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Bonhill, Dumbartonshire

Historical Description

BONHILL, a parish, in the county of Dumbarton, 3 miles (N.) from Dumbarton; containing, with the villages of Alexandria, Dalvait, Damhead, and Mill of Haldane, 6682 inhabitants, of whom 2041 are in the village of Bonhill. The name of this parish was originally written Buchnall, afterwards Bulhill, and at length, Bunnul; and the original term is supposed to be a corruption of the Gaelic word Bogh n' uill, which signifies "the foot of the rivulet." More recently, the parish was called Boneil or Buneil, probably from the Gaelic words signifying "the root or foot of the waters". As the south end of Loch Lomond enters and bisects the parish about halfway from the north-west corner of it, it may be, and is invariably, called the foot of it; and as the lake empties itself into the river Leven at the same end, it may, likewise, and with equal propriety, he called the root, or parent, of its waters. The whole lands formerly belonged to the family of Lennox, but in the fifteenth century the Darnley family obtained one-half of the estate, with the titles, by marriage, and the other half was afterwards divided between the families of Napier und Gleneagles; Darleith was the property of the Darleiths, who are said to have been hereditary followers of the Earls of Lennox. The castle of Belloch or Balloch, here, was the early seat of the Lennox family, whose charters are often dated hence in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; the site is still marked by the fosse, but no remains of the building are visible. The Lindsays, another family of note, also anciently resided in the parish; their ancestors were knights in the reign of David II., and they acquired the estate by grant from their relation, the Earl of Lennox, by whom, likewise, they were appointed foresters of the earldom. The male line failing soon after the Restoration, the estate passed to Sir James Smollett, provost, and representative in parliament, of Dumbarton, and afterwards a commissioner of the Union.

The parish is four and a half miles in length, and four in breadth, and comprises 5752 acres, whereof 3056 are arable, 538 plantation, and the remainder uncultivated moor. The river Leven, which is remarkable for the softness and clearness of its water, issues from Loch Lomond at Balloch, flows through the parish, and falls into the Frith of Clyde at Dumbarton Castle, after a circuitous course of about nine miles. The tide runs up it for about three miles, and it is navigable for lighters drawn by horses throughout its whole extent. It produces excellent salmon and a variety of other fish. In the vale of the Leven the soil is alluvial, and where any excavations have been made, has under it, at different depths, and of different thicknesses, successive beds of fine sand, coarse gravel, and shell marl. The soil of the high grounds, on the east side of the vale to the extent of three-fourths, and on the west side of it to the extent of one-half, is incumbent on red sandstone, soft and porous, except at a great depth; the soil of the other half of the west side lies upon a blueish sandstone, susceptible of a fine polish, but brittle, and with indurated nodules of a purplish clay here and there embedded in it. The woods are famed for the number of woodcocks which visit them in winter, and the river and lake for the great variety of aquatic birds. The lands are all cultivated according to the most improved methods, and furrow-draining, and the subsoil plough, have been adopted with great advantage to the ground; the horses are of the Clydesdale breed, and the Ayrshire cows are kept for the dairy. The annual value of real property in the parish is £16,776. The mansions are, the House of Darleith, the ancient seat of Bonhill, the modern castles of Balloch and Tillichewen, and the houses of Broomly, Woodbank, Cameron, Belretiro, and Arden.

Bleachfields and print-works furnish the chief employment of the place, and since their establishment the population has rapidly increased. The parish long ago acquired celebrity for its bleaching processes, from the introduction of workmen from Holland and the establishment of bleachfields on the Dutch method: the first print-field on the Leven was not begun till about the year 1768, and even then, the printing was almost entirely confined to handkerchiefs, and done by block-printing, but copperplate presses were soon erected, and afterwards presses to be driven by water. During the present century, the number of the works has much increased, and both departments are now simultaneously carried on in the same establishments. The works in operation are those of Dalmonach, Bonhill, Ferryfield, Levenfield, Levenbank, and Alexandria; those of Dallichip, Kirkland, and Milburn, for bleaching, dyeing, and printing; and Milburn works for producing pyroligneous acid, tar, pyroxilic spirit, kreosote, &c., at which works, also, a fine Prussian blue is manufactured. At these various places, steam-engines and water-wheels are in operation, and the total number of persons employed is about 4000. A fair is held at Bonhill on the first Thursday in February, and another at Balloch on the September 15th, both for horses.

For ecclesiastical purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Dumbarton, synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The minister's stipend is about £200, with a manse, and a glebe of the annual value of £30: the patronage is in the Campbell family, of Stonefield. Bonhill church, a plain structure with a tower, was opened in 1836, and contains 1200 sittings: another church, on the General Assembly's Extension scheme, was opened in 1840; and the United Presbyterian Synod and Independents have places of worship. A place of worship has also been erected for the Free Church. In the churchyard of the parochial church, is an ancient and gigantic ash-tree, which, in the agricultural survey of the shire, published in 1811, is said to measure, round its trunk, eighteen feet where smallest; it has long been the wonder and admiration of numerous beholders, but is now going rapidly to decay. Until lately there was another ash in the parish, of still larger dimensions, in the trunk of which a room was formed, nine feet in diameter. Two parochial schools are supported, the master of each of which has a salary of £21. 7., with about £15 fees, and a house and garden. There is a mechanics' institution in the parish.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis