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Archive for December, 2012

Fairlie Stone

Copyright © B Keeling


Just inside the entrance to the parish church at Fairlie, North Ayrshire, is a well-preserved example of ‘Govan School’ sculpture. This is the Fairlie Stone, the last surviving portion of a recumbent (horizontal) monument designed to cover a grave. Its carvings are remarkably similar to those on a recumbent cross-slab at Inchinnan, near Renfrew, and to other examples of the Govan artistic style. What we are presumably seeing at Fairlie is a section of one of the long sides of a broken cross-slab, the rest of the monument having disappeared without trace.
Fairlie Stone

Copyright © B Keeling


The carvings are clear and easily photographed. Viewed from right to left, we see the common Govan School motif of a beast biting its tail, then a larger beast with open jaws, and finally a man lying on the ground. The large beast seems to be about to attack the man, who has a round shield and a sword. Perhaps he is a casualty of war, lying slain or wounded on a battlefield, with wolves gathering around to devour him?
Fairlie Stone

Copyright © B Keeling


Fairlie Stone

Copyright © B Keeling


By analogy with similar sculpture we can date the Fairlie Stone to the 10th century, or possibly the early 11th. Like the Inchinnan cross-slab it comes from an old religious site, in this case a long-vanished chapel on the Kelburn Estate to the north of Fairlie village. The chapel may have stood on the site of an ancient church and cemetery where high-status local families buried their dead in early medieval times.

It is interesting to note the presence of this type of sculpture – the stonecarving style of the kingdom of Strathclyde – so far from the main centres of power and patronage at Govan and Partick. Indeed, some historians believe that much of Ayrshire lay under the authority not of the Clyde kings but of the fearsome Gall-Gaidhil (‘Foreign Gaels’), a people of mixed Gaelic-Scandinavian heritage who settled the western shorelands of northern Britain in the wake of the first Viking raids. But the Fairlie Stone, together with another example of Govan School sculpture 9 miles south-east at Kilwinning, suggest that either the Gall-Gaidhil commissioned Govan-trained stonemasons to carve their monuments, or that they themselves were vassals of the kings of Strathclyde.

Fairlie Stone

The geographical context of the Fairlie Stone.


Although we know little of the early history of the Fairlie stone, its discovery in modern times is well-documented. It was retrieved during the demolition of Chapel House, a farmhouse erected on the Kelburn Estate in 1745, where it had served as a lintel over a fireplace. At that time it had a coating of black lead, but it was later cleaned before being placed in the garden of St Margaret’s Manse in Fairlie village. From there it was transferred to St Margaret’s Church where it was embedded in a wall inside the entrance. Finally, it was removed again to be inserted in a similar position at St Paul’s Church, now the parish church of Fairlie.

While it lay in the manse garden of St Margaret’s, the stone was described by a local resident, Miss Hutcheson, in the 1894 volume of Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The description was accompanied by a photograph taken by Andrew Miller, another Fairlie inhabitant. Although the stone was noted 9 years later in the magisterial Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, it was evidently not viewed in person by the authors Joseph Anderson and John Romilly Allen, who instead cited Miss Hutcheson’s PSAS article as their source.

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References

Miss Hutcheson, (Untitled description of the Fairlie Stone), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.28 (1894) 234-6.
Full-text available online

John Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson (1903) The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland) [pp.475 of Part III] Reprinted in facsimile by the Pinkfoot Press in 1993.

[I believe the photograph shown by Allen and Anderson to be Andrew Miller’s from the 1894 article but, because they don’t give Miller a namecheck, it appears uncredited like the photos taken by Allen himself.]

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Relevant links

The Fairlie Stone described at the Canmore database of RCAHMS

The Fairlie Stone described at the Fairlie Parish website

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Medieval Govan

Medieval Govan (Copyright © Donald Watson)


My recent blogpost on the Barochan Cross socket-stone was accompanied by photographs kindly supplied by Donald Watson. Donald has also sent me the above image which represents his own evocation of pre-industrial Govan (c.1500 AD). It is a fascinating picture, not least because it incorporates the four principal features that confirm Govan’s status as a centre of royal power in early medieval times: the old parish church with its carved stones; the Doomster Hill; the ceremonial path of the kings; the ancient crossing-point on the Clyde.

Like Robert Paul’s well-known engraving of 1757, Donald’s picture is a view of Govan from the north side of the river. It gives a clear impression of the relationship between the various natural and man-made features and allows us to imagine how they would have interacted in the ‘ritual landscape’ of the kings of Strathclyde.

The historical significance of Water Row,whose conservation is currently under threat, is immediately apparent from the picture, which highlights the key role played by this ancient thoroughfare in defining the geographical identity of Govan. Water Row is the lane leading down to the river-crossing in the centre of the picture.

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Jordanhill Cross at Govan

Replica of the Jordanhill Cross at Govan (© B Keeling)


If you follow the Govan Stones Project on Facebook you will already have seen the recent description of the tenth-century Jordanhill Cross. A modern replica of this impressive monument is shown above.

If you’re not a follower, pop over to the FB page and take a look around. It has all kinds of interesting info and is a great way to keep in touch with current developments. The Jordanhill Cross was mentioned on 27 November.

Govan Stones on Facebook

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The Ghost Of Water Row

(© Tom Manley Photography)


One month ago, in the early evening of Monday 5th November, a group of people assembled in the churchyard of Govan Old Parish Church (known as ‘Govan Old’). They came there to begin a ceremonial procession to Water Row, the oldest street in the town, the last surviving portion of an ancient route that once connected the northern and southern banks of the River Clyde. The procession was the first in a trio of ceremonies that evening, the others being the official opening of the Govan Fairway and the installation of the Ghost Of Water Row. An additional feature was the Govan Incident Room, an innovative project closely related to the three main events.
Govan: Water Row

The old cobblestone surface of Water Row (Photo © Tim Clarkson)


The proceedings opened with an introduction by Andy McAvoy of Edo Architecture, a Glasgow-based practice run by Andy and Ann Nisbet. Over several months, Ann and Andy had designed and constructed the Ghost Of Water Row, a three-dimensional representation of a group of buildings – now long-vanished – that once flanked the old route to the river. But the Ghost is more than a symbolic structure: it is a work of architectural art, with walls and roof of patterned lace and a framework of pale Scottish spruce.
The Ghost Of Water Row

(© Tom Manley Photography)


After welcoming the 40 or 50 folk who had gathered for the procession, Andy introduced Eileen Reid, daughter of renowned trade-union leader Jimmy Reid whose funeral had taken place at Govan Old in 2010. Eileen was soon to lead the procession to Water Row, carrying as a totem the Big Question Mark. This is the iconic symbol of Glaswegian artist George Wyllie who sadly passed away this year at the age of 90. George’s strikingly original public artworks made many statements – and asked many questions – about the past and future of Clydeside, so his symbol was a fitting banner for the evening’s events.
Govan Old Churchyard

The churchyard of Govan Old, with a replica of the 10th century Jordanhill Cross in the foreground (Photo © B Keeling)


Before the procession began, the gathering heard a brief speech, given by myself, on the history of the route from the churchyard to Water Row. I spoke of the ceremonial path of the kings of Strathclyde linking the church to the Doomster Hill, a huge artificial mound utilised as a parliament hill and ritual venue 1000 years ago. The ceremonial landscape of church, path and hill constituted one of the foremost centres of power in Viking Age Britain. Traces of the path were discovered by archaeologists in the 1990s, in the southeast corner of the churchyard, with an alignment pointing towards Water Row and the Doomster Hill, but the great mound itself is long gone.
Govan: Water Row

Govan of the kings: church, parliament hill and ceremonial path.


Govan in 1839

Govan in 1839: Water Row and the river-crossing.


After saying a few words about Water Row, highlighting its historical significance as the last relic of Govan’s ancient connection with the river, I ended with an overview of the layers of history that followed the fall of the kings: the medieval village that sprang up around the crossing-point; the thriving community of weavers who survived until the 19th century; the great expansion of Govan in the shipbuilding era. I also mentioned that our gathering coincided with the centenary of a significant event: the loss of Govan’s independence on 5th November 1912 when it officially became part of the City of Glasgow.
Govan in 1930

Govan, c.1930: Water Row in the centre; old parish church at top left.


And so we set off on our processional journey. It was a fine autumn evening. Lantern-bearers accompanied us as we made our way out of the churchyard. Turning off the main road we entered Pearce Lane which marks the course of the royal pathway. This soon brought us to Water Row where the Ghost awaited us, its white walls illuminated from within. Gathering in the glow we listened as Andy McAvoy gave an evocative speech about the design and construction of the Ghost and what it represents. Andy spoke of the old ferry slipway that formerly lay at the end of Water Row, and of the cottages that once stood there. He observed that the withdrawal of the ferry service in 1966 severed Govan’s ancient connection with the north bank of the Clyde.
The Ghost Of Water Row

The Ghost Of Water Row: looking north across the Clyde to the Riverside Museum. Note the lanterns from the procession (© Tom Manley Photography)


Our attention next turned to the Fairway, a celebration of the fairground community that has dwelt in Govan for more than 100 years. As one of the oldest such communities in Europe, the ‘Showpeople’ are an integral part of the history of Govan. Their yard alongside Water Row maintains a long continuity of human settlement around the approach to the ancient crossing. We joined them for the grand unveiling of impressive new gates at the entrance to their yard, and listened to a speech by community leader Jimmy Stringfellow. A screen in front of the gates played a short film by local company Fablevision featuring Jimmy and members of his family talking about their heritage. The evening’s ceremonies ended with hot refreshments generously provided by the Showpeople.
Govan Fairway

Watching the Showpeople’s film in front of the new gate (© Tom Manley Photography)


Meanwhile, at the other end of Water Row, near Govan Cross, the Govan Incident Room was busy with investigations into what was missing from this part of the town. Witnesses to the lost heritage of the shipbuilding era were interviewed, and forensic evidence of the Doomster Hill was analysed, by chief investigators Kathy Friend and Susan Pettie. Like the Ghost, the Incident Room is an ongoing project that will continue to keep a spotlight on what happens in the area around Water Row – and on what Govanites would like to see happening.
The Ghost Of Water Row

The Ghost Of Water Row: looking south towards Govan Cross (© Tom Manley Photography)


Finally, after a successful and enjoyable series of celebrations, the crowd dispersed. The Ghost of Water Row was carried into the Showpeople’s yard for temporary storage, but plans are already afoot to bring it out for future events. Discussions and chinwags begun earlier in the evening resumed at Brechin’s Bar. The mood was positive, for the historical importance of Water Row had been highlighted and acknowledged. Hopes were high that Glasgow City Council might now postpone its plans for a car park on the site, at least until alternative uses for the land have been explored in consultation with local people.

But then, a few days later, the machines and materials arrived…..

Govan: Water Row

(© Tom Manley Photography)


Work on the new car park commenced in the ancient heart of Govan….
Govan: Water Row

(© Tom Manley Photography)


That was several weeks ago. Since then, the case for preserving and conserving the heritage of Water Row has been re-stated, and new voices have given their support. What is needed now, most urgently, is a pause, a breathing-space. There are hints that the situation may indeed be moving in that direction. A period of consideration and reflection would allow the future of this part of Govan to be examined carefully and openly, so that any development is guided not by short-term planning but by what local people actually want to see there.

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I am grateful to Tom Manley for letting me use his photographs in this blogpost.

A news report on the Ghost of Water Row appears in the architectural journal Urban Realm. See also a recent article by Tom Manley at the website of the Water Row Action Group (WRAG), and Edo Architecture’s flyer for the event of 5th November. Edo’s own blogpost on the Ghost has a good selection of photos by Tom Manley and Julia-Kristina Bauer.

To keep abreast of the latest news, visit the WRAG website or follow @Water_Row on Twitter, hashtag #waterrow.

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