‘Govan Young and Old: Towards a Sustainable Future’

Published on: Author: Megan Leave a comment

On 6 December 2016, the Centre welcomed Dr. Stephen Driscoll (University of Glasgow) and Dr. David Archibald (University of Glasgow Film & TV Studies) to discuss ‘Govan Old: towards a Sustainable Future’ and to present the short film Govan Young. Stephen began by saying that this lecture was meant to stimulate discussion on what constitutes sustainability and how we as academics use scholarship to elicit thought and action.


Govan had two periods of greatness, in kingdom of Strathclyde during the 10th and 11th century and as a naval engineering powerhouse in the 19th and 20th century. While most who are acquainted with the history of Govan are aware of its importance in shipbuilding, many are not aware of the status of Govan during the Viking Age.

The initial push to protect Govan Old and its sculptured stones was made in the early 1990s by Minister Tom Davidson Kelly. Although it took a while for the importance of the site to capture the imagination of the public, it was enough to save the church in 2007 when the Church of Scotland was about to downsize. This genuine community interest has inspired others to do things, including Dr. David Archibald, who worked with Connelly/Clark films to create the documentary, Govan Young. Archibald said that he had lived in Govan for 30 years and was not aware of what lay below his own feet.

The documentary focuses on the Pirie Park Primary Year 4 students and follows their journey as they learn more about Govan’s past. The students were introduced the the early medieval sculpture, the history of the site, and interacted with some of the members of GalGael. Through the interviews with the children before and after their experience, one can clearly see that the children become proud of Govan and their heritage.

Following the presentation of the film, Steve discussed how the Govan Trust has been working to embrace the existing cultural resource. The building is a cultural hub that holds importance for the people that still worship there, those who study and appreciate the sculpture and the archaeological resources that lie below, and those in spiritual leadership that have connections with Iona. Govan Workspace and Weaving Truth with Trust have been incredibly supportive of the site. Since 2012, the presentation of the sculpture has been improved and museum attendance has increased from 2,000 to 10,000 visitors per year. A pathway leading from the ferry to the Govan churchyard has been recently constructed to make better use of Govan Old’s greenspace. In the future, Steve hopes that there might be a new Govan school that produces contemporary art based on the Govan tradition. My own PhD project seeks to create digital models of the sculpture, not only for academic research, but to also attract wider audiences to the site. He said that the Govan collection of sculpture is more accessible than other Scottish centres of early medieval sculpture, so there is a real opportunity here.

The trailer for the documentary can be found here. The film will make appearances at several film festivals.

For those who are interested in the preliminary 3D model of one of the hogbacks cited in Steve’s talk, the link for the model can be found here:

Link: https://skfb.ly/TGFw
Password: hogback

Caution: It is a very large model (I will upload a less detailed model in the new year!), so it may take some time to load.

Summary by Megan Kasten (PhD Researcher)

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