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Posts Tagged ‘museums’

Govan Old Parish Church

Govan Old Parish Church, home of the Govan Stones. In the foreground, a modern replica of the tenth-century Jordanhill Cross (Photo © B Keeling).


Govan’s collection of early medieval sculpture was featured in an interesting blogpost a few days ago. The post in question can be seen at the Industry Engagement blog run by the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts. It describes the university’s involvement in the conservation and re-display of the carved stones at Govan Old Parish Church, highlighting partnerships with local agencies and with the community as a whole. It focuses on Professor Stephen Driscoll who led the archaeological excavations in the churchyard 20 years ago and who has since been a key figure in raising public awareness of the sculpture. Professor Driscoll’s work at Govan is a good example of how universities can engage closely with communities on projects relating to local heritage. This kind of ‘knowledge exchange’ is summed up neatly in the blogpost, in a quote from Ranald MacInnes, Head of Heritage Management at Historic Scotland, who refers to “the role universities can play in helping communities see their heritage’s potential fully realised”.

At the end of the post is a short video in which Professor Driscoll discusses the historical significance of the sculpture and its value as a heritage asset to the people of Govan.

Link: Changing the Perception of Govan’s Heritage

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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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Govan Sarcophagus

Detail from the Govan Sarcophagus (9th century AD)


If you’ve not yet feasted your eyes on the early medieval stones in Govan Old Parish Church, a great opportunity is coming up in a couple of weeks. No need to wait until the summer, when the church officially opens its doors for the main visitor season. Put this date in your diary: 12th April. Turn up in Govan on that day and see these masterpieces of Celtic sculpture in their newly re-designed settings.

The following details are from the Facebook page of the Govan Stones project:
On Saturday 12th of April, Govan Old invites you to a free open day for all the family, 12pm-4pm. Find out more about the story behind the Govan Stones, and see the beautiful stained glass windows in this hidden architectural gem. Teas and coffees will be served and fun activities for children will bring Govan’s early past to life.

Govan Old Parish Church

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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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Govan - Assembly - public artwork

One of Matt Baker’s ‘Assembly’ sculptures (the curve of stone marks the approximate outline of the Doomster Hill)


Last Saturday, November 23rd, I visited Govan to participate in a day of very interesting events. The day was just one part of an entire weekend of talks, tours and conversation around a number of heritage projects under the Hidden Histories banner. My own involvement was with a project called ‘Re-imagining the Govan Heritage Trail’, which aims to re-vamp an existing trail by creating a number of smaller walks dealing with different aspects of the town’s rich history. The project has been initiated by artist Tara S Beall as part of a practice-based programme of doctoral research with the University of Glasgow and the Riverside Museum. Staff from the Museum are closely involved in the Heritage Trails project, together with representatives from other local organisations and community groups. I was invited by Tara to give input to a new trail dealing with ancient times and the period when Govan was a major royal centre in the kingdom of Strathclyde.

A week or more of events ran from 15th to 24th November. As well as the trails project, two others were also celebrated as part of the Hidden Histories venture: Women’s Histories & Protests on the Clyde and Isabella Elder – Great & Good (Mrs Elder was the wife of shipbuilding magnate John Elder). The busy schedule for Saturday 23rd included an afternoon walk along the Ancient Govan trail, followed by an evening of talks in Govan Old Parish Church.

The new trail is more than a tour of the area’s early history. It’s a quest for the ‘Thirteen Treasures of Govan’, a collection of objects dotted around the town or in the Riverside Museum across the Clyde. The idea comes from the legendary Tri Thlws ar Ddeg Ynys Prydain (‘Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain’), a list of magic items associated with figures famed in the lore of medieval Wales. Many of the Welsh Thirteen Treasures have a connection with North Britain, and a few have a connection with Strathclyde. These form a nucleus around which the Thirteen Treasures of Govan have been created.

Govan Heritage Trail

Cover of fold-out leaflet for the new heritage trail


The Thirteen Treasures of Govan are as follows. An asterisk indicates an item on the original Welsh list.
1. The Ring of Queen Languoreth, wife of Rhydderch Hael, king of Dumbarton.
2. The Cauldron of Dyrnwch the Giant. *
3. The Crozier.
4. The Whetstone of Tudwal, father of Rhydderch Hael. *
5. The Harp.
6. The Horn of Bran. *
7. The Chessboard of Gwenddoleu. *
8. The Canoe.
9. The Halter of Clyddno Eiddyn. *
10. The Cloak of Arthur. *
11. The Ship.
12. The Bell of of St Mungo of Glasgow (St Kentigern).
13. The Sword of Rhydderch Hael. *

The objective of someone embarking on the quest is to locate the Thirteen Treasures in their present-day locations, so that they can be pointed out to none other than Merlin, who will then be able to take them away for safekeeping. Some items are fairly easy to identify: the Canoe, for example, is a hollowed-out logboat retrieved from the Clyde and now displayed in the Riverside Museum. Others are concealed in more subtle ways: the Cauldron, upside down, is now represented by the upper part of the Aitken Memorial Fountain (an impressive piece of Victorian street adornment at Govan Cross). Merlin himself may have been a native of North Britain and is sometimes associated with Strathclyde. One legend says that he met St Mungo of Glasgow, while another has him being hunted by King Rhydderch, who is identified in one tradition as the father of St Constantine of Govan.

Aitken Memorial Fountain - Govan

The Aitken Memorial Fountain


The trail will give visitors plenty of entertainment, while introducing them to Govan’s rich heritage. Along the way, they will meet genuine relics from early medieval times, such as the ‘Viking’ hogback tombstones and the ornately carved Sarcophagus, as well as a reminder of the Doomster Hill which served as a ceremonial venue for the kings of Strathclyde. Items such as the Horn of Bran, represented on the trail by the siren of the Fairfield shipyard, connect the glories of the remote past with those of the shipbuilding era. Fairfields is now part of BAE Systems and its future has recently come under the spotlight in the UK media.

Last Saturday’s inaugural walk along the Ancient Govan trail was led by Tam McGarvey of the GaelGael Trust (a community heritage organisation who build wooden boats based on old Scottish vessels such as the birlinn or Highland galley). Tam guided an enthusiastic group of people from a starting point at the Riverside Museum to Govan on the opposite bank, via a ferry which was laid on especially for the weekend’s events (it’s usually a seasonal service). The tour was a great success, and Tam was an excellent guide. With his deep knowledge of local heritage he was able to make connections between different layers of history, drawing comparisons between the era of industrial greatness and its ancient precursor.

Riverside Museum

Tall ship ‘The Glenlee’ moored on the Clyde at the Riverside Museum


In the evening, a larger group gathered inside Govan Old Parish Church to hear three talks relating to local heritage. The first, on Ancient Govan and the Thirteen Treasures heritage trail, was given by me. The second was presented by public artist Matt Baker, who gave a virtual tour of his evocative heritage-related sculptures around the Riverside Housing Estate. One of Matt’s artworks is called Assembly and commemorates the long-vanished Doomster Hill – a place of assembly in the time of the kings of Strathclyde. The third presentation was a screening of archive films of old Govan, with a commentary by Liam Paterson from the Scottish Screen Archive. It was a very interesting evening, clearly enjoyed by everyone who attended. Tara and the team did a great job in bringing it all together.

Afterwards, a few of us ambled across the street to continue our conversations in a corner of Brechin’s Bar. Adjourning to this characterful old tavern seemed a good way to end what had been a fascinating and fruitful day of heritage events.

Govan Heritage Trail

Lapel badge for the new heritage trail

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Notes & links

I would like to thank Tara Beall for inviting me to participate in the project, and also Maria Leahy and Alice Gordon for audiovisual support during my presentation at Govan Old.

A project overview of ‘Re-imagining the Govan Heritage Trail’ can be found on the Hidden Histories website
– which also advertised Saturday evening’s programme and a schedule of the entire weekend’s activities.
The same site has a useful article by Frazer Capie of the Govan Stones Project on the ideas behind the Thirteen Treasures heritage trail.

Matt Baker’s public artworks in Govan can be seen at his website Sacrificial Materials.

To keep up-to-date with these and other projects, take a look at the Glorious Govan Facebook page or follow the Govan Beacon on Twitter.

Traditional boat-making and other craft activities undertaken by the GalGael Trust are described on their website.

The Scottish Screen Archive is part of the National Library of Scotland.

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A couple of weeks ago, I visited Govan for the first time in seven months, having not been there since November 2012. It was good to be back, not only to catch up with friends but also to see the Govan Stones in their new settings inside the old parish church. The opportunity came via my involvement with a project called Some Thing Is Missing, of which more will be told at this blog in the near future. This is one of a number of projects for young people in the ‘Young Roots’ programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. One element in the project’s schedule was a workshop on the history of the Strathclyde Britons, followed by a visit to Govan Old and a tour of the early medieval sculpture. The unofficial tour guides were archaeologist Ingrid Shearer and myself.

Our visit took place about one week before the formal unveiling of the re-displayed stones and the launch of the 2013 visitor season at Govan Old. I was very impressed with the re-display, which presents these sculptural treasures in a way that allows them to be viewed and photographed more easily. New information boards put the stones in their historical context and highlight individual monuments.

Over at my Senchus blog I recently posted an article urging people to visit the Govan Stones this summer. I reiterate the same message here: go and see this stunning collection of ancient Celtic sculpture. If you’ve visited before, you’ll be amazed at how the stones look in their new positions under specially designed lighting, with attractive signboards giving up-to-date historical and archaeological information. If it’s your first-ever visit, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

For a taste of what’s on offer, check out my Senchus blogpost which includes stunning images by architectural photographer Tom Manley.

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From the Glorious Govan Facebook page:

PUBLIC CONSULTATION

The Govan Old Management Group invites you to join it for
a discussion about:
– plans for the future of Govan Old
– the redisplay of the Govan Stones
– conservation of the church graveyard
– wider developments
at
Govan Old Church
866 Govan Rd (adjacent Pearce Institute)
Prof Steve Driscoll of Glasgow University Archaeology Department will chair a Question & Answer session following short presentations by:
– Pat Cassidy, Govan Workspace
– Peter Miller, Land & Environmental Services, Glasgow City Council
– Dr. Susan Buckham, Kirkyard Consulting
– Richard East, City Design Co-operative
Wed 30 May, 7pm

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