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Archive for the ‘‘Govan School’ sculpture’ Category

Bogle Stone at Govan Old
Most of the early medieval sculptured stones at Govan are recumbent cross-slabs, designed to be placed horizontally on top of graves. The basic decoration on these monuments is a cross surrounded by interlace patterns, with the cross itself usually being plain or – in some cases – decorated with more interlace. Most of the slabs have a plain border running around the edge.

All of the Govan cross-slabs were carved in the Viking Age (9th-11th centuries AD) as memorials to people of high status. All of them once lay in the graveyard of the old parish church (Govan Old) before being brought inside in modern times. A thousand years ago, Govan was the premier religious and ceremonial site in the kingdom of Strathclyde and it is likely that the ancient burial ground around the church was used not only by the kingdom’s nobility and senior clergy but also by the royal family. How many cross-slabs, hogback stones and free-standing crosses once stood there is unknown but more than 30 have survived – a remarkable figure at a site in the midst of so much modern urbanisation and heavy industry.

Govan cross slab

An example of an angle-knobbed cross-slab at Govan Old Parish Church.

A few of the surviving cross-slabs have an “angle knob” carved at each corner. The significance of these circular features is unknown but one plausible explanation is that they represent the corner-posts of a box shrine, a type of tomb in which the remains of an important person were interred so that the whole thing could be put on public display and suitably venerated. A cross-slab with similar angle knobs survives at Inchinnan, some miles west of Govan, which was also a major religious centre in Strathclyde. At both sites the stonecarvers may have been evoking the shape of a well-known shrine that was on public display somewhere within the kingdom. If so, this original “inspirational” monument is now lost, nor do we know where it was located or whose remains it contained. Assuming it existed, we might wonder if it housed the bones of a famous saint – perhaps even the mysterious Constantine to whom the parish church of Govan is dedicated. Constantine is presumed to have lived in the 6th century AD. The popular modern belief that his tomb is the richly carved sarcophagus discovered at Govan Old in 1855 has no basis in ancient tradition and is actually little more than a guess.

Long after the kings of Strathclyde had passed into distant memory, the ancient gravestones at Govan were re-used by a number of local families as memorials to their own deceased relatives. These families were regarded as having special status within the community, either because they held ancestral rights to farmland or because they were successful in their chosen trade. They began to re-use the ancient stones as a way of displaying their importance and prosperity. By associating themselves with the ornate sculpture of a remote past they were reinforcing their own social position. This kind of monumental recycling occurred during the 1600s and 1700s, a period when the main economic activities in Govan were farming and handloom weaving. The weavers were important folk and had their own guild – the Govan Weavers Society – which organised the annual Govan Fair (held from 1756 onwards). Local historian T.C.F. Brotchie, writing around 100 years ago, described the Govan weavers as “bonnet lairds” – people of prominence and importance in their own neighbourhood. It is likely that some of the recycled cross-slabs were placed above weavers’ graves.

Recycling took the form of a new inscription overlaying the ancient carvings. This usually gave the initials of the deceased person, sometimes with the year of their death. In only one instance is the full name shown, the stone in question being one of the angle-knobbed slabs. It was used as the grave-marker of a man called William Bogle.

Govan stones - Bogle stone

Victorian cast of the Bogle Stone. Photograph from Sculptured Stones in the Kirkyard of Govan (1899).

Who this person was, where he lived and when he died are unanswered questions. His inscription is sometimes thought to belong to the 1700s, but the style of the “W” appears on a slab re-used in 1634, so maybe William’s burial is also from around that time. People with the surname Bogle were fairly numerous across Lanarkshire in the 17th and 18th centuries and there were several branches of the family in Glasgow. One branch was associated with a place called Bogleshole near Cambuslang while another became wealthy merchants who later took part in Scotland’s trade with North America. Identifying the branch to which our William belonged is a matter of guesswork, not least because the records of births, marriages and deaths from Govan Old are incomplete and there is no register of burials for the period when the cross-slabs were recycled. However, he presumably lived within the parish of Govan at the time of his death. He may have been a weaver whose labours had elevated him to a position of status on the social ladder, earning him the right to be buried beneath one of the ancient carved stones.

Bogle Stone at Govan

Stone at Govan Old

Cross-slab recycled in 1634, showing a similar W to the one on the Bogle Stone.

I tentatively suggest that our William Bogle might be the one mentioned in an old document as the husband of a woman called Jonet Sheills. Jonet died in 1667 and was prosperous enough to leave behind a testament or will for the distribution of her possessions. She originally came from Partick on the north bank of the Clyde but she and William lived across the river in the Gorbals – an area formerly known as Little Govan – where William worked as a weaver. Gorbals was part of Govan parish until 1771.

While this identification is not certain (and would, in any case, be difficult to prove) it does seem to me quite possible. I’d like to delve a bit further among the various genealogical records to see if I can unearth more information about the mysterious William Bogle, not only out of curiosity but also because his story is part of the longer tale of the ancient monument on which his name was inscribed.

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Notes & references

JR Allen & J Anderson, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1903). Part III, p.466.

Rosemary Cramp, ‘The Govan recumbent cross-slabs’, pp.55-61 in Anna Ritchie (ed) Govan and its Early Medieval Sculpture (Stroud, 1994) [at p.56]

Catherine Cutmore, ‘An Archaeological Study of the Memorial Stones in the Kirkyard of Govan Old Parish Church’ Annual Report of the Friends of Govan Old (1997), 8-18.

Betty Willsher, ‘Govan Old Parish Church Graveyard’ Annual Report of the Friends of Govan Old (1992), 16-23.

Information on Jonet Sheills, wife of the Gorbals weaver William Bogle, came from a register of testaments for 1564-1800 which I found online.

The initials “R D” above William’s name show that this stone has been re-used at least twice.

I’ve written a couple of earlier blogposts on recycled cross-slabs: the Bellahouston Stone and Govan Cross-Slab 32.

As with the Bellahouston Stone, the name “Bogle Stone” has been coined by me as a way of identifying a monument that would otherwise be known only as a number on a list. I think such names make the Govan stones less anonymous by giving them a bit of character and personality.

And finally…. in Scottish folklore, a bogle is a kind of hobgoblin.

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Govan Old Parish Church

Govan Old Parish Church: a must-see for fans of Dark Age sculpture.


Back in November, the Celebrate Scotland website posted a list of the ‘Top Ten’ places to see Celtic and Pictish carvings. Although the list isn’t a league table or ranking, it’s interesting to see ‘Govan School’ sculpture in the first two slots. Heading the list is the Barochan Cross, finest of the Strathclyde crosses, which now resides in Paisley Abbey. A brief description of this imposing monument is accompanied by a nice photograph. Second on the list is the collection of 31 stones at Govan Old Parish Church, represented by a view of the enigmatic hogbacks. With the exception of the National Museums of Scotland at Edinburgh, all of the other sites on the list are further north and east in Pictish territory, or north and west in the ancestral homeland of the Scots.

I have yet to visit three of the Top Ten: the Kildalton Cross on Islay, the Orkney Museum at Kirkwall and the Timespan Museum in Sutherland. These are on my wish-list, as are ‘refresher’ visits to the rest. Needless to say, I’m planning to renew my acquaintance with the Govan Stones in 2015 – and probably with the Barochan Cross too.

Here’s a link to the Celebrate Scotland list…

Ten top places to see Celtic and Pictish carvings in Scotland

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Dumb Proctor Lochwinnoch
Renfrewshire-based bookseller and publisher Chris Morrison recently sent me these two Victorian sketches of the Dumb Proctor, an early medieval monument now used as a grave-marker in the public cemetery at Lochwinnoch. The images come from Volume 2 of Archaeological and Historical Collections of the County of Renfrew, published in 1890.

In a blogpost last year I mentioned that the Dumb Proctor was originally a free-standing cross carved in the last phase of the Govan sculptural style. I also showed my own attempt at a reconstruction of how it might look today if the cross-head hadn’t been cut off. The 1890 book was referred to in passing but I didn’t cite it in the bibliography at the end of the post.

I am grateful to Chris for providing the sketches, which I’ve added to my file of notes on this enigmatic monument. The Dumb Proctor is one of a number of Govan-style stones for which I’m hoping to compile detailed ‘biographies’ relating to history, art, preservation, re-use and conservation.

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Links

Blogpost (2013): The Dumb Proctor of Lochwinnoch

The Grian Press (Scottish local history)
Grian Books (rare & out-of-print items)

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Just a quick note to say I’ve uploaded a new post about the sculptured crosses of the Govan School at my Strathclyde blog. It’s basically a whistle-stop tour of this type of monument, with most of the surviving examples listed. Click the link below to take a look.

Strathclyde & the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age: Strathclyde crosses

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Bellahouston Stone Govan
A number of the early medieval cross-slabs at Govan were re-used as tombstones by local families in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were usually carved with the initials of the deceased and, in some cases, with the date of death. This kind of re-use inevitably damaged the carved patterns from ancient times.

One of the re-used slabs has a rounded end which forms a curving arch around the head of the cross. Within the arched space is a post-medieval inscription: BELLIY HOUSTONS. Although no initials or date are visible, this stone was almost certainly re-used by the Rowans, an old Govan family whose residences included the Bellahouston estate on a road leading out to Paisley. Members of the Rowan family were very prominent in the local community from the 1600s onwards, right through to the nineteenth century. They played leading roles in important institutions such as the parish church and the Weavers Society.

The date of the inscription is unknown but it was probably carved after 1726. In that year, the Bellahouston estate came into the possession of the Rowans when James Rowan of Marylands purchased it. The ancient stone at Govan was presumably used as a memorial for this branch of the family, perhaps marking the grave of James himself. The original decoration on the stone, comprising a cross with interlace patterns, was probably carved in the tenth century. A detailed description appears in The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (ECMS), a magisterial survey of Dark Age sculpture published in 1903:

‘On the cross a three-cord plait, double-beaded. On the background of the cross (above the top arm) the modern inscription BELLIY HOUSTONS; (on each side of the arm) a three-cord plait; (on the left of the shaft) a chain of rings with bands passed through them at right angles, double-beaded; (on the right of the shaft) a four-cord (?) plait, double-beaded; and (below the bottom of the shaft) triangular interlaced work No.732, double-beaded.’

ECMS included illustrations of some of the Govan cross-slabs but not the Bellahouston one. The illustrations were reproduced from photographs in Sir John Stirling Maxwell’s Sculptured Stones in the Kirkyard of Govan (1899) which included the entire Govan collection. Interestingly, the images in Sir John’s book didn’t depict the actual monuments but plaster casts of them. The picture below shows the cast of the Bellahouston Stone alongside Sir John’s map of the kirkyard, on which I’ve marked the slab’s nineteenth-century location.

Bellahouston Stone Govan

Defacing ancient sculpture would now be considered an act of vandalism or, to give it a modern label, a ‘heritage crime’. Three hundred years ago, the Rowan family and their contemporaries would have taken a different view, one which was neatly explained by Catherine Cutmore in her study of the Govan gravestones:
‘The re-use of sites and monuments is a very ancient custom. People can draw on the power of the past and ancient rights in order to maintain their own power, especially in times of social stress. Monuments can be used in a similar way. They are visible evidence of earlier people and earlier power. ….The re-use of the older monuments was an effective way of expressing ancient ties to the land and emphasising status.’

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Notes

The name ‘Bellahouston Stone’ has been coined by me as a convenient header for this blogpost. The cross-slab is simply designated ‘Govan No.6’ in ECMS and ‘No.24’ by Sir John Stirling Maxwell. I think ‘Bellahouston Stone’ sounds less anonymous. It gives the slab a bit of individuality, like the names given to Pictish stones.

Reference: Cutmore, Catherine, ‘An Archaeological Study of the Memorial Stones in the Kirkyard of Govan Old Parish Church’. Society of Friends of Govan Old Annual Report (1997)

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Govan Old Parish Church cross slab
The collection of carved stones at Govan Old Parish Church is one of the great treasures of Dark Age Celtic sculpture in Britain. With an impressive thirty-one monuments, the Govan collection is the third largest in Scotland. Sadly, this figure represents only two-thirds of the total seen by visitors 100 years ago. At that time, the stones were still outside, in the churchyard, mostly dotted around among later memorials. Only the Sarcophagus and three others had any kind of protection, being housed in a small outhouse in the south-east corner of the churchyard. The total number of stones was forty-six, of which sixteen have since been lost. The missing ones were all of the same type: the recumbent cross-slab, designed to be placed lengthways on top of a grave. They all had a large cross carved on the front, surrounded by Celtic interlace in the ‘chunky’ style favoured by the Govan stonecarvers. By the end of the nineteenth century, after a thousand years of exposure to the elements, many of the ancient carvings had worn away.

One of the lost slabs is shown in the illustration above, reproduced from Sir John Stirling-Maxwell’s Sculptured Stones in the Kirkyard of Govan, a photographic record published in 1899. Sir John numbered all the ancient stones in sequence, designating this slab as ‘Number 29’. Although he didn’t provide a written description, he gave us our only pictorial record of this unique monument. His privately published volume is, in fact, a definitive catalogue of all forty-six stones (plus the shaft of the ‘Govan Cross’ which had been moved to the garden of Jordanhill House in Partick). In 1903, a description of Number 29 appeared in Allen and Anderson’s magisterial survey of Dark Age sculpture, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (usually abbreviated as ECMS). Sir John’s numbering system wasn’t followed by Allen and Anderson, who instead catalogued the slab as ‘Number 18’ in their own listing of the Govan collection. Here’s how they described its carvings:

‘The cross, devoid of ornament, and the top arm defaced by the modern initials W.I. On the background (to the left and right of the top arm, and above it) traces of interlaced-work; (to the left and right of the shaft) traces of interlaced-work; and (below the bottom of the shaft) sculpture defaced.’

The initials were probably applied in the seventeenth or eighteenth century and show that this slab was re-used at least once after the medieval period. Many of the ancient stones at Govan were recycled in this way, sometimes with the year of re-use as well as the initials of the deceased. The identity of ‘W.I.’ is unknown but he or she would have belonged to a prominent family in pre-industrial Govan.

Sir John Stirling-Maxwell published a plan of the churchyard (see below) showing the positions of all the stones at a date roughly in the mid-1890s. This enables us to imagine where cross-slab 29 lay in relation to other Dark Age monuments before the beginning of the twentieth century, by which time many of the slabs had been laid in a line along the churchyard’s eastern wall. It is unlikely that Sir John’s plan shows Number 29’s original position in early medieval times: old records of the parish indicate that ancient stones were often moved to suit the pattern of newer burials.

Govan Old Parish Church
Archaeologists date the carvings on the Govan cross-slabs to the period 900 to 1100 AD. The absence of secular motifs such as warriors and animals suggests that these were gravestones for the clergy – members of the local religious community – when Govan was a centre of royal power in the kingdom of Strathclyde, but it is also possible that they commemorated the warrior aristocracy as well. The names of the deceased are unknown, for no early inscriptions are visible on any of the Govan stones.

What happened to Number 29 and why is it missing? The answer to these questions brings us to one of the most tragic chapters in the long history of the Govan Stones.

In 1908, the Sarcophagus was removed from the outhouse in the south-east corner of the churchyard and brought inside the church, where it has remained ever since. The outhouse was becoming damp and dilapidated, and there was much concern about the condition of the other three stones left behind. Someone suggested moving all forty-six ancient stones inside the church for safekeeping but, unfortunately, this did not happen. Many of the cross-slabs and three of the five hogbacks still lay next to the churchyard’s eastern wall, exposed to the elements. Eventually, in 1926, the best-preserved stones – the hogbacks, the Sun Stone and the Cuddy Stane – joined the Sarcophagus inside the church. Two years later, the shaft of the Govan Cross was returned from Jordanhill House and also placed inside the church. Today it is sometimes known as ‘The Jordanhill Cross’ in memory of its period of exile on the other side of the Clyde. More stones were subsequently brought in from the churchyard, taking the total inside the church to twenty-six. The only ones still left outside were a cross-slab near the west door and another twenty slabs along the eastern perimeter wall.

Govan Old Parish Church

Hogbacks and cross-slabs against the east wall, c.1900.


In 1973, a huge factory building in the disused Harland and Wolff shipyard was demolished. Part of this structure stood near the east wall of the churchyard and, during the demolition process, a large amount of debris tumbled over the wall. The twenty ancient slabs lying on the grass were damaged, many of them severely, and only four survived. ‘Number 29’ was among the casualties. With its fellow-victims it is now little more than a ghostly photographic image in the pages of Sir John Stirling-Maxwell’s book.

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Notes

Much of the information in this blogpost comes from ‘The Govan collection in the context of local history’, a chapter by Tom Davidson-Kelly in Govan and its Early Medieval Sculpture, edited by Anna Ritchie (1994). Reverend Davidson-Kelly was formerly the minister of Govan Old and a key figure in the preservation and conservation of the ancient stones.

The initials W.I. carved on ‘Number 29’ can also be seen on one of the surviving cross-slabs (Stirling-Maxwell’s ‘Number 27’) with the date 1634. Maybe these two stones were re-used by the same family, to commemorate namesakes from different generations?

The photographs in the Stirling-Maxwell book don’t show the actual stones themselves but copies cast in plaster by a certain ‘Mr J.W. Small of Stirling’.

In this blogpost, I have referred to the lost cross-slab using the Stirling-Maxwell designation ’29’ rather than the ’18’ of ECMS. This is mainly to reflect the fact that Sir John has left us the only visual image of this vanished relic from the Dark Age kingdom of Strathclyde.

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Govan hogback

Govan hogback (known as ‘Govan 2’) inside the old parish church.


One of the famous Govan hogbacks is going to the British Museum. There it will join other artefacts in an exhibition called Vikings: Life and Legend which runs until June. The loan is temporary, of course, so the stone will eventually come home. No doubt it will attract many admirers during its stay in London, especially among people who have never seen a hogback gravestone before. Although all hogbacks are impressive, those at Govan are truly awesome, being the largest examples of the type.

The 400-mile journey is the longest ever undertaken by one of the Govan stones.

Not since the year 935, when King Owain made a couple of trips to Wessex, has the South of England received such an esteemed visitor from the ancient capital of Strathclyde.

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Check out these media reports:
BBC News
The Scotsman
STV News
The Herald
and the exhibition webpage:
Vikings: Life and Legend at the British Museum

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