Govan Fair set fair to continue
February 4, 2015 by Grace Franklin
A Thames tidal wave of enthusiasm gave the current Govan Fair organisers a flotilla of good ideas to improve the stability of the annual event.
Adrian Evans, Director of Totally Thames, a Festival spanning the length of that great river which flows through the heart of London, was guest speaker at a seminar on the Govan Fair’s future this week. He outlined the ebb and flow of events which led to Totally Thames. His inspiration was the exceptional artist George Wyllie. ‘He brought this huge origami boat and floated it down the Thames in the 1990s,’ said Adrian. ‘That made a big impression on me. It was immense. It was amusing and made me realise Govan – where he came from – was a special place.’
The festival he has developed from nothing on the Thames now has many very good working partnerships with businesses along the length of the river. His organisation is responsible for around 25% of the events while the others arise locally and are included in the Totally Thames programme. He urged the Govan Fair organisers to: ‘Look for the opportunities. Pursue them aggressively and celebrate the fantastic and unique history you have.’
Architect Andy McAvoy left Govan at the age of five but admitted he’d been ‘infected by the Spirit of the Place’ on his return in recent years and acknowledged George Wyllie had been an inspiration, too.
Andy has spent at least three years researching the buried history of Govan. ‘It was a gathering place. It was the confluence of two rivers – the Kelvin and the Clyde. So people could wade across from North to South and from East to West at low tide. The Weavers would taunt their Deacon to come out of the Water Row Inn in an annual ritual to take up his post. That led to the ‘Ghost of Water Row’ an art work in light set on the site where that inn had been.’
Andy’s research showed that a Fair predated the procession which is almost the only current activity. ‘There was commerce and interaction of people. There was a horse fair and a labour fair. Where commerce was, people gathered. But ship building caused a massive re-writing of the landscape. That’s when Lady Elder stepped in with Elder Park to have a green space protected for people.’
The Govan Fair has probably been in existence since well before 1756 when there is some documentary evidence to show it flourished. Andy outlined the various ups and downs of the Fair and said that Lord James Stringfellow, Govan Fair Chairman who chaired the seminar and Liz Gardiner of Fablevision who introduced all the speakers, were issuing a call to arms to bring in new energy to develop the Fair in a way that could be sustained and would grow the event.
The fair at present is mostly an annual parade on the first Friday of June with shows being set up last year because of Lord James’s show family connections. Other entertainments and attractions are being considered to encourage more local community participation.
The ‘incredible history’ of Govan and its Fair was supported by Graham Jeffery of the University of the West of Scotland and Director of the Creative Futures Institute and Dr Alan Leslie of Northlight Heritage concerned with archaeological excavations.
They referred to a bus from Gdansk with local people aboard tell the local history of their shipyards and city to visitors. This idea had been successfully adapted for Govan and could be again. And the site of Doomster Hill – currently under a car park – should be reclaimed as an ancient place of justice and important meetings.
The seminar was held in the Board Room of the re-furbished Fairfield Offices on Govan Road by courtesy of Govan Workspace.
It was followed by a walking tour of Govan which included the Old Kirk, the Pearce Institute, Doomster Hill and Water Row, the derelict Govan Graving Docks and the vibrant Film City which was once Govan Town Hall.