‘Oases of pleasure in deserts of toil’? leisure, recreation and the promotion of civic culture in two Clyde shipbuilding communities, c. 1885-1912

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


From the mid-nineteenth century until their annexation to Glasgow in 1912, the Clyde shipbuilding communities of Partick and Govan ranked among Scotland’s ten most populous places. Despite this, they have hitherto attracted very little academic (as distinct from antiquarian) interest from historians of Glasgow, due to their almostparadoxical status of being legally separate from the city during their years ofindependence, and their geographical proximity to it before annexation. Partick’s and Govan’s socio-political life merits detailed consideration in its own right, not least ascase studies of the relationship between civic identity and attempts to regulate leisure and pleasure, orientating it to political and ideological ends. Whilst both burghs’ leaders jealously guarded their independence from nearby Glasgow, they had to work increasingly hard to match their politico-legal campaigns to maintain this with
initiatives to promote a distinctive sense of local civic and community identity to withstand the siren song of Glasgow’s ‘municipal socialism’, which by the 1880s encompassed the provision of leisure and recreational amenities. This paper examines the ways in which the burghs’ leaders and prominent members ofthe local industrial elite collaborated in framing the provision of amenities such as parks, libraries and swimming baths to reinforce the notion of inhabitants’ reliance on local services in terms of paternalism and‘invented tradition’. This includes consideration of the set-piece ceremonial surrounding the donation of Govan’s Elder Park in 1885, and the 1903 opening of the Elder Library by the Scots-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. There is also discussion of the political symbolism embodied in the influential Govan Police Pipe Band (a precursor to the world-famous Strathclyde Police Pipe Band) and the ways in which local police and public works sports days were used to reinforce, respectively, the alleged muscular masculinity of the local police, and the resilience, vitality and sustainability of the values of local self-government on which both burghs were founded. The paper also considers the ways in which local reactions to the amenities promised – but not always delivered – by the Burgh leaders reflected wider political and ideological disagreements about the nature, role and purpose of local government.
Thus, the responses and perspectives of local Liberal, Unionist and Labourrepresentatives and activists are considered. Above all, this analysis connects the debates about leisure and pleasure with the rise and fall of the Victorian Liberal ethosof local self-government and its eclipse by ‘municipal socialism’ on a grander scale. In short, it is argued that the trajectory of such debates about leisure, pleasure, place and community go a long way towards explaining Govan and Partick’s demise as independent burghs and the concomitant creation of Greater Glasgow.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011
EventThe Urban History Group Annual Conference : Leisure, Pleasure and the Urban Spectacle - Robinson College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Duration: 31 Mar 20111 Apr 2011


ConferenceThe Urban History Group Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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