Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Historic Govan: Archaeology and Development

The intriguing history of Govan was today revealed in a book, Historic Govan: Archaeology and Development, launched by Fiona Hyslop, Scotland's Minister for Culture.

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.

The book is the latest in the Scottish Burgh Surveys produced by Historic Scotland and the Council for British Archaeology. Written by Dr Chris Dalglish and Professor Stephen Driscoll, it is a guide to understanding Govan’s rich history and archaeology. It looks at the significance of Govan’s heritage including details of important sites, buildings and areas of potential.

This is the first book looking at the consolidation of Govan’s history and heritage since TCF Brotchie’s The History of Govan written a century ago in 1905.

Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture said: “Govan has a rich and fascinating history, from its beginnings as an early Christian centre to its celebrated role in ship-building on the Clyde. The burgh has one of the largest collections of early historic sculpture in Scotland, dating from the tenth century, located in Govan Old Parish Church, which stands upon one of the oldest Christian sites in Scotland.

“It also has an impressive and diverse Industrial heritage, including the magnificent former Fairfield Shipyard office building, for which Historic Scotland has provided grant assistance towards its conservation and conversion to new use. This project reflects the ongoing regeneration of the area, and how heritage can drive this forward.”

She added, “Govan Cross has remained the focus of the community as a place of assembly and public activity despite the sweeping changes introduced by industrial and urban development. Modern Govan’s strong community identity must owe something to this deeply grounded sense of place”.

The Scottish Burgh series identifies the archaeological potential of Scotland’s historic towns to provide information to planning authorities when considering development proposals within these areas.

Stephen Driscoll, Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Glasgow said: “Few People realise that Govan is more ancient than Glasgow or that a thousand years before the titans of naval architecture colonised its shore it was the ceremonial centre of the Kings of Strathclyde.

“We hope that as a result of our efforts, the historical richness and cultural significance of Govan’s past will be more widely appreciated, but our main hope is that our survey will prove useful in the challenging work of remaking Govan.

“This is an important time for Govan and we hope that the accomplishments of past generations will serve as a source of confidence to the community and equally that the historical legacy will inspire those engaged in the regeneration process to produce a new Govan worthy of the old.”

Recent studies of the archaeology of 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 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. 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.

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.