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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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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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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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Govan cross-slab 32

Recumbent cross-slab (Govan 32) Photograph © B Keeling


This is one of the recumbent tombstones in Govan Old Parish Church. It formerly lay in the kirkyard and would originally have been placed on top of a grave. It was probably carved in the 10th century and is one of a group of five cross-slabs at Govan in which the cross is decorated with interlace patterns. Other cross-slabs from the site have plain, undecorated crosses and seem to be slightly later. This stone has been re-used in modern times, probably in the 17th or 18th century: it has the initials T H and A H in the centre of the cross-head.

References
JR Allen & J Anderson, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1903). Part III, p.470.
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]

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The Sun Stone at Govan Old Parish Church

The Sun Stone at Govan (click to enlarge)

This is the most striking of the surviving cross-slabs at Govan. The main feature on the front is a cross with interlace patterns on the arms and shaft. Under each cross-arm a twisting serpent terminates in a head. Below the cross a square panel contains a human figure riding a strange, bear-like beast. Despite its odd appearance this animal might be a horse depicted in caricature, perhaps even one particular horse whose characteristics the sculptor wished to convey in the manner of a modern cartoon. Alternatively, the caricatured mount may have been intended as a comment on the rider himself. He is carrying a spear and wearing a sword: he is evidently a warrior. A curling adornment on the back of his head is usually interpreted as a pigtail.

Sun Stone, Govan

The rider on his strange beast

The reverse of the slab is dominated by a vivid design in the upper portion: four snakes protruding from a central boss. This is a Christian motif symbolising redemption and resurrection through the image of a creature that is ‘reborn’ each time it sheds its old skin. It is found elsewhere in Scotland in both Gaelic and Pictish contexts, respectively on crosses on Iona and Islay, and on a cross-slab at Nigg in Easter Ross. The same motif also appears on crosses in Ireland. At all these places the finely carved ‘snake-and-boss’ contrasts sharply with the crude version at Govan. What we see on the Sun Stone is a poor imitation of the design, an attempt by the craftsmen of Strathclyde to replicate the sophisticated artistry of the Gaelic world.[1] The same can be said of the Netherton Cross at Hamilton and the Dumb Proctor cross-shaft at Lochwinnoch, both of which contain crudely carved snake-and-boss ornament. All three were produced by craftsmen of the ‘Govan School’ stonecarving tradition.

Sun Stone, Govan

The snake-and-boss symbol on the Sun Stone

Below the snake-and-boss on the Sun Stone is a square panel of interlace described by one modern observer as ‘botched’.[2] The irregularity of the pattern has led another expert to remark that ‘the Govan sculptor has failed to achieve symmetry, or deliberately scorned it’.[3] A glance at the panel reveals its main flaw: on three sides the interlace makes two triangles as it threads back on itself, but on the right-hand side an extra triangle completely disrupts the weave.

The Sun Stone was probably a memorial to a high-ranking Strathclyde aristocrat and may have marked his grave in the burial-ground of the ancient church at Govan. The absence of an inscription means that we do not know his name but he is perhaps the rider depicted on the front face below the cross.

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Notes
[1] Ritchie (1999), 14, where the Sun Stone is seen as an instance of ‘the Govan patrons asking their sculptors to copy an image for which their talents were perhaps unsuited.’
[2] Macquarrie (2006), 5.
[3] Fisher (1994), 53.

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References

Fisher, Ian (1994) ‘The Govan cross-shafts and early cross-slabs’, pp.47-53 in Anna Ritchie (ed.) Govan and its Early Medieval Sculpture (Stroud: Alan Sutton)

Macquarrie, Alan (2006) Crosses and Upright Monuments in Strathclyde: Typology, Dating and Purpose Fourth Annual Govan Lecture (Govan: Society of Friends of Govan Old)

Ritchie, Anna (1999) Govan and its Carved Stones (Balgavies/Brechin: Pinkfoot Press)

[All photographs in this blogpost are copyright © B Keeling]

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Data summary
ECMS* Govan No.4 ‘The Sun Stone’
Current location: Govan Old Parish Church
Original location: (?) kirkyard of Govan Old
Dimensions: 1.85m x 0.55m x 0.18m
Material: sandstone
Date: 10th-11th century

* ECMS = J Anderson & JR Allen, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1903)

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