The story of the Govan Museum which is home to Viking artefacts and has inspired Assassin's Creed creators

·5-min read
The story of the Govan Museum which is home to Viking artefacts and has inspired Assassin's Creed creators
The story of the Govan Museum which is home to Viking artefacts and has inspired Assassin's Creed creators

Many associate Govan’s heritage with the industrial shipyards of the 1970s rather than envisaging a time when Viking warlords ruled the land.

It might be hard to imagine, but indisputable evidence of this lies within the Govan Old Parish Church which houses ‘one the most impressive collections of early medieval sculpture found anywhere in Europe’.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

The building itself until recently used as an active place of worship, but as congregation numbers dwindled and the Church of Scotland decided to relocate, the fight was on for the team behind the Govan Stones Project.

Emma Semple, Community Engagement Officer for the Project explained: “In a wee bit of a panic as to what the future of the site would be, a local charity was founded called the Govan Heritage Trust.

“We were able to approach the Church of Scotland and propose that we would like to take on the site with the view of turning it into a hub for community activity, an academic research centre and one day a world-class collection of medieval monuments.

“The momentum has been building ever since.”

Glasgow Times: Pictured: A dig takes place in the Churchyard
Glasgow Times: Pictured: A dig takes place in the Churchyard

Pictured: A dig takes place in the Churchyard

The museum is now open seven days a week allowing members of the public to view these incredible artefacts which come from a time when Viking warriors took hold of Dumbarton before going on to settle further along the Clyde.

The Churchyard also holds huge significance thanks to Archaeological excavations during the 1990s uncovered evidence of Christian burials dating back as far as the 5th century AD.

Dr Tom Horne, a volunteer at the Govan Stones project, said: “The site is about 1500 years old and has survived having a shipyard next door, near misses during bombing in the second world war, industrialisation and all of the worry when the church relocated.

“You’re talking about Scotland before it was Scotland and the lost kingdom of Strathclyde. There’s nothing else like it.

“We’re very conscious that it’s a niche project, but we’ve realised that through social media we can start to get people of all demographics involved.”

Glasgow Times: Pictured: A grave from the 1700s on the church grounds
Glasgow Times: Pictured: A grave from the 1700s on the church grounds

Pictured: A grave from the 1700s on the church grounds

Making good on their vow to become not only a home for this important piece of history but an asset to the local community, the team has recently worked with a number of groups including the Govan Community Project which supports refugees and the No.1 Befriending Agency which helps combat isolation in older generations.

It’s Govan’s youth, however, who have truly caught the archaeology bug and could be the key to spreading the word far and wide about this incredible local resource.

Emma: “We did a five-week project just before the summer holidays last year with the Doors Open Day festival where we were able to get the kids learning camera techniques with a view to becoming documentarians who would tell the story of Govan.

“Those kids started to drag their families back for the rest of the summer and even bullied us into starting our own TikTok account.

“We now have world-leading archaeologists doing TikTok dances which is great.

“We’re also now working alongside Ubisoft, the developers behind the Assassin’s Creed franchise, to use an academic offshoot of their Valhalla game.

“It's called Discovery Tour: Viking Age, where you can walk around a Viking world.

“Then kids will be able to visit us and see that up close and personal with real Viking monuments.”

Perhaps one of the Govan Stones Project's most significant breakthroughs to date came almost completely by surprise in 2019.

For years even seasoned tour guides suspected that several sculpted stones from the Middle Ages had been destroyed at the site due to demolition at a nearby shipyard.

For years even seasoned tour guides suspected that several sculpted stones from the Middle Ages had been destroyed at the site due to demolition at a nearby shipyard.

But, a dig in with Northlight Heritage, Glasgow University, Govan Cross Townscape Heritage Initiative and the Glasgow City Region City Deal would see these beliefs shattered and the life of one young Govan local changed forever.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

Emma said: “Professor Stephen Driscoll who has been the driving force of academic research on the site suggested we should look for fragments of the lost stones.

“One day of work coincided with the worst weather Scotland had had for years so all of our volunteers cancelled other than one, a wee boy called Mark who lived just two minutes down the road.

“He turned up in his granny’s wellies and two anoraks.

“We put him to work with a team of four professionals looking for tiny pieces.

“What they actually uncovered were three fully intact Viking age monuments.

“It was jaw-dropping.”

The youngster went on to achieve global recognition for his find appearing in an article by the New York Post and a feature on Spanish TV networks.

After losing touch over the pandemic, Emma, Dr Tom and Professor Stephen were left speechless when a now 18-year-old Mark arrived at their most recent dig to share the news that he would this year be heading to St Andrew’s University to study Archaeology.

It’s a tale that perfectly captures the magic waiting to be discovered at the site and one that the team hopes will inspire others to realise what a unique experience lies on their doorstep.

Emma said: “On the base of it, it’s a room full of old stones.

“But when people visit, what we really want them to understand is that Govan was there before Glasgow.

“Even before Scotland.

“Govan was right there while a nation was brewing and when people from the area hear that, especially children.

“It was the land of kings and a portal to the lost kingdom of Strathclyde sits almost perfectly preserved in the middle of an industrial landscape.

“We’re jumping at any chance we can to get the word out about this place.”

For more information on the Govan Stones Project click here.