How Glasgow annexed Govan and Partick 100 years ago

Govan's coat of arms Govan lost its independence in 1912

Across the world, Glasgow is known for its shipbuilding.

But a century ago, the yards building Britain's mighty merchant navy were not in Glasgow at all.

They were in Govan and Partick - which at that time were independent burghs down river of the city centre.

But Glasgow had long-held ambitions to annex its neighbours and create a much larger city.

Several attempts dating back to the 1870s had failed in parliament, but by 1911 things were getting critical, and it sponsored the Glasgow Boundaries Bill before parliament.

The census that year revealed Glasgow's population was 784,496, larger than any city outside of London.

But Birmingham, which had a population of just 525,960 had recently incorporated the borough of Aston, to take its total to more than 800,000.

"The creation of a greater Glasgow would reclaim the proud position of Glasgow as the Second City of the Empire, which is in danger of being lost," said a report to the Lord Provost.

Economic sense

The city relied on economic arguments to strengthen its case before Westminster.

"If it had not been for the enterprise of the City in deepening the River Clyde at tremendous cost, there would have been neither shipbuilding yards nor docks for the population of Govan to be employed in," Glasgow's counsel told the parliamentary committee examining the bill.

A former Lord Provost of Glasgow, Dr Michael Kelly says amalgamation made economic sense.

"There were businessmen - entrepreneurs in the city of Glasgow," he said.

"And there were manufacturers outwith that, say in the shipyards for example, which would be in Govan.

"So it was very important to co-ordinate the supply of services plus the giving of planning permissions and the laying out of a broader plan, an industrial plan for the city. "

Colin Quigley Working class voted for amalgamation

Neither Partick nor Govan was interested in losing its independence; nor was the small southside burgh of Pollokshaws, which was also targeted by Glasgow.

Following an anti-amalgamation demonstration, The Govan Post reported: "The meeting in the Govan Town Hall was attended by many hundreds of the ratepayers who have an interest in the burgh of Govan; who have also taken a deep interest in the progress, and watched with pride its growing assets and sound financial position."

It added: "They are determined that this shall not be handed away, and the independence of our burgh will be fought for to the end."

But the working class of Govan, the 7th largest burgh in Scotland were bought by promises of cheaper power.

Glasgow Corporation supplied electricity, gas and water to the other burghs, and claimed, for instance Govan residents would pay 9d in the £1 less on stair lighting charges.

The saving for Partick would be 7½d and for Pollokshaws, 7 3/4d.

Washhouses

According to Colin Quigley, a volunteer for the Govan local history group, the Fairfield Heritage Project, it was a persuasive argument.

Britain's largest cities, 1911

  • Glasgow: 784,455
  • Liverpool: 746,566
  • Manchester: 714,566
  • Birmingham: 525,960

Source: 1911 Census

"I think it primarily came down to taxes," he said.

"Glasgow was offering the working man what was called differential rates in taxes, which meant they would have paid a lot less.

"Business owners and the more affluent in Govan would have suffered - they would have actually paid more. So I think the division fell down the line of class."

Glasgow also offered Govan a new hall, library, washhouses and public baths to the value of £40,000; Partick was promised even more - £50,000 worth of civic projects.

Even little Pollokshaws would get a new swimming pool and recreation grounds.

This raised the anger of the Ratepayers' Federation which gave evidence to parliament.

"The most pressing problem in Glasgow at the present is not annexation of green fields and well-administered burghs, but the extermination of the slums, with their attendant crime and misery which are a greater menace to the health of the community than any other factor."

But a massive petition was sent to the House of Lords from Govan in favour of amalgamation. Virtually all of its signatories were working class men.

So on 7 August 1912, the Glasgow Boundaries Act passed into law, largely creating the city we see today.

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