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Govan (Scottish Gaelic: Baile a' Ghobhainn) is a district and former burgh in the southwestern part of the City of Glasgowmarker, Scotlandmarker. It is situated west of Glasgow City Centre, on the south bank of the River Clyde, opposite the mouth of the River Kelvinmarker and the district of Partickmarker.

According to medieval legend, 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 weaving and coal mining were important and in the early 19th century shipbuilding emerged as Govan's principal industry. In 1864, Govan gained burgh status, and was Scotland's fifth largest burgh. It was incorporated into the city of Glasgow in 1912.


Early history

Recent studies of the archaeology of old Govan have revealed the presence of a Christian church. Two associated Christian burials are radiocarbon dated to the 5th or 6th centuries making Govan the earliest known Christian site in the region. At this time Govan is believed to have formed part of a kingdom ruled from Dumbarton Rockmarker, 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. It now resides inside the church. It may have been used to contain the body or relics of Constantine, though the style of carving indicates an origin in the 10th or 11th centuries. King Constantine is first mentioned in the 12th-century Life of St. Kentigern by Jocelyn of Furness, where he is said to have been to son of Riderch Hael. He is likely a literary invention, though the early church in Govan is dedicated to a Saint Constantine, about whom nothing else is known.

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, which records a place near Dumbarton Rock named Ouania. Based on this, Govan's Cumbric language name has been reconstructed as *(G)uovan. Govan is Bàile Ghobhainn, 'smith's town' in Scottish Gaelic. 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 Scottish Gaelic, Gamhan, 'a ditch'.

The earliest references to Govan are found in connection with the Christian church. In 1136, when Glasgow Cathedralmarker 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 Churchmarker 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 Kingdommarker, dating from the 10th and 11th centuries.

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

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There is an oddity whereby part of eighteenth century parish of Govan (which was in Lanarkshiremarker) is counted as being within Renfrewshiremarker. 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 (Polmadiemarker) 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 Pollokshieldsmarker and Westends. Life proceeded apace and people simply lived with the inconsistency in the records. There was no real problem until a railroad was to be built in the late nineteenth century, and there was discomfort over the proper descriptions in the land titles that were needed. The solution was straightforward and simple: to the description of these lands were added the words, "but now by annexation in the County of Renfrew." (available at

By the early part of the 19th century, Govan was rapidly losing its rural appearance and assuming the character of a town as other industries, including Reid's Dye Works and Pollok's Silk Mill, established themselves. Shipbuilding accelerated this change most prominently, with the deepening of the Clyde in 1759, the reclamation of the channels between the islands (The Whyte Inchmarker, The Black Inch, and The King's Inch), and the construction of quays and docks. By the 1860s, it was obvious that a proper administration was required, and the village was made a burgh in 1864, under the General Police Act 1862. With Morris Pollok as its first Provost, the Burgh and its Commissioners ensured that over the next 48 years Govan became a well equipped, modern town. During the 19th century, the population of Govan increased from 9,000 in 1864 to 95,000 by 1907. Indeed in 1901 Govan was the 7th largest town in Scotland. In 1912, Govan was annexed to Glasgow.

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 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 a dig at the site. They suggested that it could be a 12th century Norman motte.

A useful reference source for this period is given below.

20th century to the present

Traditionally viewed as a working-class area, Govan has been a hotbed of support for the Labour Party, but the Scottish National Party (SNP) is strong there as well and in 1973 won a by-election with Margo MacDonald as their candidate. The SNP won another by-election victory in 1988, this time with Jim Sillars as candidate. The latest victory for the SNP was in the 2007 Scottish parliamentary elections when Nicola Sturgeon became the MSP for the constituency.

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 Gorbalsmarker, Glasgow. The most famous of these housing estates is Moorpark, sometimes referred to jocularly as "The Wine Alley" which was parodied by the BBC sitcom Rab C. Nesbitt. Although Govan was used as a setting for the show, it was seldom filmed there. In the post-war years, many Govanites were relocated, often reluctantly, from the town to outlying areas such as Drumchapel, Pollokmarker, Darnleymarker, Priesthill and Penilee by the Corporation of Glasgowmarker.

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, these areas always regarded themselves as separate.

In the 1930s the Reverend George MacLeod--one of the Church of Scotland'smarker best known ministers—was minister at Govan Old Parish Churchmarker. He founded the Iona Community, whose offices are still based in Govan.

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, although few yards remain today. One of Govan's original yards remains one of two large shipyards to survive on the Upper River Clyde, the other being Yarrow Shipbuilders Limited based in Scotstounmarker. Both of these yards form a large part of BVT Surface Fleet.

In 1841, Robert Napier first began iron shipbuilding in Govan, and in 1843 produced their 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 at 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 & Wolffmarker in 1912. Napier's shipyard finally closed in 1962 and most of the site redeveloped into housing.

Govan's other major shipbulding firm was founded in the 1860s as Randolph, Elder and Company, later 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, the yard was again reorganised in 1966 as Fairfields, which was 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 the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into receivership and the Tory government under Edward Heath refused it a £6m 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. In May 1979 Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister and her administration soon began its privatisation programme. British Aerospace, established by the same act, was privatised in 1981. British Shipbuilders' road to privatisation was not as swift, and the group was sold piece by piece throughout the decade.

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.

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 Systemsmarker. The shipbuilding operations became BAE Systems Marine, now part of BVT Surface Fleet, a naval shipbuilding joint venture between BAE Systemsmarker and VT Group.

Alexander Stephen and Sons also established a Shipyard in nearby Linthousemarker in 1870. The yard was one of those to eventually close in the wake of the collapse of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders consortium in 1971.

Ships built at Govan


Govan is served by Govan subway stationmarker & Ibrox Subway station on the Glasgow subway system.

Govan railway stationmarker opened on 2 December 1868. It closed permanently to regular passenger services on 9 May 1921.

Regular bus services, mainly operated by Arriva and First Bus, offer frequent routes to Glasgow City Centre, as well as to numerous locations in Renfrewshire.


Govan borders the district of Ibrox home since 1899 to the well known football club Rangers FC. The Ibrox Stadiummarker, (home to Rangers F.C.) has a stand named for Govan with the stadium itself being 1 of only 27 football stadiums in Europe to be ranked by UEFA as a UEFA Elite stadium. This stadium has staged many great games, but was scene of one of the world's worst sporting tragedies in January 1971, when 66 Rangers fans were trampled to death on a stairwell leaving the ground.

Govan is home to the popular Scottish junior football team Benburb F.C. who play at Tinto Park, Craigtonmarker. They share a rivalry with St Anthony's F.C. who once hailed from the Helen Street district of Govan but who are now based further to the west at Cardonald. Linthouse F.C. were a successful senior side, who fell into decline and are now defunct.


Govan is served by community Radio Station Sunny Govanbroadcasting on 103.5FM to the city of Glasgow and surrounding districts.

Govan has had several local newspapers over the years such as the Govan Press published by the Cossar Family (1851-1983 & 2006 - present) which also serves the communities of Cardonaldmarker, Penilee and Hillington and the Govan Post (1983-1988) published by Cook, Paton & Co. of Paisley, now part of Dunfermline Press.

List of Provosts of Govan

  • 1864-1867 Morris Pollok
  • 1867-1869 William Cruickshank
  • 1869-1872 Thomas Reid
  • 1872-1880 James Wilson
  • 1880-1883 John Thompson
  • 1883-1886 Alexander Campbell
  • 1886-1889 George Ferguson
  • 1889-1892 Neil McLean
  • 1892-1901 James Kirkwood
  • 1901-1904 John Marr
  • 1904-1908 John Anthony
  • 1908-1912 David McKechnie

Popular culture

  • Scottish TV Series Rab C Nesbitt was set in Govan although the series was largely film outwith.
  • The Scottish cocktail, the Govana Libre was named after the town. Although the drink itself was created in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Finneston on the City's North side, innventor and Govan man Chris Pendergast chose the name to pay homage to the area of his birth.

Notable people


  1. Driscoll, Stephen, "Govan, an early medieval royal centre", p. 79.
  2. Koch, John, "Ovania", p. 34.
  3. A History Of Glasgow & Govan (1883), Ordnance Gazetteer Of Scotland
  4. 1911 Britannica Encyclopedia - Scotland
  5. T C F Brotchie (1905 & 1938), History of Govan, Cossar Ltd
  6. Birkler, J.L. et al. (2002). The Royal Navy's New-generation Type 45 Destroyer: Acquisition Options and Implications, p. 13.
  7. Birkler, p. 14.
  8. [see above]
  9. Johnston, Ian. "Govan Shipyard" in Ships Monthly. June 1985.
  10. Clydebuilt Database - Shipping Times, Stuart Cameron
  11. [see above]
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  24. Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA): RFA Wave Ruler
  25. Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA): RFA Mounts Bay
  26. FAMOUS FOLK, Kirkcaldy Civic Society


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