Like many major cities, Glasgow has grown by incorporating surrounding towns and villages. Govan was a separate burgh until 1912 – it once had a population of 60,000 when shipbuilding on the Clyde was at its height. Now it is more like 16,000, and is a sadly rundown district of decaying historic buildings and boarded up shops. In the 19th century it was dominated by the Elder family – they lived across the river in Glasgow, but John Elder (1824-1869) was boss of the Fairfield Shipyard in Govan employing 4,000 men. He was known for good worker relations and, after his untimely death, his widow Isabella (1828-1905) carried on his good works. In Govan itself, she provided a park, a library and a hospital and in Glasgow she contributed to the University, including providing a property for the fledgling Queen Margaret College for the education of women. Today’s millionaires, including the shower in the UK cabinet, could learn a lot from such Victorian philanthropists.
Govan is only a few stops on the Subway from us, so yesterday we went over to have a look at Isabella’s legacy. On the way to Elder Park, we passed the Aitken Memorial Fountain, the Pearce Institute and the old Fairfield Shipyard itself.
Although funded by Isabella, Elder Park Library was opened by Andrew Carnegie in 1903 – he later funded several others in Glasgow himself. We could only visit the outside as it was closed for the Easter Weekend.
Elder Park has statues to both John (erected 1888) and Isabella (erected 1906).
Other features of the park include two memorials to shipping disasters, the K13 submarine which sank during trials on the Gareloch in 1917 and the SS Daphne which capsized during her launch in 1883; “The Launch” by George Wylie, a sculpture of the bow of a ship complete with champagne bottle; and the portico of the former mansion-house of the Linthouse Estate.
We used Glasgow City Council’s Elder Park Heritage Trail – if visiting Glasgow, check out the council’s excellent page of this and similar trails. They are usually well illustrated and packed full of historical information – highly recommended.