ALEXANDRIA and BONHILL (surveyed in 1866)
Alexandria, in the parish of Bonhill in Dumbatronshire, was named after the local Member of Parliament, Lieutenant Alexander Smollet, who was born there and died in 1799 at the Battle of Alkmaar. It is situated in the Vale of Leven, on the west bank of the River Leven, and is contiguous with the village of Bonhill. The two are, to all intents and purposes, one town. In 1851 there were 3,781 inhabitants in Alexandria, and 2,327 in Bonhill. The town is surrounded by lush, scenic countryside, and is just over a mile away from Loch Lomond.
The town of Alexandria began very modestly with a single grocer's shop established in the early-eighteenth century. Soon, through harnessing the power of the River Leven, it expanded into a small industrial town. The street plan roughly follows the line of the river in a north-south direction. The Bonhill bridge, which links Alexandria to Bonhill, was built in 1836. Wilson (1857) says of the town: 'the appearance of its own streets and buildings is modern and pleasing'.
Being on a river, and on the Caledonian and Dumbartonshire Junction Railway, meant Alexandria was able to take full advantage of the industrial revolution. At the time of this survey the town contained several printworks and bleachworks, an iron foundry, an engraving works and a yarn works. There was also a quarry and a gasworks. The first printworks on the River Leven was established in the late-eighteenth century, and three printworks and four bleachfields followed over the next 30 years. The water of the River Leven was very soft, and this contributed to the growth of the bleaching industry. Wilson (1857) describes it as 'seldom or never muddy, as the rivers and burns from the hills fall first in to Loch Lomond, where the mud they carry along with them subsides'. The fact that the water level remained fairly constant also made the area attractive to industrialists.
The parish is in the presbytery of Dumbarton and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Alexandria had a chapel of ease, with an attendance of 400. Both Alexandria and Bonhill had their own Free and United Presbyterian churches. The Bonhill Free Church had an attendance of 500, Alexandra's congregation was 480.
According to Wilson (1857), at this time there were two parochial schools in the area (funded by landowners of the parish), and ten non-parochial schools. The salary of each of the masters was around £21, with about £15 added in fees each year. Financially, the parishioners of Bonhill were catered for by the Commercial Bank, and several benefit societies. Alexandria also had a branch of the Clydesdale Bank.