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The Govan Cross at Jordanhill and at Govan


Alan D. Macquarrie, M.A., Ph.D.

[ Plate 1 ]
The shaft of the Govan Cross. a) face with rider; b) reverse face ( Photograph courtesy of Tom E. Gray )

The Govan group of carved stones contains a number of standing crosses and cross-slabs; no other site in Strathclyde of this period has so many[1]. The finest of these is known as the "Jordanhill" Cross because it spent so much time in the grounds of Jordanhill House during the last century.

Conflicting accounts exist of its removal from Govan to Jordanhill. Stuart, who saw it at Jordanhill and illustrated it in 1856, wrote that "it was dug out of the old church at Govan, at the time when the ancient fabric was pulled down" in 1762, and transferred at that time to Jordanhill[2]. On the other hand, it was stated in 1928 that it had been given to the laird of Jordanhill ( Mr. James Smith ) "about 100 years ago" as a reward for his help as one of the heritors of Govan in the erection of the new parish kirk in 1826[3].

Its return to Govan is better recorded. The Jordanhill estate was acquired by the Education Authority of Glasgow Corporation in 1911 for the re-housing of its teacher training college[4], and at this time, or soon after, the stone was removed to the Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum of Kelvingrove for storage. In the autumn of 1928, the stone was deposited by the Corporation in Govan Kirk, and erected in one of the arches beside the chancel. Finally, in 1965, it was moved into the transept to its present position[5].

When the cross-shaft came back to Govan in 1928, it was not accompanied by a base or socket-stone. I was concerned to know whether it had had a base at the time of its removal to Jordanhill, which had possibly been abandoned at Jordanhill ( as, for example, has the socket-stone of the Barochan Cross, now left isolated on a hillside near Houston while the cross itself has been moved into Paisley Abbey for shelter )[6]. But the cross's location at Jordanhill was unknown.

Jordanhill House, demolished in 1960-61, was a fine three-storey late Georgian mansion house. It stood on the very top of Jordanhill, on the site of the present Crawfurd Building. Parts of the layout of the Jordanhill Estate buildings and grounds are still visible around the Crawfurd Building: behind it to the west is the southern half of a sunken garden ( the northern part has been built over with the Crawfurd Theatre ); in front of it to the east is a lawn sloping down to a small fish-pond; beyond the pond was a large walled garden, now partly built over with the Smith Building and partly forming the Smith Building car park; parts of the high brick walls and some of the glasshouses of the walled garden are still visible behind the Smith Building.

[ Plate 2 ]
The cross-shaft in the garden of Jordanhill House

There is no visible indication remaining to show where the Govan Cross was erected at Jordanhill. However, a photograph album of black-and-white prints of Jordanhill House, now in the Parker Smith Collection in Glasgow City Archives ( copies of the prints are also kept in the Jordanhill Library )[7], reveals its location: it stood in the sunken garden behind the house, just a few yards in front of the west door. Its approximate position is now occupied by a large yellow plastic dustbin, within the remains of the sunken garden behind the Crawfurd Building. Another monument which used to stand in the same garden, a slender stone pillar about five metres in height, has been removed to the car park beside the student residences to the west of the main buildings at Jordanhill.

The photograph which shows the cross's position in the sunken garden does not show any trace of an original socket-stone or base. Rather, the shaft appears to have been erected on the low stone wall of a raised flowerbed. So one question has been answered: there was no original stone base left behind at Jordanhill when the cross was taken to Kelvingrove and thence back to Govan.

The photograph is reproduced here ( Plate 2 ). However, much the Friends of Govan Old will rejoice at the return of one of their ancient crosses to its rightful home in Govan, everyone must regret the demolition of Jordanhill House, one of Glasgow's many handsome Georgian mansion houses, most of which have disappeared.

There is interest in seeing how the Parker Smiths chose to display their antiquarian possession as a garden ornament. This does not help, of course, in determining the cross's location at Govan. However, parallels can be made with other "Celtic" churches which had collections of standing crosses. At Iona, the three standing crosses which are in situ stood close together to the west the monastery church. At Clonmacnoise, three crosses stood close together to the north, west and south of the cathedral church whose entrance was in the west wall. At Castledermot, an Irish Céli Dé house possibly of similar date to Govan, three or more crosses and a hogback stone stood in a wide arc round the north, west and south sides of the church and round tower. At Glasgow, Govan's nearest neighbour, Joscelin of Furness recorded seeing c.1180 a great monolithic cross in the cemetery, which the faithful passed on their way into church[8]

Perhaps we should guess that the standing crosses in the enclosure at Govan stood near the kirk, and were visible to the congregation as they moved from the entrance of the enclosure towards the kirk at its centre. The excavations at Govan in the summer of 1996 have uncovered the roadway at the entrance to the enclosure in the south-east corner, and have indicated that the church itself probably stood in the centre, near the south end of the present building[9]. If we assume that the early church at Govan had a public entrance in the south wall, like its successors[10], and like the Romanesque church at Old Kilpatrick[11], we might imagine that the roadway ran from the south-east corner of the enclosure to the south door of the church at its centre. The "Jordanhill Cross", "Cuddy Stane", "Sun Stone" and the nameless cross, which at the time of writing is displayed upside-down, could be pictured forming a loose group in a wide arc to the west, south and east of the church.

None of the Govan crosses is complete, and the shape of their heads is probably now conjectural. The tenon on top of the "Sun Stone" is too shallow to have secured a big cross-head in place, and, more likely held some kind of decorative finial. It has been suggested that the "Cuddy Stane" could likewise have been a cross-slab, but its breadth, 0.38m, is more consistent with its being the shaft of a free-armed cross. An incised cross on one face is not evidence to the contrary; there is a cross on the lowest panel on one face of the Arthurlie Cross, which definitely had a cross-head[12]. Vestigial traces at the tops of the shafts of the Arthurlie, Inchinnan and Lochwinnoch crosses show that these, like Barochan and Kilwinning, were ring-headed crosses. There is no reason to doubt that the "Jordanhill Cross" was similarly ring-headed. Enough of its shoulders and neck survives to show that on the face with the horseman it had a cross-head knot similar to, but not identical with, that on the Barochan Cross. A similar knot, executed on a recumbent slab, is to be seen on Govan ECMS no. 7, which might be regarded as a trial-piece for a cross-head[13]. The sculptor who executed the replica beside the modern kirkyard entrance onto Govan Road was definitely working along the right lines, although the examples at Barochan, Lochwinnoch and Kilwinning suggest that the ring may have been unpierced.

These crosses, placed in highly visible positions around the enclosure, would have presented a powerful message to the faithful as they approached the church. Partly this was a message of sanctity and Christian symbolism. But it was also a message of prestige, wealth and patronage. The standing crosses, like the hogback and recumbent grave markers, indicate that ancient Govan was a high-status kirk and burial ground, a major religious focal point for a wide area round about.


  1. I. Fisher, "The Govan cross-shafts and early cross slabs", in A. Ritchie, ed., "Govan and its Early Mediaeval Sculpture" ( Stroud, 1994 ), pp.47-53, at 47. If, as I suspect, the "Mountblow" cross came originally from Kilpatrick, then there must once have been a group of at least two crosses there.
  2. J. Stuart, "The Sculptured Stones of Scotland" ( Spalding Club, 1856 ), p.43; quoted in T. A. Davidson Kelly, "The Govan Collection in the context of local history", in Ritchie, "Govan", pp.1-17 at 15.
  3. "Govan Parish Magazine", October 1928, quoted in ibid. 15
  4. The process of converting Jordanhill Estate to a teacher training college was a long one. The site was acquired in 1911 and building work commenced two years later; but the Great War intervened, and teacher training at Jordanhill did not commence until 1921. Cf. M. M. Harrison and W. B. Marker, "Teaching the teachers: the history of Jordanhill College of Education 1828-1993" ( Edinburgh, 1996 )
  5. Davidson Kelly, op. cit. pp.15-16
  6. The abandonment of the base of Barochan Cross, an integral part of that monument, is inexplicable. The cross stood originally in a field beside Barochan Mill; the ruins of the mill are still visible behind a row of cottages on the B789 Houston to Langbank Road ( NS404698), but the original position of the cross cannot be traced.
  7. Information supplied by Mrs Harrison, Jordanhill Librarian.
  8. "Vita Kentigerni", cap. xli.
  9. S. T. Driscoll and R. S. Will, "Govan Old Parish Church and Water Row" ( GUARD, Glasgow 1997 ), pp.5-16
  10. H. R. Sefton, "Master Hugh Binning, 1627-1653", in "Society of the Friends of Govan Old, Fifth Annual Report" ( 1995 ), pp.15-24, at 16.
  11. J. Bruce, "History of the Parish of West or Old Kilpatrick" ( Glasgow, 1893; reprinted 1994 ), facing p.104
  12. J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, "The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland ( ECMS )", ( Edinburgh, 1903 ) iii, pp.454-5
  13. Illustrated in ECMS, iii, facing p.466; Ritchie, "Govan", p.55
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