The Govan Fair (Origins and history)
Written by Sarah Pospisil
The Govan Fair in its present form dates back to 1757 and throughout recorded history, the Fair has been rooted in the industry of the time. Beginning as an agricultural fair in Govan’s rural stages, it was the responsibility of the Govan Weavers when Govan boasted a thriving textile
It’s most recent key drivers were the shipping magnates and ancillary industries when Govan was the heart of shipbuilding on the Clyde. This era was the Govan Fair in its’ hey day as investment and resources built its profile and thousands flocked to enjoy the fairground rides, faux crowning
of the queen and the procession of floats through the town that went on for hours and hours.
The decline of shipbuilding was mirrored by the decline of this ancient pageant until, in 2013, the only businesses left as the keepers of the flame were the local hairdressing salon (Dot’s Spot) and a local Showman’s business, the Fairground Community Group.
In spite of its declaration of politics and agenda free operations for the Govan Fair, it is clear from researching the history that the Govan Fair has been riven with controversy, power struggles and schisms over the centuries.
Probably the most ancient and celebrated schism was that between the Govan Fair Association and the Church.
The legend goes that in the 18th Century, the minister, on being approached by a local lad for his daughters hand in marriage, refused the young suitor as not good enough for his daughter. The young man and his friends then chopped the heads from the bodies of the ministers flock of sheep and carried the severed head of the biggest ram through the streets of Govan on a pole. This act and its annual re enactment led to a division between the Govan Fair and the Churches/religious communities locally.
We are delighted to announce in 2015 that this old wound is finally formally and symbolically healed.
Recent committee meetings of the Association have taken place in St Anthony’s Church on Govan Road (thanks to Father Peter) and have opened with a blessing from the Reverend Dr Moyna McGlynn.
This new relationship is welcomed and the GFA wishes the church to know that whilst we are together in spirit, it won’t stop us cocking a cheeky snook at the church in our traditional manner!
Another ancient schism was in the late 19th Century when the Govan Weavers (who revived the fair in its current form in 1787) were somehow snubbed by the incoming organisers of the Fair who numbered shipping magnates, academics and planners amongst their organising committee. We haven’t been able to establish exactly what happened or why, but the Govan Weavers (who always had their annual dinner on the night of the Fair procession) suddenly stopped supporting the Fair. They started to hold their dinner at exactly the same time as the crowning of the queen and the annual pageant. Minutes of the Govan Weavers meetings demonstrate their feelings when, solicited for support by the GFA organising committee, they decide that they will offer to help “as long as there is no financial implication for the Weavers”.
We are delighted that in recent years, whatever caused the schism in the first place (that no one can remember anyway!!) has finally formally and officially been healed and the Dean of the Weavers now presents a bouquet to the new Queen. This new relationship is also very welcome but again, the GFA wishes the Govan Weavers to know that it won’t stop us cocking a cheeky snook at the Weavers in our traditional manner!
The biggest falling out in the last 100 years was that of 1912 when Govan was subsumed by Glasgow – losing its independent status and becoming a burgh of Glasgow City Council. The Govan Fair has been working on that one for the last century and the symbolic appointment of your wonderful Lord Provost Sadie Doherty as patron of the Govan Fair sets a seal on that ancient rift – opening up all sorts of new opportunities for joint working and mutual support to and from the City of Glasgow and the Govan Fair.
This new relationship is MOST welcome The GFA needs the support of GCC and GCC can benefit hugely from a thriving Govan Fair. However, the GFA needs Glasgow City Council officers, councillors and all who sail in her to remember that we will never stop cocking a cheeky snook. We can’t help it… it’s our raison d’etre. We have royalty! Our Govan Fair Queen and her entourage for opening fetes and generally being regal cannot by matched by anything Glasgow has to offer. And anyway…our Chain of Office is bigger, brighter, shinier and altogether in a different class from your Lord Provost’s because well…. for a start, it’s all pretend and absolutely must NOT be taken seriously!
A more recent falling out was in the early part of this century when the Fair (struggling to survive without the support of the big ship yards and their ancillary industries) was riven with anti social behaviour. The Fairgrounds were banned from Elder Park with Police blaming the GFA organisers and the GFA organisers blaming the Police.
We are delighted to report that thanks to some intensive relationship building and joint stewarding training from 2013 onwards, the rift between the Police and the GFA is well and truly healed with both parties supporting, sharing and working in partnership in various aspects of what we see as a joint responsibility to combat crime and anti social behaviour in the G51 area. This new relationship is welcomed but again, we need to let you all know in Police Scotland, we won’t be swayed from cocking a cheeky snook at you in our traditional manner!