History of Govanhill

The story of Govanhill – the hill above little Govan – began with a handful of cottages and a coal mine around what is today Bankhall Street.

In 1839, the family that owned the mine built the ironworks nearby – known as Dixon’s Blazes after ironmaster William Dixon – and in the 1870s began to lay out housing for workers at the blast furnaces. Most of the tenement blocks in Govanhill were built between 1890 and 1912.

From its earliest days, Govanhill was a popular settlement area for people coming to Glasgow and Scotland. Migration started with Highland and Lowland Scots, followed by Irish, particularly from Donegal.  Belgians, Italians and Jewish people fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe then followed.  From the 1950s, people from the Punjab and other parts of the Indian sub-continent arrived. Glasgow’s new communities of former asylum seekers and refugees also settled in the area from 2000 on.  Most recently, following EU expansion in 2004 and 2007, economic migrants from Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania. Govanhill is now Scotland’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhood, with around 40-45% of local residents from ethnic minorities.

You can Learn more about migration and major events in the area at Govanhill People’s History, an initiative delivered by GCDT with other local organisations.

From the 1960s, Govanhill was one of the few areas to survive the programme to demolish tenements and replace them with new high-rise buildings, at least in part due to the formation of Govanhill Housing Association in 1974.  Local people recognised that little thought was being given to the replacement of the elaborate community infrastructure of tenements, shops, pubs and small businesses. Instead of mass demolition, a steady process of improving the quality of the flats and installing modern amenities took place. This was complemented by sensitive new-build developments in gap sites.

Unfortunately, changes in policy and funding in the early 2000s meant that the refurbishment of Govanhill’s tenement housing was not fully completed. A total of 13 housing blocks in South-West Govanhill – around 1400 homes – remained ‘unimproved’ and this area continues to experience the most significant housing problems.  Much of the housing in this area is very poor-quality stock with very high concentrations of private landlords, high turnover of tenants, low levels of owner occupancy, low concentrations of responsible factoring and often extreme overcrowding. Govanhill Housing Association, local/national government and other organisations continue to tackle these issues through a number of initiatives.