Govan's ambitious public buildings and statues reflect the wealth of the community and occasional benevolence of the employers. Elder Park was established in 1885 by Mrs Isabella Elder as monument to her shipbuilder husband. She wanted to give the people of Govan ‘healthful recreation by music and amusement’. Statues of husband and wife can be seen in the park. John Elder, by Victorian sculptor, Sir J. E. Boehm(1888), stands beside one of the compound engines that underpinned Fairfield’s success. Isabella Ure (Mrs Elder) is depicted dressed in academic robes by Scottish sculptor Archibald Shannan (1906).
Isabella Ure (1828-1905) was an important philanthropist whose used her wealth and status for the benefit of the wider community, especially championing women’s education. A well-to-do solicitor’s daughter, she married John Elder, partner in the marine engineering company of Randolph, Elder & Co, in 1857. The firm prospered becoming John Elder & Company in 1868, and taking over the Fairfield shipbuilding yard in Govan. It soon became a world leading company. After John Elder’s death in 1869 Isabella Elder supported many charitable causes, notably in Govan and in support of the education of women.
In Govan she bought the land and created Elder Park, established a School of Domestic Economy for local girls and young women and paid for and supported the Elder Park Library, insisting on Sunday opening which made it accessible to working people. At the University of Glasgow she endowed a chair of marine engineering in memory of her husband and was an active contributor to building projects and initiatives to advance technical training. However, her greatest achievement was her support for the development of medical training for women. She bought North Park House (subsequently the home of BBC) and presented it to Queen Margaret College, supporting women’s medical training there. When the College became part of Glasgow University in 1892 she used her influence to help persuade the University to allow women to graduate in medicine.
In the sculpture she is shown in the robes of a doctor of Glasgow University where she was awarded an honorary degree in 1901. It was sculpted by a local architect turned sculptor and Glasgow University graduate, Archibald Macfarlane Shannan (1850-1915). He had also undertaken work on Govan Town Hall. The portrait is based on photographs and sittings by the now frail Mrs Elder who, sadly, died before the sculpture could be unveiled. The £2,000 cost was raised by public subscription, much of it from ordinary working people of Govan who held her in high regard.