Govan Heritage

On 7th August 1912, the Burgh of Govan was taken over by the City of Glasgow. Although it had been in existence in legend, since the sixth century, it had only been a burgh since 1864. Along with Partick and Pollokshaws, Govan disappeared into the gaping maw of the Dear Green Place.

Last Wednesday, I took a wander through a neighbourhood which surfaces in the consciousness of many non-Glaswegians, primarily as Sir Alex Ferguson’s birthplace. Yet, as one person pointed out to Sir John Ure Primrose, in the Burgh’s losing battle for independence, maybe Govan should have taken over Glasgow. Such was the concern then that the upstart Glasgow was getting ahead of itself.

In the intervening century, Govan has been submerged by the tsunami of the industrial history of the West of Scotland. It has been unfairly lumped with Glasgow, when it has stories of its own, in spades. The Ordnance Survey maps of the 1890s show Glasgow and Govan meeting in a thin ribbon of development along the Paisley Road. The area south of Cessnock Dock on the Govan Road is still fairly blank. Govan was clearly its own urban centre that did not need the embrace of its younger, but faster growing sibling.

Look northwest on the old maps and you see that Govan is thriving. The shipbuilding yards are spreading, Govan Old Church sits enjoying its second millennium and Water Row looks down on the Govan Ferry bringing thousands of workers to their business. The freight railway line runs through the streets until it is welcomed into the Fairfield Works. The silk factory is still there, waiting to be swallowed up by a later expansion of Fairfields. That much of this story is unknown to most people, is a problem that is being enthusiastically addressed.

Govanites are proud of their Burgh and have been making strenuous efforts to spread the word. I strongly recommend that you take a wee afternoon trip to improve your mind. Why don’t you start at the Underground Station, which is in the throes of an impressive redevelopment? Head west until you reach the church of St Constantine: the Old Parish Church, wherein lies some of the most impressive grave monuments in Britain. Volunteers, of a decidedly cheery and welcoming nature are there to help you with any questions, although there is more than enough information to be read by the independent visitor. Once you have had your fill of Celtic and Viking history, gird your loins for the 300 meter trot down the road to the Fairfield Heritage Centre, housed in the offices of the Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard.

There is clearly a secret production line somewhere in Harmony Row, churning out cheerful and welcoming Govanites in the still of the night. Yet again, you are looked after like a pet pig, by the volunteers who have dedicated their afternoons to explaining the history of shipbuilding in Govan. I finished my sojourn with a trip to admire the statues in Elder Park: in particular of John Elder himself, cuddling his compound engine. His engineering excellence gave Govan a maritime advantage, that the world took many decades to best.

My journey ended in the Elder Park Library: a fine building from the drawing board of John James Burnet. It was opened in 1903 by Andrew Carnegie even though it wasn’t a Carnegie Library. Yum Yums were the prize, as I returned to the Underground although, in my experience the No. 13 Cafe across from Greggs is definitely a place for the less time constrained flâneur.


More Thoughts on the New Museum of Transport

First thought is that I need to visit again when it isn’t packed with visitors there for the same reason as myself: to gawp at the new architecture. What would I have designed with limited money? I guess I would have worked on the idea that all objects deserve to be seen from the middle distance and close up, thus satisfying the casual visitor enjoying the experience and the expert who has travelled specifically to see their favourite object. When I worked in the Museum of Transport back in the 90s, I used to wander around the cars looking for inspiration for building the Football Museum. The temperature and humidity control was difficult because the Kelvin Hall was just not built to cope with the environmental demands of a museum, but at least you could scrutinise the objects very easily. If a car is to be lifted up, then I suggest no more than a metre. The four year I took around did not have much to enjoy but that’s a separate debate. At that age they’re focussed on the next shop stop.

The basic need is for the visitor to look at an object that is on the ground. I would have spent less on the aesthetics of the building and more on ensuring the public could see what was in their collection. I believe it is possible to produce reasonable design to a tight margin: for example the new Aldi stores in Scotland are functional but likeable. Maybe that’s from the sublime to the ridiculous for some, but the rigours of commerce do make the Aldi owners concentrate on the only thing that matters: showing off their produce to the customer.

Maybe as the Museum matures someone will stick some light rail rail down along the quay, to run a tram the 500 metres from the Museum to the Heliport. It should not be beyond the wit of the city fathers to take it as close to Exhibition Centre Station as possible or to even run it out along the old Caledonian Line towards Yoker. Now that would make it a museum worth visiting.

The New Museum of Transport/Riverside Museum

The MOT is certainly an impressive sight, anchored at the confluence of the Kelvin and the Clyde on the site of the old Pointhouse Inn and Bowling Green. In a doff of the hat to the past, you can even catch the phoenix of the Govan Ferry to get to the Museum, though the single fare of £1.50 for an adult is certainly not redolent of yesteryear.

With the destruction of most of the buildings on the north bank of the Clyde, the Zaha Hadid design rules its section of the riverscape. If the mark of a good building is its visual distinctiveness, then the Riverside Museum is unlikely to be mistaken for any of Scotland’s other landmarks. However, the critical criterion for a museum is to show off its collection to maximum effect and utility and it is here where my optimism falters. Having been responsible for the Scottish Football Museum, I am all too aware of the core need to stick objects in cases so that visitors can peer at them. Therefore, though the placing of vintage cars ten metres up a wall may be a coup de theatre, it prevents me or anyone else from examining them.

The long term will prove the designers right or wrong, but I am always nervous when a museum’s display shouts so loudly that it deafens the story the institution is trying to tell. If the medium obscures the message, you need a new message.

The Mancave

My life has turned around since moving to Bankhead. Not just in terms of having a garden and trees to admire. I don’t even mind the magpies walking across my roof at 5 a.m. whilst clog dancing and turning their ghetto blasters up to 11.  Nope – I have achieved what all good men deserve: my own man cave. Originally intended for a Baby Austin sized car, I had it cleaned out and fitted up for work; with a lining and a lovely rug on the floor. My Dizey has the gift of fitting everything into impossible spaces, so I now have a wall of bookshelves, a two seat sofa and all the gubbins a boy could need. That this should be impossible has never stopped her. The removal business’ loss is my gain. At the south end is my Edwardian desk bought for £200 from eBay, on which sits the iMac, a second monitor and more external hard drives than there is space on the desk. The final touch is the banker’s lamp and the Celtic pics on what little wall space is left.

Pride of place goes to the reports on my book ‘Played in Glasgow’. No matter how much I tell myself that it’s what I think that counts, it’s still a boost to have someone else rate your work. This piece of egoism is closely followed by the now faded piece from the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger entitled ‘Mona Lisa auf Glasgow’. My tiny contribution to the English language: comparing the oldest football trophy in the world to the most famous painting. So this is where I sit and dream my dreams whilst working out another plan for taking my work to a wider audience. It’s a comfortable life.