November 2012 marked the centenary of Govan being incorporated into Glasgow, although it is doubtful if you had seen many in Govan celebrating this 100th anniversary with many people still defiantly proclaiming to be Govanites first and Glaswegians second. In 1912 the Govan Burgh Commissioners did not go down without a fight in what was the ultimate battle out of many with Glasgow know as the "Annexation Battles".
Birth Of A Burgh
Iron Shipbuilding had first arrived in Govan in the late 1830s in the years that followed the shipyards and related industries would expanded so rapidly that by 1864 the population had more than doubled to 9,020. The population increase was creating problems of overcrowding and Govan was considered one of the dirtiest and unhealthiest areas in Scotland. It was clear that some level of municipal administration was needed. In 1864 some prominent Govanites sent a petition to the Sheriff of Lanarkshire asking for Govan to be given the rights of a Burgh, after the required process the request was granted, and on the 6th June 1864 twelve Commissioners were elected for the purpose of carrying out the conditions of the 'General Police (Scotland) Act 1862' which gave them control of policing, cleansing, roads, water, sewage and more.
Over the next 40 years Govan Burgh was to develop at a great rate and by 1901 with a population of around 82,000 was the seventh largest town in Scotland. The burgh now stretched from the Paisley Road Toll in the East to Moss Road in the West and from the banks of the Clyde in the North to the Glasgow & Paisley Joint Railway in the South, in 1864 there was about 1 mile distance between Govan and Glasgow with small country estates between them, however by 1901 Govan and Glasgow were now touching each other at the Paisley Road Toll.
Over the years the provosts and their commissioners did a sufficient job of improving the lives of Govan's inhabitants by building a functioning and successful town with many amenities, including; schools, fire brigade, police force, public baths and bowling greens, however the population was still increasing and people were still living in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions.
Beady Eyes On Govan
The Good Ship Govan had not long set sail when we get indications that Glasgow has its beady eyes on the Burgh. The Lord Provost of Glasgow at the time had made it clear that Glasgow planned to extend its boundaries. This became more apparent in 1868 with the introduction of the 'Representation of the People (Scotland) Bill'. However the commissioners of the Govan Burgh were vigilant and one in particular John Hinshelwood brought to the attention of the commissioners 'Clause 9' of the bill which aimed to include Govan and Partick within the parliamentary constituency of Glasgow. Both Govan and Partick sent similar petitions to the M.P. of Lanarkshire and also sent representatives to the House of Commons to oppose the dreaded 'Clause 9' at every turn. After a lengthy battle 'Clause 9' was rejected as a result Govan and Partick remained within the Lanarkshire constituency. Although this attempt by Glasgow to annexe Govan concerned political boundaries and did not affect the Burgh status of Govan, it was the first sign of the relentless battles with Glasgow that was to come. Local poet John Murray writes about Glasgow intentions in the following extract of his poem titled "Free Water for Govan":
- 'Oor great big sister's in a mess.
- Her population's getting less.
- If I read richt in the public press
- She's getting mixed
- And on oor burgh naething less
- Her e'e is fixed.'
The Govan commissioners had barely enough time to pat each other on the back in celebration of their defeat of 'Clause 9' when in 1870 Glasgow was at it again. That year Glasgow promoted the 'Glasgow Municipal Extension Bill' in Parliament to annexe the burghs of Govan, Partick, Hillhead and Maryhill. Glasgow already consisted of 7 square miles and their plans to add another 14 square miles at the expense of these burghs were considered too unreasonable and extreme resulting in the bill being defeated in the House of Commons at the second reading. Kinning Park who had also opposed the 1870 Bill were anxious at the thought of being annexed to Glasgow and in a move to further protect its independence, also adopted the 'General Police (Scotland) Act 1862' becoming Kinning Park Burgh in 1871.
For the next 12 years Govan a worthy opponent was left alone by Glasgow, however the Burgh did not rest easy as it closely watched Glasgow as it annexed some areas in 1872 including a part of Partick, further annexation attempts by Glasgow on other areas, once in 1875 and another in 1879 were again rejected by Parliament.
Between 1883 and 1885 Glasgow yet again tried to bring Govan within its boundaries, this time Glasgow were not as transparent as it had been in the past annexation attempts and used what were termed "conjuring tricks" in their latest attempts, firstly by inserting a Clause into the 'Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Act' which was unsuccessful and secondly by amendments to a Scottish Boundaries Commission Report related to 'The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885' this attempts was again rejected in the House of Commons. In fact Govan's position was further strengthened as a result of the Redistribution Act when it was made a parliamentary constituency itself, consisting of "that part of the parish of Govan which lies south of the Clyde beyond the boundary of the Municipal Burgh of Glasgow". Govan probably never felt so secure when it elected William Pearce as the first M.P. for Govan in 1885.
Glasgow was relentless in its bid to expand and in 1887 Glasgow resumed its attempts with a new Glasgow Boundaries Commission, the Govan Burgh Commissioners once more rallied to the cause with Commissioner John Marr leading the latest fight, he argued if Govan had become part of Glasgow at the time of the first annexation battles in 1870 that Govan's ratepayers would have been £100,000 worse off, however Govan faced a setback when the Burgh's Fourth Ward Plantation came out in favour of annexation.
The press of the day seemed bemused at the reluctance of Govan and Partick in becoming part of Glasgow and an article in 'The Scotsman on 7th February 1888' questions whether the local patriotism and spirit of Govan and Partick in fighting the annexation attempts are justified and cheekily questions the richness of Govan's and Partick's history by stating "It is not as if they had behind them fifteen or twenty generations of historical life recorded in venerable monuments" the article further goes on to say "The only thing antique about them [Govan and Partick] is their extreme dirtiness".
In May 1888 the Report of the Glasgow Boundaries Commission was published in favour of Glasgow's expansion plan and after a failed attempt was able to introduce the bill in Parliament, Govan would not give in easy and fought the bill at every turn throughout the years 1890 and 1891, these latest annexation battles resulted in Govan, Partick and Kinning Park again thwarting Glasgow's plan to annexe them, however Glasgow would not have felt much of a loss as it successfully annexed the burghs of Crosshill, Govanhill, Pollokshields East, Pollokshields, Hillhead and Maryhill and also the suburban areas of Polmadie, Mount Florida, Langside, Crossmyloof, Shawlands, Strathbungo, Bellahouston, Kelvinside, Possilpark, Springburn and Barnhill.
Glasgow was a burgh or two short of reclaiming the title "Second City Of The Empire" and Govan knew the fight was far from over and in that year commissioned the building of new municipal buildings. The ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone of the building in 1898 was attended by the Lord Provost Of Glasgow, David Richmond, a newspaper reports on good humoured jokes between Govan and Glasgow on the annexation issue that day, with the Provost Of Govan, James Kirkwood joking that "The next they met to discuss the annexation of Glasgow by Govan they would do it in the most friendly manner, and unless both parties were willing there would be no bargain". In 1901 the building of the grand Town Hall at Summertown Road defiantly facing Glasgow was completed. In this same year Govan itself had successfully extended its own boundaries by adding Linthouse and South Govan to the Burgh.
The Last Battle
In 1905 Kinning Park was annexed to Glasgow in this same year T.C.F. Brotchie writing in his book 'A History Of Govan' warns of an impending annexation battle stating "If that be so, there will be found a stronger and more united Govan than ever before. Keen though the former fights were, Glasgow will find that her opponent is prepared for a keener and more prolonged struggle than any of the former battles". The impending great battle Brotchie envisaged was to take place in 1912 when Glasgow submitted to Parliament another 'Glasgow Boundaries Bill' with aim of the annexation of Govan, Partick, Rutherglen and portions of the counties of Lanark, Renfrew and Dumbarton, including; Cardonald, Shieldhall, Yoker and Bishopbriggs who were among many in Glasgow's new ambitious expansion plan.
A House Of Commons Select Committee convened on the 16th April 1912 to examine the proposals of the Boundaries Bill and to hear evidence of those involved. Glasgow argued that when two urban populations such as Partick and Govan are so close to the centre of Glasgow it was desirable that they should be one municipality. They also stated that Govan's roads were in a poor state and would cost £53,000 to bring them up to Glasgow's standard. Glasgow also gave evidence that Govan was parasitical benefiting from Glasgow's amenities such as museums, parks, baths, washhouses, markets and libraries at Glasgow's expense and that Govan owed its wealth and prosperity to Glasgow. Govan argued that its wealth and prosperity was due to the dockyards and shipbuilding industry within the Govan Burgh. Evidence in Glasgow's favour was given by many including the ex Provost of Kinning Park who stated that the former Burgh was better off since annexation and a Govan Shopkeeper who was in favour of annexation.
On 3rd May 1912 counsel for Govan gave a speech in which he said that Glasgow had made many attempts to annexe Govan, all which were refused on the grounds that communities were not to be annexed against their will and that the Ward Committee in Govan had voted 15 to 5 against annexation. Govan Provost, David McKechnie gave evidence that he was strongly opposed to annexation and that Govan was one of the most well equipped burghs in Scotland. On cross examination it was stated by Glasgow counsel that the poorest in Govan would benefit greatly by Glasgow's differential rates and finished by turning Govan's argument against them by stating that "it was the assertion of the other counsel that it was the practice for Parliament to refuse the annexation of places were consent of the people had not been obtained......In any case the elections in Govan and Partick showed that the feeling was distinctly in favour of annexation".
On the 13th May 1912 after nineteen days of evidence the committee sanctioned the annexation of Govan, Partick and Pollockshaws and areas of Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Dumbartonshire. Amongst the survivors of Glasgow's 1912 expansion plan were Rutherglen, Burnside, Giffnock, Clarkston, Cardonald and Corkerhill.
On the 7th August 2012 the Glasgow Boundaries Bill was passed in the House Of Lords and on the 5th November 1912 the Bill came into action with Govan losing its Burgh status and being reconstituted as Glasgow Wards 27 (Plantation), 28 (Ibrox), 29 (Govan Central) and 30 (Fairfield). After changes in the 1920s Plantation became part of Ward 28 (Kinning Park), Ibrox became part of Ward 29 (Govan) and Ward 30 (Fairfield) remained much the same as it was. In 2007 in other shake up, all Wards were united under Ward 5 (Govan) which almost exactly follows the old Burgh boundaries with the addition of Shieldhall and parts of Kinning Park and Tradeston.
Over the years Govan had proved a worthy opponent, however just as the famous "unsinkable" R.M.S. Titanic went down in 1912 with a fatal blow from an iceberg, the unsinkable Good Ship Govan was also to go down that year with a fatal final blow from Glasgow.
On the 28th November 2012 an "Annexation of Govan Centenary Dinner" to commemerate the event was held in the Pearce Institute and was organised by The Govan Weaver's Society, it was attended by over 240 people including the deputy Lord Provost of Glasgow and Govan born entertainer and actor.
Sources & References
- "The History of Govan", T. C. F. Brotchie, 1905
- "Govan On The Clyde", P. Donnelly, 1994
- "Historic Govan", Dalglish & Driscoll, 2009
- "The Scotsman", 1864-1912
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