Type of Site: Religion: Church; Burial-Ground; Sculptured Stones; Trial Excavations
NMRS Number: NS56NE 17
Map reference: NS 553 659
Parish: Govan (City Of Glasgow)
Council: Glasgow, City Of
Govan Old Parish Church (C of S) [NAT]
OS 1:1250 map, 1971.
The church of Govan was a prebend of Glasgow. It was dedicated to St Constantine who was buried at Govan. On 13th July 1577, the teinds of Govan were granted to the University of Glasgow, and the Principal of the University ex officio was appointed minister of the parish. The settlement was set aside on 20th December 1621, and only the patronage of Govan was left to the University. There was a chapel in the parish at Partick. Govan church was rebuilt in 1762 and again in 1826. A later rebuilding was begun in 1884 and was opened 19th May 1888.
H Scott 1915-61.
(NS 5534 6590). Govan Old Parish Church was built in 1884-8, on the site of earlier churches. Within it and its roughly circular graveyard is one of the finest collections of Early Christian stones in Britain, dating from the 10th and 11th centuries. There are 24 stones within the church and there were 17 more along the E wall of the graveyard. Some of these were damaged in 1973 when the neighbouring factory was demolished and have been removed to Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum. Inside the church there is now one sarcophagus, five hog-back gravestones, two cross shafts and many recumbent grave slabs.
A date in the 10th or early 11th century has been suggested for the sarcophagus, which was found in 1855 when digging a grave at the SE corner of the churchyard. Three such sarcophagi were present at Govan church in the 18th century and one doubtless contained the relics of the particular St Constantine to whom the church is dedicated. The five hog-back tombstones are of an Anglian type, and 10th or perhaps 11th century dates are suggested for them. Both of the cross shafts have lost their heads; a date of about AD 900 has been suggested for them. There are two upright cross slabs, datable to the 10th century, and the rest of the stones comprise 29 flat grave covers, usually with a cross carved on them and flanked by interlace ornament; they should all date between AD 900 and the early 12th century. Many of the stones have been re-used in recent times and bear added names.
E W MacKie 1975; J R Allen and J Anderson 1903; T B S Thomson nd.; J T Laing 1975.
Govan (Glasgow, Rutherglen). Granted to the episcopal mensa of Glasgow by David I before 1152, the church was shortly afterwards erected into a prebend of Glasgow cathedral by Herbert, bishop of Glasgow (1147-64), the patronage thereafter resting with the bishop. Both parsonage and vicarage teinds were annexed to the prebend, the cure being a vicarage pensionary.
I B Cowan 1967.
The number of early sculptured stones found indicates the former presence of a Celtic monastic community at this site.
C A R Radford 1970.
Govan parish church is set well back in a churchyard of great antiquity (as the collection of monuments in the church clearly shows). The present church of 1883-8, by Robert Rowand Anderson, is the last in a long series of churches on this site. The exterior of grey snecked rubble with green slate roofs seems dull without the intended lavish tower and spire (for which, see the foundations on the W side) and the unexpected band of relief sculpture across the facade, although the plans were ambitious and the interior is splendid. The minister who promoted rebuilding, John Macleod, was a pioneer of Scoto-Catholicism and a believer in the beauty of worship as inspiration for the working classes. The style is Early English in the Scottish manner, with details (especially the chancel gable) based on Pluscarden Priory, near Elgin. Ashlar chancel, higher than the nave, extended in 1911-12, with octagonal stairtowers at the angles. The walls are striped in red brick and stone, a vibrant effect dimmed with age.
The size of the interior, with broad high nave and narrow passage aisles, owes much to the preaching churches Macleod had visited in Italy. The aisle arcades are of broad moulded piers dying into the arches, but the clearstorey is more decorative, each bay with one tall window flanked by two nook-shafted lancets. Between the bays, wall-shafts carrying the arched braces of the roof, which cross the boarded cove before spanning the roof high above the nave. Only one (W) galleried transept, opening with two clustered piers. The rhythm of one large and two small arches is repeated with the openings to the deep chancel and the choir aisles, one with the choir gallery, the other (originally the baptistery) with the organ (by Brindley and Foster) over. The chancel ends in an elegant blind arcade and band of foliage. Each side, top-lit passages in the depth of the walls; they lie over those that lead to the stairs in the angles. Fine wrought-iron screens divide the chancel aisles, the W one continuous with the large square Steven chapel, ringed with lancets. The furnishings are simple and unobtrusive.
Stained glass: Twelve windows are by C E Kempe, part of a unified but uncompleted scheme commissioned soon after the church was finished. Chancel: first completed and dedicated to John Macleod (died 1898): Christ enthroned (oculus) above scenes of the main events in His life. Choir and transept galleries: Angels of Faith and Hope. Transept lancets: figures of Faith flanked by Noah and Abraham, and Hope flanked by Moses and Jacob. Clearstorey (E): Witnesses of the Resurrection. (The W clearstorey windows were designed but not inserted). S window over the gallery (particularly beautiful): Our Lord the King of Angels, with the three archangels and thirteen angel musicians. E chancel aisle: windows by Shrigley and Hunt. In the Steven chapel, a good undated display by Clayton and Bell (The Power of Our Lord, and eight Old Testament prophets, with finely illustrated scenes from their lives), and the Supper at Emmaus by Heaton, Butler and Bayne. Above the font, a window by Kempe from St Margaret, Polmadie, dedicated to Dr Macleod, who also founded that church.
Monuments. The W transept and chancel contain one of the most remarkable assemblages of Early Christian sculpture in Scotland, most of which were moved inside the church from the graveyard in 1926. Five main types of sculpture are represented: a richly-ornamented sarcophagus; hogbacked tombstones; cross-shafts; upright crosses; and recumbent slabs.
The sarcophagus in the chancel, one of three that survived until 1762, is of 10th/11th cent AD date, and is a single block of sandstone hollowed out internally to receive the burial; the top part of each side is carefully shaped to allow the cover slab (perhaps a gabled block) to fit tightly. The sides and ends of the sarcophagus are decorated with panels of interlace and figural ornament. On one side, a panel including two pairs of beasts, the lower pair having tails and ears which interknot, and a panel with a pair whose necks are intertwined. The other side has a hunting scene in Pictish style.
The five hogbacked stones are bowed and gabled blocks, with decoration representing the square shingles of a wooden roof. Several of the stones have roughly-carved animal heads with the forepaws continuing along the sides. Of Scandinavian inspiration, such slabs can be paralleled in the Anglian areas of Northern England, and are probably of mid- to late-10th-century AD date.
The better-preserved of the two cross-shafts, which formerly stood at Jordanhill (whither it had been moved from Govan after the demolition of the medieval church) bears elaborated panels of interlace ornament and a panel with a man on horseback. Another fragment bears on one side what has been described as ''a blundered representation'' of an interesting scene in the iconography of the early church, Saints Paul and Anthony breaking bread in the desert.
The better-preserved of the two upright crosses is of the 10th century AD and bears a cross filled with interlace above a panel depicting a horseman with a spear; on the reverse, there is a boss from which emerge four serpents above a panel of interlace. The other upright cross is now broken, but a fragment with a man on horseback remains.
Finally, there is a large group of recumbent cross-slabs or grave-markers, all bearing a central cross surrounded by interlace ornament.
E Williamson, A Riches and M Higgs 1990.
NS 5534 6590. A geophysical survey was carried out by GUARD prior to the excavation to identify the location of the earlier churches suggested by the presence in the church of several early carved stones. Hovever the results proved inconclusive due to the large number of monuments present in the churchyard and the 18th and 19th-century burial activity. They were not used as an aid in positioning of the trial trenches.
Seven trial trenches were opened. spaced around the churchyard and immediately outside the churchyard wall. The primary aim of the trenches on the boundary was to recover evidence of the vallum, in the form of a bank and ditch. Secondarily it was hoped that occupational activity areas would fall inside the boundary. The third aim was to locate an earlier church.
Trenches A and B were situated offset on either side of the southern boundary of the churchyard. A ditch was excavated which reached a depth of 1.6m below the level of the natural sands and clays and which had two recuts. Slight evidence of an internal bank was found on both sides of the present boundary wall and fence. Very few artefacts were recovered from the ditch: medieval pottery was present in the upper fills of the final recut. A few roughly worked shale fragments were recovered from the primary fill. Trench B, inside the churchyard, produced evidence of successive periods of burning and a stone hearth. Fragments of worked shale, including a roughout for a finger ring, large chunks of charcoal, fragments of burnt bone, cinder and small amounts of iron slag, were recovered from the burnt layers. Although no definite structural evidence was found in the small area excavated, it seems likely that some sort of workshop existed in the area. Four graves had been cut into these layers. Only one was definitely post-medieval and the three other, highly decayed skeletons are probably medieval. Overall it appeared that disturbance from burials became more severe about 3.5m from the fence. Considerable evidence of a succession of fences and walls in the immediate area of the present wall and over the original bank was recovered. These hindered interpretation,
Trench C was located close to the SE corner of the church and beneath the line of a path which has existed since at least the 18th century. Evidence for two stone structures, built one over the other was recovered. The earlier one was of more substantial construct and both were of drystone build. The later wall was insubstantial and little more than a drystone dyke. The earlier feature was much better built. Small boulders had been packed in a trench of indeterminate width. The top of the boulders had been tightly packed with small stones to create a firm, even surface, No mortar was used. It was oriented on the same line as the existing S wall of the church. The absence of mortar and the estimate that the ground surface at the time of construction was some 1m below the present ground level suggests an early date, perhaps 10th or 11th century. The deposits were slightly disturbed by three modern burials, one of which was of an infant. No artefacts were recovered to give a more certain date. A later robbed out construction trench may relate to the Medieval church demolished in 1762.
Trenches D, E and F were situated along the northern boundary of the churchyard. Trench D was located adjacent to the N wall inside the churchyard and within a Victorian burial lair. The Victorian burials had effectively destroyed any archaeology and only a small fragment of old ground surface remained undisturbed. Very good evidence for mid-19th-century burial furnishings were discovered. Trenches E and F were located N of the wall between the churchyard and the River Clyde on the site of the demolished Harland and Wolff shipyard, They were machine dug, because of modern ripping and demolition debris. No evidence of a ditch, or any Medieval activity in this area was eodent.
Trench G was located in the SE corner of the churchyard at the suspected location of an earlier gate. however deep deposits of 19th-century rubbish were encountered which prevented this trench from being excavated to earlier levels.
Sponsor: City of Glasgow District Council
S T Driscoll and I S Cullen 1994; MS/725/70.
In 1997, three trenches were excavated within the burial-ground for the Channel 4 Television ''Time Team'' series:
Trench 1 (NS c. 5535 6588) revealed the foundation debris of successive post-medieval churches, the remains of one or more burials of comparatively recent date, pottery (some of it from the 14th century), and unmortared stone walls of uncertain context.
Trench 2 (NS 554 658) was comparatively large (14m long by 3m deep) and was dug outside the burial-ground (to the E) in an (abortive) attempt to find evidence beneath modern industrial debris for a ceremonial way between the church and the possible motte or moot hill of Doomster Hill (NS56NE 18).
Trench 3 (NS c. 5538 6582) aimed the investigate the ''pointed'' (SE) end of the burial-ground in a search for an entrance-way from the direction of Doomster Hill. Tip-lines and a layer of stone and gravel (possibly a path) were revealed as well as a ''substantial assemblage of pottery shards''.
T Taylor and M Aston 1997.
NS 554 658 In February 1996 a series of trial trenches were excavated to the E of the churchyard of Govan Old Parish Church. This was the second in a series of investigations at Govan, the first having been conducted in 1994. Most of the area examined is waste ground, used for parking and a weekly market; the remainder is occupied by temporary dwellings, which limited the choice of location for some of the trenches. Foundations for a plating shed and cranes were known to exist in the area, dating to the site''s most recent use as a shipyard. Prior to the construction of the shipyard at the turn of the century, the areas to be investigated fell within the grounds of the manse (immediately adjacent to the E boundary of the churchyard).
The excavations were intended to evaluate the surviving archaeological deposits by targeting specific structures, which resulted in the location of the five trenches.
Trench 1 - Churchyard boundary. This was located immediately E of the present E boundary wall of the churchyard. The aim was to establish the eastern extent of the churchyard by locating the boundary ditch or vallum, which had been located and excavated just outside the S boundary in 1994.
A massive ditch was discovered running close to the modern churchyard wall which was of a scale similar to that interpreted as the vallum ditch in the 1994 trench. It was investigated in detail in two places, though the orientations and profiles did not correspond. This suggests that they relate to different configurations of the churchyard. Both ditch sections showed signs of frequent recuts. The deepest fill of the earliest ditch produced a perforated shale disc. Shale working debris was also found in the primary deposits of the 1994 ditch. These ditches are almost certainly of early medieval date.
Outside of the ditch traces of a drystone structure were discovered built over part of the infilled ditch. They probably represent the footings for a shed or slight building, perhaps of post-medieval date.
Trench 2 - The manse site. A series of machine-dug trenches were opened in the area occupied by the former manse, which was demolished in the later 19th century and may have been composed of elements dating to the Middle Ages. Extensive trenching revealed no traces of any structure, no indications of demolition having taken place, nor even traces of soil horizons above the natural gravel. It seems likely that the manse stood on a slight hillock which was levelled when the shipyard was built, removing all trace of the building.
Trench 3 - Water Row West. This trench was opened to investigate the survival of archaeological deposits in the area of the street frontage extending into the backlands. No trace of any early activity survived the development of the site as a shipyard.
Trench 4 - Doomster Hill. A machine-excavated trench was opened in several stages in the vicinity of the site of the Doomster Hill, as represented on early maps. Documentary research established that not only a shipyard, but also a tenement block had subsequently occupied part of the site. As a consequence over 2m of made ground had to be removed before medieval levels were encountered. The only surviving medieval feature was a small portion of what appeared to have been a massive ditch, the fill of which produced late medieval pottery. This is believed to represent the quarry ditch for the Doomster Hill which stood open until the early 19th century.
Trench 5 - Water Row East. This trench was dug along the E frontage to see whether pre-industrial remains had survived on the E side of Water Row. A substantial wall founded on sandstone blocks was revealed, which seems most likely to have been associated with the shipyard. No traces of earlier structures were noted here.
In June 1996 a third season of trial trenching was undertaken, on this occasion co-ordinated with the production of the ''Time Team'' television programme. The excavations sought to clarify various issues which had been raised by the two previous phases of investigation. Four areas were targeted for further work: the putative early church discovered at the SE corner of the extant church (Trench C); the SE corner of the churchyard (Trench G), where an early entrance was expected to exist; the W extent of the churchyard interior (Trench H) which had not previously been investigated; and the Doomster Hill site at Water Row.
Trench C. The 1994 trench was re-excavated and extended to the E (closer to the church) and to the N principally in order to re-examine the massive drystone foundations exposed in the original excavation. As expected a number of Early Modern (18th/19th century) graves were encountered. Only two grave plots were excavated; others were identified and avoided. Nevertheless, portions of seven Early Modern burials were examined and produced the expected range of coffin fittings. One of the burials contained two individuals, perhaps a mother and child interment.
Apart from the burials the main modern feature revealed was a massive robber trench running E-W, some 1.5m deep, probably representing the 19th-century demolition of the medieval church.
A high-medieval phase of burial was represented by a single grave which contained a substantial portion of a 15th-century face-mask jug and was cut into the foundations of what are thought to be part of an early church.
The foundations of this church consisted of large boulders set into a trench, which perhaps supported a timber-built structure. These foundations, which appear to represent the SW corner of the structure, were massive, being cut over 0.5m into the natural sand. The W edge of the foundation trench was located in the 1996 trench, adding to the evidence for the S edge discovered in 1994; but the full width of the structure was not ascertained. The precise orientation of the building remains in some doubt, although there can be little question that it is aligned E-W.
The earliest features in this trench were two burials discovered under the foundations. Only portions of the burials, in dug graves with no coffins, were exposed, though they were clearly oriented E-W. The dating of these bones is awaited.
Trench G. This trench was located in the SE extremity of the churchyard where the curving walls come to a slight point. It was thought that this might indicate the location of an entrance which pre-dated the 19th-century reorganisation of the churchyard. The 1994 trench was reopened and the excavation extended by machine towards the E and the N.
The whole area was covered by a deep layer of topsoil (0.4m), into which a number of modern rubbish pits had been dug. At a depth of c 1m a hard, compacted, gravel surface was exposed which was c 2.5m wide and 0.3m thick. This surface rose to a crown with vestigial drainage channels present on both sides.
A section through the road surface revealed that it was composed of layers of clay and gravel. Some of this material overlay deposits of charcoal, which may provide a date for one phase of repair to the road. Below the road surface were in situ remains of a masonry structure. This may represent part of a gatehouse or other entrance but too little was exposed to allow any firm interpretation. The gravel road appears to have been on the same alignment as Pearce Lane (formerly Manse Lane), which may have been the original approach to the church.
Trench H. This trench (3 x 2m in extent) was located along the interior of the W perimeter of the churchyard, an area not
previously investigated. The intention was to determine the nature and condition of any surviving archaeological deposits. The initial levels proved to be quite disturbed.
At a depth of approximately 1m the root damage became less noticeable and evidence for archaeological activity was apparent. This consisted of substantial deposits of charcoal and scorched earth, which indicate that intense fires had been repeatedly built in the area. This evidence was similar in character to the deposits excavated in Trench C in 1994, where the presence of fragments of worked shale led to the burning being interpreted as evidence for a workshop. In Trench H no shale fragments were found, thus the evidence here may simply represent a domestic hearth.
Doomster Hill, Water Row. Initially a trench 12 x 7m was excavated by machine under archaeological supervision, though this was subsequently reduced in area. The material removed from the top 2m included mixed layers of building rubble, concrete, ash, coal and gravel. This material, which derived from the shipyard and 19th-century tenements, overlay a level of soft brown soil, into which several pits had been dug. These pits relate to the industrial use of the area, perhaps in the period when it was a dyeworks.
The brown soil was recognised (from the February 1996 investigations) as ditch fill and produced quantities of post-medieval and medieval pottery. The edge of the ditch was clearly discerned. Unfortunately, despite the scale of the trench, the full width of the ditch was found to extend beyond the trench edges, the best estimate being 8-10m wide, and originally c 2-3m deep with a broad flat base.
It is thought that this ditch represents the quarry from which the Doomster Hill was constructed. Most of the material within the ditch fill appears to have been placed there in a single event, around the 16th century to judge from the pottery recovered from the fill. The uniformity of the infill and the richness of the soil utilised suggests that backfilling was undertaken to expand the gardens in the backlands of the dwellings on Govan Road and Water Row, though this is far from certain. What is clear is that the scale of the Doomster Hill has not been exaggerated by 18th and 19th-century representations and accounts.
Sponsor: City of Glasgow Planning Department.
S T Driscoll and B Will 1996
A survey of the early modern graveyard monuments of Govan Parish Church was carried out by C Cutmore in 1995.
Other Materials: 8