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Posts Tagged ‘Water Row’

Govan Graving Docks

The Graving Docks: nature has already reclaimed this forlorn, abandoned relic of Govan’s shipbuilding heritage (© Tom Manley).


Placemaking is a concept with which I was unfamiliar until a few years ago, when I started getting involved with some of the heritage projects at Govan. Many of these projects have a creative focus in which art, architecture, history and archaeology work together to produce something tangible and beneficial for local people. Placemaking is another ingredient which can be added to the mix, being essentially a holistic approach to improving the built environment. It can be defined as ‘a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and wellbeing.’ *

An insightful commentator on the role of placemaking at Govan is photographer Tom Manley. Tom’s background is in architecture, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen his brilliant images of historic buildings. But Tom also has an eye on the wider perspective and has maintained a focus on urban regeneration issues: how an area finds appropriate ways of transforming itself. In both photography and writing he has a knack for identifying the layers of memory that lie beneath or behind the frontages of an urban landscape. At Govan, this awareness has inevitably brought him into contact with the town’s ancient past, and with an era when the original riverside settlement lay at the heart of the kingdom of Strathclyde.

The kingdom’s most visible legacy is a collection of sculptured stones at Govan Old Parish Church. Completion of a project to re-display these impressive monuments has enabled better public appreciation of their carvings. The re-display has been further enhanced by a graceful textile screen created by the Weaving Truth With Trust project. Seeing the stones in their new settings is obviously recommended, but the next best thing is a browse through Tom Manley’s photographs.

Tom has also been active in a campaign to preserve the historic area around Water Row which includes an ancient river-crossing, an early medieval ceremonial pathway and the site of the Doomster Hill – a massive artificial mound, demolished in the nineteenth century. The hill was almost certainly used as a venue for public assemblies 1000 years ago.

Govan Water Row

Looking east from Water Row over the Doomster Hill site. On the left, across the Clyde, the Riverside Museum can be seen in the distance (© Tom Manley).

Tom’s recent thoughts on placemaking at Govan can be seen in an article in the architectural journal Edge Condition, in which he takes the reader on a photographic tour of landmarks and townscapes. Positive connections between place and people are highlighted alongside challenging issues such as economic decline, derelict space and poor urban planning, Reminders of an ancient past can be seen in two images of Matt Baker’s ‘Assembly’ artworks which mark the probable outline of the Doomster Hill, together with a view (shown above) of the east side of Water Row where the great mound once stood.

Tom’s article, presented as a ‘photo story’, eloquently captures the unique character of Govan. Well worth a look if you’re interested in the town’s multi-layered history, rich architectural heritage and strong sense of community. Click the link below to access the journal, then turn to page 74 for Tom’s article ‘Govan: a reconnection’.

Edge Condition, January 2015

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I am grateful to Tom Manley for permission to reproduce the two photographs.

Take a look at Tom’s website to see more of his work at Govan. One of his stunning images of the early medieval carved stones appears in my latest book Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age.

* The quote at the top of this blogpost is from Wikipedia. See also the definition of placemaking at the website of PPS (Project for Public Spaces).

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Govan Stones banner
Yesterday afternoon the skies were blue in Sunny Govan so I dug out my camera and took some photos of the new banners advertising the carved stones. Two of the banners flank the pedestrian route from the ferry to the old parish church while a third hangs near the churchyard entrance. I also photographed a new information board which, like the banners, appeared this summer to mark the unveiling of the stones in their new, improved settings inside the church.

Govan Stones banner

Banner on the fence overlooking the old ferry slipway and the River Clyde.


Govan Stones banner

Banner on Water Row, facing the public car park. The old parish church, where the stones are displayed, is just visible behind the trees.


Govan Stones banner

Banner on the churchyard fence. A modern (1930s) replica of the 10th-century Jordanhill Cross can be seen in the background.


Govan Stones

Information board at the churchyard entrance.

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Last year I blogged about proposals to turn the land on the east side of Water Row into an ‘official’ car park. The proposals were met by objections from many people who felt that this historic area at the heart of ancient Govan could be put to better use.

I also blogged about the Ghost Of Water Row, a project undertaken by Edo Architecture to highlight the rich heritage of the place.

Well, we’re now halfway through 2013, and here’s an update on both items…

First, the immediate plans for a car park have been put on ice. The circumstances behind the decision are explained in a letter from Glasgow City Council which can be seen at the website of the Water Row Action Group.

Secondly, the Ghost Of Water Row was nominated for a national architecture award – and went on to win! Alongside such grand edifices as Aberdeen University’s new library (cost: £30 million), this evocative little structure of spruce and lace is now ranked as one of the 12 best new buildings in Scotland. The honour was bestowed by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland at their recent awards dinner in Edinburgh.

So, two encouraging pieces of news for Water Row, the oldest street in Govan and one of the most ancient routeways in Scotland.

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WRAG website – letter from Glasgow City Council (26 March 2013)

BBC news report on the RIAS awards

A series of stunning images of the Ghost Of Water Row can be seen in this blogpost by architectural photographer Tom Manley.

Website of Edo Architecture (Ann Nisbet & Andrew McAvoy).

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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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