Little Govan does not appear in modern maps and its territory today is divided between Polmadie, Oatlands and Govanhill. It originally formed the eastern portion of the medieval parish of Govan, south of the River Clyde. By the 18th century Little Govan was an extensive landed estate owned by the Rae family. The Raes came from a prosperous line of Glasgow merchants, but lost their wealth when the West India firm of Alexander Houston & Company failed in 1795. The handloom-weaving village of Little Govan also fell on hard times and the Raes eventually allowed it to be abandoned.
In the 1820s one writer described the northern part of the old estate grounds as "a beautifully secluded place". Yet evidence of industrial activity was not far away. The thriving Little Govan colliery lay to the south-west on the axis of today's Cathcart Road and Allison Street. The area's mining potential was first recognised by William Dixon (1753-1822) who had come to Scotland in 1771 from Northumberland. Originally the manager of the colliery, he became the lessee and by 1820 was the sole proprietor.
Dixon was in the right place at the right time because of the need for coal to fuel Glasgow's expanding industrial needs. A railway pioneer, he laid tracks which conveyed coal in horse-drawn wagons from Little Govan to the Clyde. Houses were built to accommodate his workers and the community of Govanhill originated as a miners' village. His son, William junior (1788-1859), founded the Govan Iron Works to the north of Govanhill in 1839. This was the famous "Dixon's Blazes", so-called because the glare of the furnaces could be seen for miles around.
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