Dumbarton Castle

In celebration of Dumbarton Football Club being promoted to the Second Division, I thought I would photograph some of my collection of prints and postcards of Dumbarton.

Pictures and postcards of Dumbarton Rock etc.

Pictures and postcards of Dumbarton Rock etc.

Note the mediaeval instrument of torture on the left. (Only joking; but it is a Lochgelly tawse [strap or belt] used for generations in Scotland to punish pupils who misbehaved in school. The practice was only abolished 25 years or so ago.)

The Rock was a big part of my life, although I didn’t realise that until I moved away from Dumbarton and suddenly I didn’t have the wonderful west coast scenery as a backdrop any more.

More pictures of Dumbarton Rock

More pictures of Dumbarton Rock

When I was a wee girl I played at the bottom of the castle and the model of James Watt’s first steam engine was our climbing frame. I believe that it has been in various different positions in the town but I think it now lives at the Denny Ship Museum.

Old colour print of Dumbarton, plus Dumbartonshire Rifle Volunteers' badge.

Old colour print of Dumbarton, plus Dumbartonshire Rifle Volunteers' badge.

More postcards, prints or photos of Dumbarton.

More postcards, prints or photos of Dumbarton.

I have also lived at various locations around Britain. The last 20 years or so I have lived very close to the North Sea and believe me you have to be hardy to put up with that. It’s beyond me why anyone would want a sea view, especially when it is mainly grey sea and grey sky accompanied by a wind which usually feels like it has shards of glass in it, which cut right through your bones.

But – each to their own – and there are people in the Kirkcaldy area who can’t stand not being close to the sea. I suppose for them it’s like the hills of home.

Anyway, my Dumbarton collection cheers me up and I bet that there are plenty of people living there who can hardly believe that.

Division 2 here we come. It has really cheered up my husband Jack, my personal Son of the Rock, who has been a supporter of The Sons, as they are nicknamed, since before I knew him. In the daft days of my teenage years, I was even mad enough to go to Boghead with him.
Thirty-five years on from then, I spend my time visiting the Castle when he manages to see a home game.

8 thoughts on “Dumbarton Castle

  1. I came as a young boy, from India, to Dumbarton in 1956, to serve as an “indentured apprentice” in Denny’s Shipyard, and stayed there until my graduation from The Royal Tech in Glasgow in 1962.

    A few years ago Icam to visit Dumbarton with others in suggesting that the offices of the former Denny shipyard (already demolished) should escape the same fate. Denny’s was a big name in Clyde shipbuilding and marine engineering, and they also gained a progressive reputation for the provision of good quality housing for their workforce. But I was shocked by the number of people, many of whom had been employees, who shunned the whole idea; I remember one especially sour individual who snarled, ‘I’ll be glad to see the back of that name in the town’. The building was demolished.

    The image that sticks with me mostly is that of the yard gates opening up and people spewing out in their thousands – it’s an abiding image, the first person squeezing out that narrow gap in the gate as it opens and on the other side the security men trying to hold you back. That ritual was played out every night reinforcing the difference between them and us

    The yard had a huge reputation . . . but when you went in the place you had to ask how these sophisticated ships had been built when, in many ways, the technology was turn of the 19th century.

    Today, they might as well never have existed. Nothing of any substance remains; all the individual sites have been redeveloped (with no thought given to using the opportunity to build an ‘industry research fund’ for example); no history has been written, and no museum celebrating this extraordinary industry – and the people who were its backbone – is even a remote pipe dream.

    So I think that Cronin, and so much more that is or ought to be important, has been sunk by that great west of Scotland disease – apathy.

    It’s humbling to see how little space is needed to describe a whole life: a cigarette paper would do, said Conrad. In the past 109 days, I have read the obituaries every morning in The Times and The Dumbarton Record. Fewer than five people warranted a full page obituary in the Times. Rudolph Serkin was the only one I knew. His recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto was the first 78 rpm I bought, when I was twelve. I have it on compact disc, now, rerecorded.

    Cronin, a famous “son of Dumbarton” died sometime in the past. His obituary did not turned up in the Times, although his humanity and expertise merited more than a cigarette paper. Even a full-page summary would not have captured the essence of his good life. His obituary would not appear in the Dumbarton Record because he lived on the other side of the Leven River, but I read them because I am obsessed with Dumbarton and its “Sons of the Rock”

    • Mo Ahmed,
      Thanks for the interesting comment. My parents moved to Dumbarton from Glasgow in 1964, I was only 5 then. Denny’s Shipyard had already closed, but people still spoke about the crowds of men coming through the gates. We now live in the east of Scotland but my husband is a big ‘Sons’ fan and we were very sad to see that the remaining bit of Denny’s had been demolished. I think that the attitude that you met with about the name Denny was purely a class thing. Dumbarton is a mainly working class area and there are a lot of people who would have hated ‘the bosses’ even if they were giving them employment. I used to work in Dumbarton Library and in the 1970s a woman came into the library and announced to me in a very plummy voice that she was MRS. EDWARD DENNY – I honestly think she expected me to curtsey. I think if they were all like that it must have been very annoying for people.
      Yes it is very sad that there is now nothing there, except the Denny Tank Museum, I’ve always thought that the town council is useless at promoting the area, especially when there is so much which could be done to improve it. I think the whole of Scotland is quite apathetic, I don’t think it’s laziness, they just don’t appreciate the importance of things.
      Dr I.M.M. McPhail was the Dumbarton historian when I was a girl but nobody seems to have taken over from him. I’m always thrilled when I see that a ship was built in Dumbarton, they even built a Mississippi River Boat – The Delta Queen and it is still in use. Cronin was huge in his day but unknown to the local youngsters now I’m sure, I’m still reading him though. The best thing about Dumbarton for me was always the scenery, rivers and of course the castle but the town itself has always been sad and neglected. Thanks for getting in touch about it.


  2. I too played around and on the engine in the park beneath the Castle Rock. It was built by Robert Napier, a Dumbartonian, and was his first steam engine. Named The Leven, it is in the Denny Ship Model Museum. It spent some time in the square in the middle of the dire “new” town centre.

    • Levenax,

      Thanks for the comment. I had been wondering what had happened to that engine. I remember it being in the “new” town centre, sometimes surrounded by foam when people decided to tip a packet of soap powder into it. I haven’t been to the Denny Museum yet, I’ll need to get around to it.


    • Malcolm,
      My husband is a teacher and he bought the Lochgelly from a shop in Cowdenbeath High Street around about 1980. It’s just part of history now of course.

  3. Hello Katrina,

    I found out about the shipyard dress code in the 1950s, which turned out to be partly a question of status and partly an early-warning system – you could see those bowler hats coming from a long way away. The system went like this:
    • Apprentice: no hat, no tie
    • Worker: no tie, flat cap (or bunnet, in Clydespeak).
    • Assistant foreman: tie, bunnet.
    • Foreman: tie, trilby hat.
    • Head Foreman or Manager: tie, bowler hat.
    • Senior Manager: Homburg and three piece suit
    • Director: Tophat and morning suit

    Men bought their suits in John Collier, Burton or Hector Powe shops. In fact, they did not all wear three-piece suits, but certainly most of those over about 40 did. This was only 13 years after the end of World War II and clothes actually designed for working in had only recently become available. A typical cost-conscious Scotsman of the older generation, however, was not about to rush out and buy new clothes to wear to work when he already had a perfectly good three-piece suit for the purpose, complete with lots of convenient pockets in which to keep chalk, string, loose tea leaves, et cetera.
    I did not realize it at the time, but this problem of working clothes was one on which my father was an expert. He spent a good part of his career trying to broaden, enliven and cheapen the choice of clothing available to ordinary men and women. He did this by introducing inexpensive cloth made from man-made fibers, by persuading famous designers to design clothes in these new fabrics, and by working closely with the large mass-market retailers – most notably Marks and Spencer – to make sure that they were easily available and economical.

    The three-piece suits were, of course, made out of wool and the climate in Scotland can only be described as damp. Very damp. In the buses going home at the end of the day one could look around and see steam rising from one’s co-workers. Everything was always damp. On the south bank of the Lower Clyde, where the residential areas rise up on tiered hillsides behind the waterfront industrial areas, even the humblest tenement can have a spectacular view of the hills of Argyll across the river. But the Weather Channel, if we had had it then, would have gone unwatched. We didn’t need a weather forecast: we knew it by heart. It went like this:

    “If you get up in the morning and you can see the hills across the river, it’s going to rain. If you can’t, it’s already raining.”

    I went to Japan, Sweden and Germany in the mid 1950s and saw the new giant shipyards. The production methods were very different from the Clyde. There were, therefore, two problems: the yards on the Clyde were too small –navigation channel too narrow – to build big ships and too technologically obsolete to compete with new yards. Add to these a third: industrial relations in British shipbuilding could not have been worse, particularly on the Clyde, which was known in those days as “Red Clydeside”. I was amazed at the animosity and contempt shown both by managers for workers and by workers for managers. I could see first-hand that experienced shipyard workers were extraordinarily skilful, hard-working people and I marveled at the treatment that they tolerated. Having never previous entertained anything that might be described as a political opinion I had no trouble now identifying with the workers rather than with the managers, although I knew better than to get involved or to express an opinion out loud.

    Of course, the managers were good people too: the animosity was not genuine, it was just the way shipyards operated. When you switched from being hourly paid and a member of the union to being salaried and a member of the staff you also switched your allegiance in the matter of industrial relations.

    Most of the people in the shipyard were neighbors, went to the same church, pubs and football games but the divide remained between the hourly paid workers and the salaried workers; between Protestants and Catholics and between Rangers and Celtics supporters. It was a tribal society based on hats, scarves and the hateful epithets one hurled.

    There was a romantic view of Clydeside.

    In 1939 film, “Shipyard Sally”, saw Gracie Fields quite literally making a song and dance about the depression. She played the daughter of a Clydebank barman who went to London to fight the cause of the unemployed workers. Again the message of the film was that if workers and bosses worked together they would see things through.

    Re-armament and the Second World War of course saw the shipbuilding industry survive and again the shipyards were used as a propaganda weapon. A film version of George Blake’s The Shipbuilders was made in 1943, transforming the resolutely depressing novel by tacking on a happy ending. The war artist Stanley Spencer was sent into the Greenock shipyards to record the workers. His view of the workforce was highly idealized and romanticized but incredibly popular. His paintings have become the most iconic views of the industry ever created. The wartime propaganda photographers also continued to create highly evocative images of shipyard workers.

    This idealized, romantic view of the shipyards was to continue after the Second World War. The postwar years were a boom time for the shipyards and this confidence influenced the view of the industry. For example the film Floodtide (1949) was a highly romanticized film starring Gordon Jackson as a young naval architect who falls in love with the yard owner’s daughter. In true heroic style he single-handedly saves the ship he designed from imminent disaster, wins over the stern owner, and gets his girl. But this was a movie.

    I left Dumbarton in 1963. Denny’s closed in 1966. By the 1970s the yards were beginning their spiral into near-terminal decline and we come to another of those defining moments in not only the history of shipbuilding, but also in the way that it became embedded within the heart of Clydeside’s cultural identity.

    There are certainly many small communities around the world whose identity is entirely wrapped up with the local shipyard. But there appears to be no other major industrial centre than Clydeside where shipbuilding played such an important role in creating a cultural identity or where the industry inspired such a great flowering of shipyard art and literature.

    Now Dumbarton is just a bedroom community of Glasgow with no signs of once all-mighty shipbuilding.

    Mo Ahmed/San Juan Capistrano/California USA

    • Mo Ahmed,
      I left Dumbarton in 1978 but I go back every now and again, mainly when my husband wants to go to a football match there, he’s a huge ‘Sons’ fan. Dumbarton, especially the High Street has changed a lot over the years and not for the better.
      I must look out for the films you mention, I probably saw them in the year dot though.
      My two brothers always wore boiler suits which got very oily. One was in Harland and Wolff and the other Weir’s Pumps and Scott’s of Bowling. The eldest went into the drawing office after he served his apprenticeship, then it was definitely a tie and suit from Collier or Burton, always in a very light colour. Sadly nothing has taken over from shipbuilding and there is a lot of unemployment in the area.
      I still miss the beautiful scenery around Clydeside and having been born and brought up there I thought it was normal to have so much rain, I was just glad that we rarely got snow, because of the surrounding hills.

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to leave another interesting comment.

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