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Dumbarton Rock, from Levengrove Park.jpg
Dumbarton Rock, from Levengrove Park
Grid reference: NS397759
Location: 55°57’0"N, 4°34’0"W
Population: 20,527  (2001)
Post town: Dumbarton
Postcode: G82
Dialling code: 01389
Local Government
Council: West Dunbartonshire

Dumbarton is the county town of Dumbartonshire, a county more generally known as Dunbartonshire. The town stands on the north bank of the River Clyde where the River Leven flows into the Clyde estuary. The Rock of Dumbarton stands on the shore here, a grand, steep rock on whose height the town was first founded.

Dumbarton Castle, sits now in the cleavage of Dumbarton Rock, commanding the Clyde and the wider area.

Dumbarton was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde, its fortress on the rock providing a stronghold against enemies from north and south, and at the edge of the Gaelic lands it was a formidable defence for the Cymry against the Gael. Dumbarton was known anciently as Alcluith ("Clyde Rock"), as it appears in Bede and other early writings. The city is first recorded in a letter which St Patrick wrote to the King of Strathclyde, Ceretic, at his court here around AD 450. Traded Roman material in the archeological record suggests that Alcluith is much older though.

Its current name appears to be from the Gaelic Dùn Breatainn, meaning "fortress of the Britons".[1] Dumbarton became a Royal burgh in 1222.

As of 2006, the town had an estimated population of 19,990 but it has grown to form a conurbation with Alexandria, Bonhill and Renton which has a combined estimated population of 44,690.

Dumbarton emerged from the 19th century as a centre for shipbuilding, glassmaking, and whisky production. However these industries have since declined or ended altogether, and Dumbarton today increasingly functions as a commuter town for the major city of Glasgow which lies 13 miles east-south-east.


Main article: Dumbarton Castle

Looking across the Clyde towards Dumbarton Castle

Dumbarton Castle sits on Dumbarton Rock, at the mouth of the River Leven, where it flows into the Clyde estuary.

The Castle has a fine history and many well-known figures from British history have visited it. The castle was a royal fortress long before Dumbarton became a Royal Burgh. It was an important strategic fortress during the mediæval wars between Scotland and England and changed hands many times. William Wallace was imprisoned here for a short time after his capture. In early modern times, it was from here that Mary, Queen of Scots, was conveyed to France for safety as a child. Mary was trying to reach Dumbarton Castle when she suffered her final defeat at Langside. In later times, Queen Victoria visited the castle, as has Queen Elizabeth II.

Today, Dumbarton Rock is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it has legal protection in order to maintain and conserve the site for the future. As such any sort of work on the rock is strictly regulated and activities such as climbing on the rock are forbidden. From the top of the castle can be seen both the River Clyde and Levengrove Park.

Levengrove Park

Levengrove Park itself was a gift to the town by the Denny family who owned the shipbuilding company which was about 100 yards away from the Castle. Apart from the philanthropic motive, the gift kept the American Singer sewing machine company out, who had earmarked the land as a potential site for their factory which would eventually be built in Clydebank.


Dumbarton across the tidal Clyde

Dumbarton history goes back at least as far as the Iron Age and probably much earlier. It was the site of a strategically important early settlement, the residents of which were known to have traded with the Romans.[2] The earliest record of a settlement in Dumbarton is a record in Irish chronicles of the death of Guret, rex Alo Cluathe ("king of Clyde Rock"), in AD 658;[3] but a story about another king of Clyde Rock (petra Cloithe) in Adomnan's Life of St Columba (book 1, chapter 15) probably predates this, and a later source links King Ceretic, a British King who received a letter from St Patrick with Ail, thought to be Clyde Rock.

Alcluith stood fast for hundreds of years until briefly Alcluith conquered in an attack by the Northumbrian English and the Picts. In 780 chronicles say that Alcluith was burned down, buy omit to say how. It was to be rebuilt and continued to serve as the fortress capital of Strathclyde.

In 870, Vikings attacked under the notorious Ivar Boneless, fresh from capturing York, and Olaf the White from Ireland. They besieged Alcluith for 15 weeks before destroying it, carrying the loot and the survivors off as slaves to Ireland in a fleet of 200 longships. By the early eleventh century, Strathclyde had become annexed to Scotland.

In the later Middle Ages the town became the centre of Dumbartonshire.

Dumbarton was struck severely by the Black Death in 1350 and much of it burned down in 1424. In September 1605 Chancellor Dunfermline reported to King James VI that inundations of the sea were likely to destroy and take away the whole town. It was estimated that the flood defences would cost 30,000 pounds Scots, the cost being levied nationwide.[4]

But by the 17th century, Dumbarton was an important port with trade routes going as far afield as the West Indies. By 1800 the town was Scotland's largest producer of glass, for bottles and windows.[2]

During Second World War Dumbarton was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe. The Germans were targeting the shipyards, and the area in the vicinity of the yards was consequently hit, with Clyde and Leven Street being severely damaged. In an attempt to lure the German aircraft away from the shipyards, decoy lights were routinely placed on the Kilpatrick hills above the town, lights were set out on reservoirs to mimic those of the shipyards reflecting on the waters of the Leven and Clyde. The ploy was sometimes successful in diverting the bombers and many bombs fell harmlessly onto the moors and lochs.



From the mid 18th century to the early 19th century Dumbarton's main industry was glassmaking. As the glass industry declined the town became a major centre for shipbuilding and remained so well into the 20th century. There were many shipbuilding yards, although a number of them were later absorbed by larger yards. A great many ships were built in the town, the most famous of which is probably the Cutty Sark which was built by Scott & Linton, she was one of the final Tea Clippers to be built, and one of the fastest. The ship is the last survivor of its type and can be seen today at dry dock in Greenwich, London. In 1818 William Denny built the Rob Roy named after Robert Roy MacGregor in Dumbarton, which went on to become the first steam powered ferry crossing the English Channel.

William Denny and Brothers

The last major Dumbarton shipyard was William Denny and Brothers which closed in 1963, and the remaining smaller yards followed over the next few decades. The old Denny's shipyard tender The Second Snark is still in use on the Firth of Clyde as a passenger ferry and cruise boat. Denny's was an innovative company that had a reputation for research and development; high pressure turbines and hull stabilisation were two areas where they were highly respected. They even built an early design of helicopter in 1909 and in their final years they were involved in hovercraft development in the form of the Denny D2 Hoverbus. A film clip of this vessel on its maiden trip to Oban exists in the Scottish Film Archive.

The last surviving part of the Denny's shipbuilding company is the Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank which forms part of the Scottish Maritime Museum. This was the first commercial ship model testing tank built in the world and it retains many original features today: a water tank as long as a football pitch, clay moulding beds for casting wax model ship hulls and the original Victorian machinery used for shaping models.

During the Second World War Blackburn Aircraft were to produce Sunderland flying boats from a factory adjacent to Denny's shipyard.

There is still a shipyard on the river Leven, Sandpoint Marina.[5]

The 'Denny Club' was a local social club was named after Denny's shipyard. The club closed down a number of years ago after running into financial difficulties. The club was the sponsor of a local amateur football team, Dumbarton Amateurs, which subsequently changed its name to Denny Amateurs due to the continuning sponsorhip and support from the club. Denny Amateurs still play today, and has recently developed a team for younger players in the area, 'Denny Youth', and has provided the new team with strips and equipment along with advice and support.


As the ship industry declined, whisky production grew to become the dominant industry in the town. In 1938 Hiram Walker's built a large whisky distillery on the river Leven (on the site of some of the old shipyards), the town became known as a major centre of the whisky industry in the mid to late 20th century. Hiram Walker was acquired by Allied brewers in 1988 to form Allied Distillers, itself becoming part of Allied Domeq before eventually being taken over in 2005 by the French-based alcohol giant Pernod Ricard. The large Dumbarton distillery had been mothballed since 2002 and not long after the Pernod-Ricard takeover the giant red buildings of the Dumbarton 'Ballantine's' distillery which had dominated the town for over sixty years were earmarked for demolition and redevelopment (as of July 2008 only the tower remains standing). However the large bonded warehouse complex to the east of the town and the bottling complex to the northwest were retained.

Other whisky related site closures such as the Inverleven distillery which closed in 1991 and the J&B Scotch Whisky bottling plant and bond in the north of the town have contributed to the decline in Dumbarton's importance to the drink industry. However part of the J&B bond has found a new life as a film set for television productions such as 'River City' and 'Still Game'.

Ballantine's Whisky became well known for the rather unusual 'security' guards used at their bonded warehouse complex at Dumbuck in Dumbarton; these are a large flock of white Chinese geese that were first introduced in 1959. Starting with just six individuals, this has risen to close to 100 birds today. They have the nickname 'The Scotch Watch' and have been widely used in promotional material for the Ballantine's blended whisky. But today they have been replaced by CCTV cameras.


Dumbarton town centre

The poet Robert Burns was made freeman of Dumbarton. He refers to Dumbarton in a letter written in 7 July 1787.

... I have lately been rambling over by Dumbarton and Inverary, and running a drunken race on the side of Loch Lomond with a wild Highlandman; his horse, which had never known the ornaments of iron or leather, zigzagged across before my old spavin’d hunter, whose name is Jenny Geddes, and down came the Highlandman, horse and all, and down came Jenny and my bardship; so I have got such a skinful of bruises and wounds, that I shall be at least four weeks before I dare venture on my journey to Edinburgh.

Dumbarton is also immortalised in the traditional Scottish song "Dumbarton's Drums".[6]

Across the fields of bounding heather,
Dumbarton sounds the hour of pleasure;
The joy I know will know no measure,
When Johnnie kneels and kisses me.

Royal Scottish Pipe Bands Championships

The Royal Scottish Pipe Bands Championships, Dumbarton

Held in Dumbarton since 2000, the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Championships sees over 140 bands enter yearly, including representatives from Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Ireland. The championships is one of the biggest and most prestigious pipe band events in the world. Besides the pipe band championships there is a fun fair and Highland dancing competitions.

Things to do

Dumbarton is a popular place for visitors to base themselves with many hotels, Inns and Bed and Breakfast establishments. There is a wide range of places to eat and drink in the town centre and surrounding areas as well as its very own nightclub 'Cheers'. Dumbarton is only 10 minutes away from Balloch, Dunbartonshire|Balloch where cruises can be taken to explore famous Loch Lomond. Visitors can browse through Loch Lomond Shores with stores including 'Jenners' and a farmers market that visits on a Sunday usually every two weeks.[7] Glasgow City Centre is approximately 30 minutes away by train. With three railway stations and four services every hour, this makes easy commuting to the various nearby sites and tourist attractions. Glasgow.[8]

Overtoun House

Overtoun House is a mansion in the Scots Baronial style built on an estate in the hills overlooking the town between 1859-1862 for a wealthy chemical manufacturer originally from Glasgow, James White.[9] The house is reputed to be haunted. In 2005 the Overtoun estate gained some notoriety as it was uncovered by a local journalist that around fifty dogs had mysteriously jumped from the Overtoun Bridge over Overtoun burn over the years, the topic caught the public imagination and became the subject of a channel five documentary in late 2006.[10]


Outside links