyde, incorporating the latter district, and also extends into Renfrewshire, incorporating Pollokshields and Polmadie.

According to mediæval legend, King Constantine, a 7th-century King of Strathclyde, founded a monastery under the rule of Columbanus in Govan. During the Middle Ages, Govan was the site of a ferry which linked the area with Partick for seasonal cattle drovers. In the 18th and 19th centuries, textile mills and coal mining were important; in the early 19th century shipbuilding emerged as Govan's principal industry. In 1864, Govan gained burgh status. It was incorporated into the city of Glasgow in 1912.[1]

However, the people of Govan often proclaim to be Govanites first and Glaswegians second and when asked "are you from Glesga?", still reply with "na, Acumfaegovan" (No, I come from Govan).[2]


Govan's earliest recorded name may be found in the Historia Regnum Anglorum attributed to Symeon of Durham. This is a 12th-century Latin source, but one believed to be based on much earlier materials; it records a place near Dumbarton Rock named Ouania. Based on this, Govan's Old Welsh language name has been reconstructed as *(G)uovan.[3]

Govan is called Bàile Ghobhainn (smith's town) in Gaelic, though this is probably a reconstruction based on the English name. Bishop Leslie in his Scotia Descriptio of 1578 says it got its name from the excellence of its ale (God-win), whereas Chalmers in his Caledonia says it is derived from the Gaelic Gamhan (a ditch).[4]


Early history

Recent studies of the archaeology of old Govan have revealed the presence of an ancient church. Two associated Christian burials are radiocarbon dated to the 5th or 6th centuries, making Govan the earliest known Christian site in the region.[5] Govan is believed to have then been part of a kingdom ruled from Dumbarton Rock, known as Alt Clut, the rock on the Clyde. During the Viking Age, perhaps following the sack of Dumbarton Rock in 878, Govan is believed to have been one of the major centres of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. According to John of Fordun, Constantine, a 7th-century king of Strathclyde, founded a monastery at Govan, where he died and was buried. In 1855, an elaborately carved sandstone sarcophagus was found during digging in the churchyard.[6] It is now kept inside the church. It may have been used to contain the body or relics of Constantine, although the style of carving indicates an origin in the 10th or 11th centuries. This King Constantine is first mentioned in the 12th-century Life of St Kentigern by Jocelyn of Furness, where he is said to have been son of Riderch Hael.[7] He is likely a literary invention. The early church in Govan is dedicated to a Saint Constantine, about whom nothing else is known.[7]

The earliest references to Govan are found in connection with the Christian church. In 1136, when Glasgow Cathedral was formally consecrated, King David I (1124–53) gave to the See the lands of Partick and also of the church at Govan (on opposite sides of the River Clyde), which became a prebend of Glasgow. The Govan Old Parish Church was rebuilt in 1762, 1826, and again 1884-1888. Within it and its roughly circular churchyard is one of the finest collections of Early Christian stones in the United Kingdom, dating from the 10th and 11th centuries.

By the 16th century, extensive coal mine workings had been developed around Craigton and Drumoyne. As the village grew, new trades and crafts, such as weaving, pottery and agriculture, were established.

From Blaeu's 1654 map: Modern Govan as Mekle Gouan ("Big Govan")

The oddity whereby part of the parish of Govan (which is in Lanarkshire) falls within Renfrewshire dates back to the creation of the county of Renfrew itself: There existed a hospital in the area, and as quasi-religious foundations were not taxed, it had never been assigned to a sheriffdom. Thus, when Renfrewshire was created out of a sheriffdom of Lanarkshire in the early fifteenth century, the lands associated with the hospital (Polmadie) were not technically in the newly created shire, as they were not part of the sheriffdom. They were, however, very much a part of the physical landscape that became Renfrewshire. A similar uncertainty existed regarding the nearby lands of Pollokshields (which is Renfrewshire) and Westends, and this is reflected in an inconsistency in older records. When the railway was to be built in the late nineteenth century, however, the confusion over proper descriptions in the land titles made necessary legal transactions difficult and had to be reconciled. The county added to the description of these lands, the phrase: "but now by annexation in the County of Renfrew."[8]

Pearce Statue and Lyceum Theatre, 1904

By the early part of the 19th century, Govan was rapidly losing its rural appearance and assuming the character of a town with the development of new industries and factories, including Reid's Dye Works and Pollok's Silk Mill. Town officials arranged for the deepening of the Clyde in 1759, the reclamation of the channels between the islands (The Whyte Inch, The Black Inch, and The King's Inch), and the construction of quays and docks. This facilitated the development of shipbuilding as a major industry. By the 1860s, the village needed a higher order of administration and it was made a burgh in 1864, under the General Police (Scotland) Act 1862.

The Burgh and its Commissioners ensured that during the next 48 years Govan became a well-equipped, modern town. During the late 19th century, the population of Govan increased more than tenfold: from 9,000 in 1864 to 95,000 by 1907. In 1901 Govan was the 7th largest town in Scotland.[9] In 1912, Glasgow annexed Govan after a series of annexation battles.[10][11]

A prominent feature of the Govan landscape was the Doomster or Moot Hill, which stood near the river, north of the present Govan Cross. It was removed in the early 19th century and Reid's Dyeworks was erected on the site. The origins of the Doomster Hill are a mystery. One hypothesis is that it was a prehistoric burial mound. In 1996, a team from Channel 4's Time Team programme carried out an archeological excavation at the site. They suggested that the hill may have been a 12th-century Norman motte.

A useful reference source for this period is given below.[12]

20th century to the present

Govan is traditionally viewed as a lower working-class area and socialist stronghold. The area has had a reputation for deprivation and poverty, partly due to the construction of housing estates in the 1930s to relieve the overcrowded slum district of The Gorbals in Glasgow. The most famous of these housing estates is Moorpark, sometimes referred to jocularly as "The Wine Alley". It was parodied cruelly by the BBC sitcom Rab C Nesbitt. (Although Govan was the stated setting for the show, episodes were seldom filmed there.) In the post-war years, many Govanites were relocated from the town, often reluctantly, to outlying areas such as Drumchapel, Pollok, Darnley, Priesthill and Penilee by the Corporation of Glasgow.

Despite these developments, there were numerous older buildings around Govan until quite recently, most notably the terraces and tenements situated around Govan Road. These were not cleared until well into the 1970s.

Due to boundary changes, Govan in the early 1960s incorporated some surrounding more prosperous areas at its boundaries. Although technically part of Govan, residents of these areas have maintained a distinct identity separate from the area.

The Govan Fair is celebrated on the first Friday in June each year.


Govan street scene

Govan was at one stage the centre of the world-renowned Clydeside shipbuilding industry, but few shipyards remain today. One of Govan's original yards is one of only two large shipyards to survive on the Upper River Clyde, the other being Yarrow Shipbuilders Limited based in Scotstoun. These two yards form a large part of BAE Systems Surface Ships.

In 1841, Robert Napier began iron shipbuilding in Govan, and in 1843 produced its first ship, the Vanguard. He also procured a contract with the Royal Navy to produce vessels, notably the Jackal, the Lizard, and the Bloodhound. He also allowed naval officers in training to visit the shipyard to familiarise themselves with the new vessels. Napier's Shipyard in Govan was later acquired by William Beardmore and Company in 1900 before being sold on to Harland & Wolff in 1912. It finally closed in 1962 and most of the site was redeveloped into housing.

Govan's other major shipbulding firm was founded in the 1860s as Randolph, Elder and Company, later becoming John Elder and Company. In 1885 the yard moved further west to its present site and was reorganised as the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd. This company continued until 1965 when it filed for bankruptcy. In response in 1966, the yard was again reorganised as Fairfields and guaranteed by the government. The following year Fairfields and the other major Clydeside yards (Stephens, Connels, Yarrows and John Browns) were merged to form Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS).

In 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into receivership and the Tory government under Edward Heath refused it a £6 million loan. Rather than go on strike, which was the traditional form of industrial action, the union leadership of the yards decided to have a work-in and complete the orders that the shipyards had in place. In this way they dispelled the idea of the workers being 'work-shy' and also wanted to illustrate the long-term viability of the yards. The work-in was successful in the short-term. YSL withdrew from UCS in 1971 and Govan was sold off in 1973 as Govan Shipbuilders.

In 1977, the Labour government of James Callaghan passed the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act which nationalised Govan and grouped it with other major British shipyards as British Shipbuilders, but under the Conservatives this was privatised piecemeal in the 1980s. Kværner of Norway, as part of a planned development of a large international shipbuilding group, took over Govan. British Shipbuilders' sale of Govan to the Norwegian firm was completed in 1988 and the yard was renamed Kvaerner Govan.

In 1999, GEC's Marconi Marine division purchased the yard when Kværner announced its exit from the shipbuilding industry. GEC's Marconi Marine division already owned YSL (purchased in 1985) and VSEL (purchased in 1995). Marconi Electronic Systems and its Marconi Marine unit were sold to British Aerospace in 1999 to form BAE Systems. The shipbuilding operations became BAE Systems Marine, which subsequently became part of BVT Surface Fleet, a naval shipbuilding joint venture between BAE Systems and VT Group, which became BAE Systems Surface Ships in 2009.

Alexander Stephen and Sons also established a Shipyard in nearby Linthouse in 1870. The yard eventually closed in the wake of the collapse of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders consortium in 1971.

Ships built at Govan

  • PS Vanguard (1843)[13]
  • HMS Northampton (1876)
  • HMS Nelson (1876)
  • HMS Curacoa (1878)
  • SS Arizona (1879)[14]
  • Ibis (1886)[13]
  • Akasha (1886)[13]
  • Livadia (yacht, 1880)|Livadia (1880)[14]
  • RMS Campania (1891)
  • RMS Lucania (1893)
  • HMS Cressy (1899)
  • HMS Aboukir (1900)
  • HMS Good Hope (1901)
  • SS Armadale Castle (1903)[14]
  • RMS Port Kingston (1904) renamed Tahiti
  • HMS Cochrane (1905)[14]
  • HMS Commonwealth (1905)[14]
  • RMS Empress of Britain (1906)[14]
  • RMS Empress of Ireland (1906)[14]
  • SS Volturno (1906)
  • HMS Indomitable (1907)[14]
  • SS Balmoral Castle (1910)[14]
  • HMS New Zealand (1911)
  • HMAS Sydney (1912)
  • RMS Empress of Russia (1913)[14]
  • RMS Empress of Asia (1913)[14]
  • SS Calgarian (1913)[14]
  • HMS Valiant (1914)
  • HMS Renown (1916)
  • RMS Empress of Canada (1922)[14]
  • SS Athenia (1922)
  • Aorangi (1922)
  • TSS Tuscania (1923)
  • SS Letitia (1924)
  • MV Speybank (1926)
  • HMS Berwick (1926)
  • HMS Norfolk (1928)
  • RMS Empress of Japan (1930)
  • HMS Delight (1932)
  • HMS Woolwich (1934)
  • HMS Liverpool (1937)
  • HMS Phoebe (1937)
  • HMS Howe (1940)
  • HMS Bellona (1942)
  • HMS Implacable (1942)
  • HMS Theseus (1944)
  • HMS Chichester
  • HMS Blake (1945)
  • SS Karanja (1948)
  • TS Oxfordshire (1955)
  • Empress of Britain (1956)[13][15]
  • TS Leecliffe Hall (1961)
  • HMS Fife (1964)
  • HMS Antrim (1967)
  • USNS Harkness (1968)
  • HMAS Jervis Bay (1969)
  • Pacifique (1969)
  • USNS Chauvenet (1970)
  • Pacific Peace (1981)
  • MV Selkirk Settler (1983)
  • MV Saskatchewan Pioneer (1983)
  • St Lawrence Seaway (1983)
  • Sir Charles Parsons (1985)
  • MV Norsea (1986)
  • MV Havis (1992)
  • Sea Launch Commander (1996)
  • RFA Wave Ruler (2003)[16]
  • RFA Mounts Bay (2004)[17]
  • HMS Dauntless (2007)
  • HMS Diamond (2007)
  • HMS Dragon (2008)
  • RMS Yerdasda (2009)
  • HMS Defender (2009).[18]

A list of almost 3000 ships built at Govan has been collected in the 'Clydebuilt Database'.[19]


  • Radio: Sunny Govan (103.5FM)
  • Newspapers:
    • Govan Chronicle
    • Govan Press

Popular culture

  • Rab C Nesbitt, the television series, is set in Govan and cruelly lampoons its people, although it is largely filmed outwith the town.
  • The Govana Libre, a cocktail was named after the town by its inventor who was born here

Outside links


  1. Reevel Alderson. "How Glasgow annexed Govan and Partick 100 years ago". Retrieved 8 August 2012. 
  2. acumfaegovan Acumfaegovan.
  3. Koch, John, "Ovania", p. 34.
  4. "A History Of Glasgow & Govan (1883)", Ordnance Gazetteer Of Scotland
  5. Driscoll, Stephen, "Govan, an early mediæval royal centre", p. 79.
  6. Govan Sarcophagus, The Glasgow Story
  7. 7.0 7.1 Clarkson, Tim (Winter 1999). "Rhydderch Hael". The Heroic Age 1 (2). Retrieved August 12, 2009. 
  8. Scott, Alexander (1890). "Notes on the Lands of Polmadie and Crosshill". Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society. I. Glasgow: James Maclehose & Sons. pp. 530–532. 
  9. "Scotland: Population", Britannica Encyclopedia, 1911
  10. "Annexation Battles". Retrieved 2012-05-01. 
  11. Alderson, Reevel (7 August 2012). "How Glasgow annexed Govan and Partick 100 years ago". BBC News (BBC). Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  12. T C F Brotchie (1905 & 1938), History of Govan, Cossar Ltd
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Clydebuilt Database - Shipping Times, Stuart Cameron
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 Johnston, Ian. "Govan Shipyard" in Ships Monthly. June 1985.
  15. "Shipping Times". Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  16. Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA): RFA Wave Ruler
  17. Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA): RFA Mounts Bay
  18. Stewart, Catriona (21 October 2009). "Clyde's new ship to make a splash". Evening Times (Evening Times): p. 22. 
  19. Ships Built at Govan Acumfaegovan.