Govan (Scottish Gaelic: Baile a' Ghobhainn) is a district and former burgh in the southwestern part of the City of Glasgow, Scotland. It is situated west of Glasgow City Centre, on the south bank of the River Clyde, opposite the mouth of the River Kelvin and the district of Partick.
A monastery under the Columbanus Monastic Rule was founded in Govan in the 6th century by King Constantine of Cornwall. 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.
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 named 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 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.
There is an oddity whereby part of eighteenth century parish of Govan (which was in Lanarkshire) is counted as being within Renfrewshire. 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 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.
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 Inch, 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 (Scotland) 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.
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, 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, 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 Goven Road. These were not cleared until well into the 1970s.
Due to boundary changes, Govan in the early-1960's 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's best known ministers - was minister at Govan Old Parish Church. He founded the Iona Community, whose offices are still based in Govan.
Govan was at one stage the centre of the world-renowned Clydeside shipbuilding industry, although few yards remain today. Those that do are under almost constant financial threat. Govan remains one of two large shipyards to survive, the other being Yarrow Shipbuilders Limited. Both of these yards form a large part of BVT Surface Fleet.
Govan shipyard was founded in the 1860s as Randolph, Elder and Company, later John Elder and Company. In 1885 the yard 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, YSL and 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 Systems. The shipbuilding operations became BAE Systems Marine, now part of BVT Surface Fleet, a naval shipbuilding joint venture between BAE Systems and VT Group.
Govan railway station opened on 2 December 1868. It closed permanently to regular passenger services on 9 May 1921.
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 Cardonald, Penilee and Hillington and the Govan Post (1983-1988) published by Cook, Paton & Co. of Paisley, now part of Dunfermline Press.