Govan's last remaining show people face eviction

The last remaining show people living in a historic part of Scotland's biggest city say their way of life is under threat.
Jimmy Stringfellow.Jimmy Stringfellow.
Jimmy Stringfellow.

Travelling show folk have links with the Govan area of Glasgow going back more than 150 years. But an eviction notice was served last month in a long-running saga that now has a deadline just weeks away.

The last of the yards that accommodate the families and their fairground rides and amusements are at Water Row by the River Clyde. The yards were vacated by the former Harland and Wolff shipbuilders in the 1960s – and colonised soon after by show people.

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But the tide of regeneration has caught up with the former industrial hinterland with plans for new homes and shops.

For the Stringfellow and the Johnston families, the march of progress has brought the prospect of having to move off the land they call home – and away from Govan.

The Stringfellows said that as things stand, no suitable alternative accommodation has been found for the family.

Around 70 people within the two extended families live in the two yards, housed in upwards of 17 caravans and mobile homes.

Their spokesman Jimmy Stringfellow, who is 69, said: “In Govan, our heritage goes back many, many years – to my grandparents and my great grandparents.

“We want to keep our heritage alive – because it’s not just our heritage it’s everybody’s heritage. If you can’t take your children or your grandchildren to a fair because there’s no fairs left, then children will say to you ‘What’s a fair? or ‘What is a circus?”

Over the years, the show people have received some support from local politicians including Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, and transport minister Humza Yousaf. But the families say their SNP colleagues in the city’s new council administration are not for turning.

“They are spending billions of pounds on the Clyde, on each side of the river. They’re tidying it up, they’re putting bridges over it,” Mr Stringfellow said.

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“They’re doing tonnes of things, which is progress – and you can’t stand in the way of progress. But you can’t be bulldozed into things now.”

Scotland has an estimated 4,000 show people – 80 per cent of whom are concentrated in Glasgow. If Glasgow City Council gets its way, the last two show families in Govan will be cleared off the site by the end of April.

Their departure raises the prospect of Govan’s link with Scotland’s show culture being severed. The families have ties with nearby Govan Old Parish Church going back generations. It’s where the community has been baptised, married and dispatched.

They have also been represented on local committees and played a part in organising events such as the annual Govan Fair.

But Mr Stringfellow said: “We are community that is getting lost – like the Americans did with the [Native] Indians. We are getting a similar situation here.

“When we got this yard it was a coup – a place where they dump all the rubbish they don’t want. And this seems to be happening with show people all over the country.

“They used to put them in a dump, where all the diseases and rubbish and everything is. So we cleaned it up and spent a bit of money on it – and now we’ve been here for 30 odd years.”

He added: “We’ve had – I don’t know how many – eviction notices to get off. And they’ve never improved the place, they’ve never spent one penny on the place…We just want to live like ordinary people.”

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A Glasgow City Council spokesman said the authority was working with its partners to bring forward a masterplan for the area.

This would see potential for at least 130 new affordable homes and other commercial and leisure uses.

He added: “To allow the development of this site, which will play a key role in the transformation of Govan and the waterfront alongside a number of other projects in the next few years, the council and our partners have entered into discussions with the two families currently occupying the site in order to successfully relocate them.

“The council intends to continue to negotiate with both families with a view to finding alternative and mutually acceptable locations within the city boundaries.”