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Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire

Historical Description

DUMBARTON, a royal burgh, the county town, and a parish, in the county of Dumbarton, 15 miles (N. W.) from Glasgow, and 58 (W. by S.) from Edinburgh; containing 3828 inhabitants, of whom 3782 are in the burgh. This place derives its name, formerly Dunbriton, from an ancient fortress which, though its founders are unknown, became the principal seat of the Strathclyde Britons, who at a very remote period established themselves in this part of the kingdom. The Romans, however, during their invasions of Britain, are supposed to have made themselves masters of this fortress and the territories adjacent; and on the western peak of the rock on which the castle is built, are still some vestiges remaining of a lighthouse said to have been erected for the accommodation of their galleys stationed in the Clyde, which flows round its base. After the departure of the Romans, the Britons of Strathclyde quickly repossessed themselves of their previous settlements, which they maintained against the assaults of the Picts and Scots. In 756, the fortress is recorded to have been taken by Egbert, King of Northumbria. The name of the place, while in the hands of the Britons, was Alcluyd, supposed to be the Balclutha celebrated in the poems of Ossian. "I have seen the walls of Balclutha, but they were desolate. The fire had resounded in the halls: and the voice of the people is heard no more. The stream of Clutha was removed from its place, by the fall of the walls. The thistle shook there its lonely head: the moss whistled to the wind. The fox looked out from the windows, the rank grass of the wall waved round its head. Desolate is the dwelling of Moina, silence is in the house of her fathers."

The CASTLE was made a royal fortress at a very early date, and the town which had arisen under its protection was in 1222 erected into a royal burgh by Alexander II., who in 1238 granted a charter to the Earl of Lennox, confirming to him the earldom and its possessions, with the exception of the castle and some lands adjoining. During the disputed succession to the Scottish throne on the death of Alexander III., the castle, which had been surrendered with many others to the custody of Edward I. of England, was in 1298 delivered by that monarch to John Baliol, whom he declared to be the rightful heir to the crown. After various captures and recaptures, the castle again fell into the hands of Edward, who in 1305 placed it under the government of Sir John Monteith, during whose occupation the heroic Wallace, being treacherously made prisoner, was delivered into the power of his inveterate enemy, and sent to England for trial. The castle was taken by Robert the Bruce in 1300; and during the siege of Dumbarton by the English fleet in 1481, it was bravely defended by its governor, Andrew Wood, to whom, for his services on that occasion, James III. granted the lands of Largo, in the county of Fife. In the beginning of the reign of James IV., the castle had been placed under the custody of the Earl of Lennox, on whose attainder for rebellion his estates and title became forfeited to the crown, and the castle was besieged by the Earl of Argyll, chancellor of Scotland; but its strength resisted all his efforts, and it was not till after a protracted siege by a numerous force, headed by the king in person, that the garrison surrendered. After the disastrous battle of Pinkie in 1547, Mary, the young Queen of Scots, was conveyed for safety to the castle of Dumbarton, where she remained till her embarkation for France; and after her return, she visited the town while on an excursion into Argyllshire. During the hostilities consequent on the deposition of the queen, the castle was held for her by Lord Fleming for a considerable time; but in 1571 it was surprised and taken for the regent by Captain Crawford, who, having learned by bribery the easiest mode of access, succeeded by scaling the walls; and Hamilton, Archbishop of St. Andrew's, was made prisoner, and afterwards hanged at Stirling.

At the commencement of the war in the reign of Charles I., the castle, which was garrisoned by the royalists, was taken by the parliamentarians in 1639, but was soon recovered by the king's forces. It again, however, fell into the hands of the republicans, and the Scottish parliament ordered the fortifications to be destroyed. This order was not carried into effect; in 1652 it was garrisoned by Oliver Cromwell, and at the time of the union of the two kingdoms, the ancient castle was one of the forts ordered to be kept in repair. The present garrison consists of a governor, lieutenant-governor, barrack-master, storekeeper, and surgeon, with thirty rank and file, and twelve artillery of the royal corps. The buildings are situated on a stupendous rock rising precipitously from the Clyde to a height of 350 feet, and dividing into two conical peaks of nearly equal elevation. The entrance, which is far below the point where the rock divides, is defended by a rampart containing the guard-house and apartments for the officers, whence a long flight of steps leads to the interval between the summits. Here are the barracks for the garrison, a battery, and a well of excellent water, behind which is the governor's house. Above these, on the lower summit of the rock, are several batteries, strongly mounted, commanding an extensive range of the Clyde; and at high water the rock is nearly insulated by the river Leven. The higher summit of the rock, the ascent to which is precipitously steep, still retains the name of Wallace's Seat, and that portion of the castle in which the brave Wallace was confined is called Wallace's Tower. Among other relics of antiquity is a large two-handed sword, said to have belonged to that hero. In 1847, when visiting Scotland, Her Majesty the Queen landed at Dumbarton, where she stayed for about three-quarters of an hour, and inspected the ramparts.

The TOWN is situated on the west bank of the river Leven, near its influx into the Clyde, and consists principally of a street in the form of a crescent, from which several smaller streets diverge. It is connected with a suburb on the west side of the Leven by a handsome stone bridge of five arches, nearly 300 feet in length. The houses are well built; the streets are paved, and lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water. There is a public subscription library with a collection of more than 2000 volumes, and two reading and news rooms are supported by subscription. The chief manufacture is that of glass, which was formerly carried on to a very great extent, paying duties to government amounting in one particular year to £119,000; it is still very considerable, and the principal articles produced are crown and bottle glass. There are tanneries, rope-walks, and brick and tile works, and various handicraft trades are pursued for the supply of the neighbourhood; ship-building is also carried on extensively in three commodious yards belonging to the town, and another yard in the adjoining parish of Cardross. In the rivers Clyde and Leven are some good salmon-fisheries. The Leven is navigable at high water for vessels of large burthen to the quay of Dumbarton; but at low tides, a bar and some sand-banks at the mouth of the river, though partly removed, allow access only to steamers and small vessels. The number of vessels employed in the trade of the port is about forty, of 1220 tons' aggregate burthen. The market, which is on Tuesday, is amply supplied with grain and with provisions of all kinds. Fairs are held on the third Tuesday in March and May, the Thursday before Easter, the first Wednesday in June, which is a large cattle-mart, and the second Tuesday in August and November. The post-office has two deliveries daily; and branches of the Commercial and Western Banks of Scotland, and several insurance agencies, have been established in the town. Facility of communication is afforded by steam-boats, which ply thrice a day to Greenock and Glasgow; and in summer there is a daily conveyance for passengers to the Loch Lomond steamers, which touch at Balloch. In 1846 an act was passed for the construction of a railway from Glasgow to Dumbarton and Loch Lomond, with branches to Helensburgh and other places. By charter of Alexander II., extended by several of his successors, and confirmed by charter of James VI., who added a grant of land, the town possesses all the privileges of a royal BURGH, and the burgesses, and their vessels and cargoes, enjoy exemption from river-dues on the Clyde and harbour of Glasgow. Under the Municipal Reform act, the government is vested in a provost, two bailies, a dean of guild, treasurer, and ten councillors. There are five incorporated guilds, viz., the hammermen, tailors, shoemakers, coopers, and weavers, for admission into which the fees are inconsiderable, the highest not exceeding £1. 2. The magistrates have civil and criminal jurisdiction within the royalty, for which they hold courts as occasion requires, assisted by the town-clerk, who acts as assessor; but owing to the facilities secured to sheriff-court procedure by recent statutory forms, the business is now chiefly brought before the sheriff of the county, who holds sheriff and commissary courts every Thursday during the session, and small-debt courts every alternate Thursday. Dumbarton is associated with Kilmarnock, Renfrew, Rutherglen, and Port-Glasgow, in returning a member to the imperial parliament; the number of qualified voters is 158. The county gaol and court-house are at the end of the main street.

The PARISH is bounded on the south by the river Clyde, and on the west by the river Leven, which separates it from Cardross. It is from seven to eight miles in extreme length, from three to four miles in breadth, and comprises 6529 acres. The surface in the south is level for nearly two miles from the Clyde, but afterwards rises abruptly towards the north, becoming chiefly moorland diversified with small hills of moderate height. In many parts the scenery is beautifully picturesque. The soil, though in some places shallow, is generally fertile, partly clay alternated with gravel, and the lands are in a good state of cultivation; the crops are wheat, oats, barley, bear, peas, and beans, with the usual grasses. The system of husbandry is improved; the lands are inclosed, principally with fences of thorn, which are well kept, and the farm-houses and offices are substantial and commodiously arranged. The substrata are chiefly limestone and sandstone; of the former there is an extensive supply at Murroch glen, and on Dumbarton moor are quarries of red freestone. The annual value of real property in the parish is £10,810. For ecclesiastical purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Dumbarton, synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The minister's stipend is £233, with a manse, and an allowance of £16 in lieu of glebe; patrons, the Town Council. The church, built about 1810, and situated in the town, is a spacious structure containing 1500 sittings. A missionary is established here, who receives a stipend of £52, raised by subscription; there are places of worship for members of the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Synod, and a Roman Catholic chapel. The parochial school is attended by nearly 200 children; the master has a salary of £40, with a school-house, and the fees, though very moderate, are considerable from the number of scholars: the school is under the patronage of the council. Dr. Smollett, the novelist, received the rudiments of his education in this town; and Dr. Colquhoun, author of a treatise on the Wealth, Power, and Resources of the British Empire, was born here. It is said that George Buchanan the historian received part of his education at the place. Dumbarton conferred the title of Earl on a branch of the Douglas family, but it became extinct on the demise of the second earl without issue, about the middle of the last century.

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