During the 1830s, Govan was a small, picturesque village of thatched cottages whose inhabitants relied mainly on weaving and agriculture for their livelihoods. After 1840, however, the construction of great shipyards, engineering works and ancillary industries transformed the community. The opening of the vast Prince's Dock in 1897 brought more trade and jobs to Govan and workers who could not find homes in the Burgh travelled from Glasgow each day, by train, tram, on the numerous cross-river ferries and on the Glasgow District Subway which opened in 1896.
In 1864, with a population that had already grown from around 2,000 to 9,000, Govan became a Police Burgh. Its population had increased to more than 90,000 in 1912 by which time it had annexed neighbouring Linthouse (1901) and become Scotland's fifth-largest burgh.
Govanites had a strong sense of civic pride and enjoyed amenities gifted by local industrialists such as the Elder Park, Elder Park Library and Pearce Institute. They had their own tramways system and, after Glasgow Rangers relocated to the first Ibrox Park in 1887, a football team that played in the Scottish Football League. The Town Council provided a wide range of services and opened magnificent new municipal buildings in 1901. Nevertheless, the municipal authorities were ill equipped to cope with the phenomenal rates of increase in its population and overcrowded and insanitary housing conditions plagued many areas of the burgh.
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