In my bit of the city, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital dominates the landscape. A perk of living nearby is that it is possible to get a bus to just about anywhere in Glasgow or parts west from outside the main entrance of the hospital. Less nice is the constant reek from the treatment works next door. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, it can be absolutely rank. Govan Road starts right outside the hospital. To the left of Hospital Boulevard (seriously) is Renfrew Road, to the right Govan Road. The council has put a sign to that effect at the junction, making it easier for me to start this particular walk. I had been thinking about this one for ages – indeed it partly inspired this project as every time I got a bus from the QEUH into town, I spent the whole journey looking out the window at the buildings and the city skyline. As I started, I passed a guy in a hi-vis jacket minding a microphone, perhaps from the telly or radio. The houses to the right were interesting, grey, drab cottages though with interesting lintels above the doors of each with carvings, perhaps classically inspired.
I was struck walking on by a petrol station which had been plonked right in the middle of a row of tenements. Glasgow is a city of gaps, a place where five or six architectural styles can exist on a single block, let alone a street. Govan Road has modern flats, archetypal Glaswegian tenements, outlandish, grand civic buildings and traces of past and present industries. I was disappointed, though, walking near the Clyde Tunnel that one of my favourite elaborate shop signs, which used to be a seashell effect, has been covered over by a generic supermarket sign. Nearby was an old sign carved into the building which said that this was Old Renfrew Road. Not any more it ain’t. I soon came to Elder Park, which I wrote about here recently, and paid particular attention to the gate posts which faced onto Govan Road, which were very fine. I also spent a couple of minutes admiring the Fairfields offices, now a heritage centre, with its fine statues and carvings, as well as an interesting sculpture called the Govan Milestone with two birds sat on what looked like cow horns but were probably meant to be arms, to signify strength and collective will.
When I first moved to Glasgow, just shy of five years ago, I volunteered the odd Sunday afternoon at the Govan Stones, a collection of hogbank gravestones held in Govan Old Church. It was one way to get to know the city a bit better, plus to do something interesting and historical, meeting folk along the way. Govan Old is set back a little from the road but it was nice to see the place again. I hadn’t before appreciated just how fine the Pearce Institute is, with a magnificent doorway on the side of the building with a coat of arms above and two jugs to the side. The motto below said: ‘Quit You Like Me’. The Pearce Institute is a very handsome building, designed by Robert Rowand Anderson and opened in 1906, donated by Lady Dinah Pearce, wife of Sir William Pearce, shipbuilder and MP for the area. Lady Pearce donated the funds to build the PI, which still exists as an important centre of the Govan community. There is a statue of Sir William across the street and in true Victorian style it goes into some detail about his achievements in suitably florid prose. Some nice soul has put a small card on the statue about Lady Pearce, which is a small tribute, far less than she probably deserves. There are three statues of women in Glasgow, of which only one depicts a Glaswegian, Isabella Elder, which is in Elder Park. There will be one at Govan Cross later this year of Mary Barbour, involved in the rent strikes in Govan in 1915. We need more statues of the women who helped to make this city great, Dinah Pearce and Mary Barbour being but two of them. For more on this, read Anabel Marsh’s post on this very topic. Edinburgh is worse with more statues of dogs than women. Rant over. The Pearce Institute is an amazing looking building. It is also the very first place on these walks where I got quizzical looks as I buzzed around taking photos on my phone.
Govan Cross was busy as I walked through that Friday lunchtime. Even though there were quite a few folk dotting around, I got the distinct sense that it would have been much busier when all the yards and factories were open. I walked past a slightly dilapidated bingo hall, which had mesh over the front showing what it looked like before, with a sign beside it declaring it to be the Lyceum, the Palace of Varieties. That was a particular joy, being able to imagine the scenes there of an evening. The remains of the shipbuilding were particularly interesting, being able to see the dry docks nearer the Science Centre and also the boarded up offices nearer Fairfields.
Beyond Govan Cross, I was glad to stop and look at some of the fine civic buildings along the way. Not far from the Subway was the TSB, which had a queue of folk waiting for the cash machine, and I looked up at the Royal coat of arms above the doors and the smart tower at the top. I think I’ve written here before about the Stalled Spaces programme, using barren ground for gardens and art installations. There was another one not far from the TSB, including a very cool set of planters made to look like a ship, complete with two painted chimneys. Just up the road were the Press Buildings, now a convenience store, which had images of Guttenberg, Walter Scott, Burns and Caxton, one of the early printers, as well as its owners, the Cossars. These housed the offices of the Govan Press including the print works. Across the way there was a very fine view towards Pacific Quay and the Glasgow Tower in particular. I soon came to Govan Town Hall, now housing film studios, which is a stunning building, with lots of cupolas, towers and carvings in red sandstone.
To a lot of Scots who live outside Glasgow, our city is a blur of stereotypes, football, crime and accents. One positive memory that some have is of the Garden Festival, which took place in 1988 in Festival Park, which I soon passed. I of course don’t remember the Garden Festival, not being born yet. The Festival Park looks nice, with the Tower again poking above the trees. This bit of the walk blurred into industrial premises and modern office blocks, soon passing the offices of STV. Disappointingly, I didn’t run into John MacKay or Raman to remind them that there are more than two football teams in Glasgow, let alone the rest of the country.
I soon came to Paisley Road Toll, the point where Govan Road joins Paisley Road at the Grand Ole Opry. There is what is popularly known as the Kinning Park Angel or more properly Commerce and Industry, which sits atop the building on the corner, now home to an Italian restaurant but used to be a department store. It was a fitting end to a great walk, a great array of contrasts between the old and the new of the city, bustling city streets and empty residential ones. Much of the walk was in Govan itself, a place which only became part of Glasgow in 1913 and the distinct character of Govan was really obvious on this one, even from the names of some of the businesses I passed along the way, not to mention the incredible architecture, a walk to savour and maybe repeat one day along the line.
Sources and further reading –
‘Eye Spy Glasgow: The angel in the sky at Kinning Park’, from Evening Times, 26th September 2014, available at http://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/13292558.Eye_Spy_Glasgow__The_angel_in_the_sky_at_Kinning_Park/
‘The Glasgow Garden Festival: A true legacy or a glorious failure?’ from The Scotsman, 3rd December 2016, available at https://www.scotsman.com/news/the-glasgow-garden-festival-a-true-legacy-or-a-glorious-failure-1-4308140
‘The Govan Press’, from Acumfaegovan, available at http://www.acumfaegovan.com/govanpress.php
‘Govan Town Hall’, Clyde Waterfront, available at http://www.clydewaterfront.com/clyde-heritage/prince’s-dock/govan-town-hall
Pearce Institute Conservation Plan 2009, available at http://www.pearceinstitute.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Pearce-Institute-CP-2009-amended2.pdf
‘Sunday Guest Post Series: Hidden Histories’, Retirement Reflections, available at https://www.retirementreflections.com/sunday-guest-post-series-hidden-histories/
This is the twentieth Streets of Glasgow post here on Walking Talking. I also wrote here about Edmiston Drive, which is fairly close by.