9 Little Known Facts About the History of Govanhill
Govanhill, is the most culturally diverse neighbourhood in Scotland, a recent social survey found that within 13 housing blocks there were 53 separate languages spoken. However statistics have shown that crime is falling at a slower rate than other parts of Scotland. Has Govanhill been neglected? Could it be said that the Southside of Glasgow had been abandoned for years and is only now showing signs of a rebirth after sufficient financial stimulation?
Here are a few historical facts about the cultural melting pot that is Govanhill.
Highlands and Lowlands
It’s hard to pinpoint just why Govanhill seems to be the landing pad for so many different cultures (many of whom were fleeing persecution) Italians, Pakistanis, Jewish and the Irish all migrated in their thousands, happy to settle for a time in Govanhill. However were you aware that the first culture who fled persecution to the safe bosom of Govanhill was actually Scots fleeing the Highland and Lowland Clearances? Forced out of their traditional roles as farmers and sheep herders. Highland and Lowland Scots found themselves moving centrally to seek out jobs in the developing urban centre of Glasgow.
Govanhill Baths Protest
Definitely the most famous baths in Scotland. In 2001 following a protest against the attempted closure of the 100+ year old Victorian landmark. Protesters made worldwide headlines and British history after the longest occupation of council property ever. For 140 days, demonstrators defied the might of both Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Police. Although eventually protesters lost the ensuing battle, following a police raid, but won the overall war. In 2015 Govanhill Baths secured £1 million pounds funding to restore the building to former glory by renovating its three swimming pools, steamie and turkish baths. Without the 2001 protesters the building would have faded into obscurity and been razed to the ground.
A Wee Poke
The very Glaswegian term term “a poke of chips” actually derives from the Italian saying “poco poco” which means a small amount. The term grew in popularity following the Italian Diaspora migrating from Italy and selling sweets, then ice cream and finally setting up chip shops. Think Nardini or Ginesi ice cream, famous the world over . Some of our most famous Scots are of Italian descent, (Paolo Nutini, Peter Capaldi etc.)
Between the years of 1870 and 1901 the population of Govanhill expanded from barely hundreds of people to an incredible 10,000 plus, mainly through an influx of Irish and Lithuanians as a result of the Irish Potato Famine and Lithuanians fleeing persecution from the Tsarist regime.
Age of Affluence
With Govanhill and the Southside currently undergoing the kind of regeneration that benefitted the city centre following the 1990 City of Culture celebration, it might be surprising to hear that the area was once home to one of the wealthiest men of Victorian Britain. William Dixon, a third generation ironworks owner (Dixon Blazes), and his family owned the entire Govanhill area (Hence the names Dixon Avenue and Dixon Hall.) Dixon Blazes was actually in operation until 1958 and at its peak employed more than 1000 people. Govanhill at the time was a highly sustained middle class/working class area.
Dixon Blazes was at one point the largest Ironworks in Scotland and was said to light the skies above Glasgow both day and night. (The nickname derives from the blaze of fire emanating from the huge ironworks.)
The recently closed Larkfield Garage, had actually been in constant use since 1929 and was the first purpose built bus garage in Glasgow. Prior to the construction of Larkfield Garage, Larkfield House, Butterbiggins House and Inglefield House, (three of the most well regarded families) were demolished to make way for the depot.
The late Bashir Ahmad, who emigrated from Pakistan to Govanhill in the 1950’s, following a plea from Glasgow Authorities. Made history after becoming the first Asian M.P to be elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007.
Queens Park at the tail end of Victoria Road, was developed as a result of the clamber for middle class housing in the late 19th century in Glasgow. The Glasgow Rulers of the 19th century began to make provisions following the population explosion of the 19th century. Developing parks and green space to be used by all. (The nickname Dear Green Place derives from this.) Queens Park took its name from Mary Queen of Scots, whom 300 odd years prior had lost the Battle of Langside not too far from Queens Park itself.