The town of Govan stands on the south bank of the River Clyde some 2.5 miles west of the centre of Glasgow. It looks across the Clyde to the mouth of the River Kelvin and to the redevelopment taking place in Partick. Access to the town is usually from the M8 motorway to the south, or by means of the Glasgow Subway. There is also a passenger ferry, that operates intermittently, crossing the River Clyde to link Govan with Glasgow Harbour and the Riverside Museum.
In 1901 Govan was the 7th largest town in Scotland. In 1912 it ceased to exist as a separate burgh when it was formally annexed by its larger neighbour. Today it is primarily known for its industrial heritage and, in particular for the shipyards that once lined the Clyde here, one of which still operates to the west of the town. During the last century Govan also developed an unenviable reputation for deprivation, poverty, and crime, in part a result of the rehousing here of residents cleared from slums in overcrowded areas elsewhere in Glasgow, especially in the 1930s. After World War Two, many people were relocated from Govan itself to more outlying areas of Glasgow.
This probably isn't selling the place to you as a tourist destination, and it would have to be admitted that Govan has little to offer in the shape of the scenic splendour for which Scotland is so famous. But it does have a huge amount of character, and even more history: and what still remains of that character and that history ensures it is well worth a visit. (Continues below image...)
Perhaps because it no longer formally has a separate existence, Govan's boundaries can appear to be rather porous. There are those who would suggest that the superb Glasgow Science Centre, built on a site on the south bank of the River Clyde rather nearer the city centre and opposite the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, is in Govan. We've taken a slightly more constrained view, despite the fact that Govan Town Hall is not all that much further west.
A similar debate can be had for what would, if it were in Govan, probably be its most visited attraction. Ibrox Stadium in Ibrox, between the centre of Govan and the M8 motorway, is the home of Rangers Football Club. We've included a photograph of it on this page because it stands opposite the beautiful red stone Ibrox Public School, whose frontage proudly proclaims that when it was built in 1906 it was overseen by the Govan Parish School Board.
For today's visitor, part of the history of Govan can be viewed at the Fairfield Govan Heritage Centre. This gives an insight into the shipbuilding heritage of the River Clyde, in a building that formed part of one of the most important shipyards on the river. Fairfields was established in 1834 and became an important warship builder. It became part of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1968. This company went into receivership in 1971, and in the face of announced closure the unions responded with a "work-in". This saved the yard, which emerged as Govan Shipbuilders in 1972. Two changes of ownership later and the Govan shipyard continues to build warships as a part of BAE Systems.
There is another significant visitor attraction in Govan that has roots reaching much further into the past. Go back a millennium and a half and Govan lay within the Brittonic kingdom of Strathclyde, ruled from Dumbarton, downstream and on the far side of the River Clyde. According to folklore there was a King of Strathclyde in the 600s called Constantine who founded a monastery in Govan. By around 700 the monastery had apparently disappeared, but there was a very early church in Govan, dedicated to St Constantine. Presumably King Constantine's support of the monastery did not go unnoticed or unrewarded and his sainthood was the result.
This early church has a history and a physical presence which can be traced through a long series of buildings on the same, or nearly the same, site right up to a church built here in 1888. This is now known as Govan Old Church and it is home to the magnificent Govan Stones, one of the best collections of early medieval sculpted stones in Scotland. The stones on view include an amazing sarcophagus thought to have been a receptacle for the relics of St Constantine. It is worth travelling a long way to see the Govan Stones: and their presence places Govan very firmly on the "must visit" list of anyone with an interest in Scotland's early history.
A wander around Govan throws up other points of interest and curiosity. The most impressive building is in many ways the Pearce Institute, which could easily be mistaken for a grand town hall. It was actually built in 1896 as a working men's club. It was paid for by Lady Dinah Pearce in memory of her late husband, Sir William Pearce. Today it is home to a range of community groups and social economy organisations seeking to meet the needs of the people of Govan. To bring the story full circle, Sir William, whose statue stands on the opposite side of Govan Road near the oddly castle-like Brechins Public Bar, made his money as the man who built up the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company during its heyday.