Dumbarton (surveyed in 1859)


Dumbarton is situated on the confluence of the Rivers Leven and Clyde about 15 miles north-west by west of Glasgow. It is the capital of Dunbartonshire and the ancient capital of Strathclyde. It has been a royal burgh since 1222, and was a post town, a market town and a seaport. Its name means 'Stronghold of the Britons' and is derived from the Gaelic, Dùn Breatainn. The official form of the burgh name has, since the seventeenth century been Dumbarton, and despite some attempts to change the name, only the county has kept the etymologically correct form of the name as Dunbarton. At the time of this survey, the town's population numbered around 4,500.

Town Planning

The town grew around its most ancient and prominent feature, Dumbarton Castle, which is referred to locally as 'The Rock'. Dumbarton rock has been a hill fort for many centuries, and the castle is still officially a Scottish Royal Fortress along with Edinburgh and Stirling. Like most Scottish towns, its principal street is the High Street, which, unlike most Scottish towns, runs not in a roughly straight line, but is almost concentric with the river. At the time of survey, the High Street was intersected by the Cross-vennel, and various other smaller streets.

Most of Dumbarton lies on the right bank of the Leven, although the suburb of Bridgend is on the left bank. A five-arched stone bridge dating from the mid-eighteenth century linked the two.

Wilson, writing about the town in his Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland (1857), said of its appearance: 'The town altogether has an irregular alignment and a plain appearance, displaying some features of taste, indeed, but far from showy; and, in consequence of standing on a low dead level, it neither forms nor commands any picturesque view . . . And the town itself, seen from the Clyde or from any of the southern approaches, looks only a huddled mass of squatting houses, chequered in front by the timbers of ship-yards and overtopped in the middle by the tall chimnies and the church-steeple.' He is kinder about the view from Dumbarton Rock, however, calling it, 'panoramic and gorgeous'.


At the time of survey, Dumbarton's main industry was shipbuilding, and it had five yards. Before that, the town had been known as a centre of glassmaking. Its glassworks employed around 300 men at one time. When that industry declined, the shipyard was built on the site of the old glassworks.

At the time of survey, around 2,000 men were employed in shipbuilding and shipbuilding also generated other, associated, employment. The town had two engine works, two foundries, and a large forge. There was also a busy rope works, and several tanners and brickmakers.


Dumbarton at this time had two large inns, offices of the Commercial Bank and the Union Bank, ten insurance offices, a gas-light company, a mechanics' institution, a funeral society, an education society, an agricultural society, and a horticultural society. It was, and still is, the administrative centre of the region, and as such was where the weekly burgh courts were held. There was a Free Church school, three schools for girls, and four other non-parochial schools in the parish of Dumbarton. There were two burgh schoolmasters, who received £40 per annum.

Religious Life

Dumbarton's parish church was built in 1810, and its minister received £233 6s. 2d per annum, which is approximately £11,000 today. The town also had a Free church, a United Presbyterian church, an Episcopalian chapel and a Roman Catholic chapel. Dumbarton is the alleged birthplace of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.