An ever changing area
This evocative picture by Robert McGechie shows the on-going demolition
of the distillery buildings in Dumbarton. Robert is a subscriber to our
In this one place, so much changes have been
wrought over the years, it is hard to imagine anything ever being a permanent
The distillery buildings that are being demolished actually sit on the
former Archibald McMillan shipyard which closed after their last ship
was launched there in 1930. The yard of Wm Denny is to the right and they
would close some thirty four years later. Meanwhile in the foreground is
the site of the Woodyard shipyard, now Sandpoint Marina. The Woodyard
was the first shipyard in Dumbarton, a town which had many shipbuilders
and engineering firms. The following list may even surprise Dumbarton
A McFarlane & Company
A McMillan & Son
Alexander Denny & Brother
Birrell Stenhouse & Company
Boyd & Turner
Burrell & Son Low Woodyard
Denny & Rankine
McKellar & Chambers
Morton & Wilde
Rankin & Son
Scott & Linton
William Denny & Brothers
Many of these did not last long and eventually
Denny would dominate the town, swallowing up all the rivals and locating
all of their build at the Leven shipyard. For many years that yard remained
with its cranes long after it closed, a silent ghost, a sad reminder of
Dumbarton's long and proud tradition of shipbuilding. One of the cranes
survives, being in the BAE SYSTEMS Scotstoun yard, whilst a number of
ships from Dumbarton still either ply their trades or are static visitor
attractions. One that you will most definately know is the world famous
CUTTY SARK, she was built by Scott and Linton at the Woodyard, but the
building of the ship proved too onerous and they collapsed. Denny completed
the project. Another vessel you may know, certainly if you are a Londoner,
is the QUEEN MARY II (No, not the Cunard flagship!). She was built in
1933 at Wm Denny and became a Clyde favourite, taking people around the
lovely resorts of the Clyde. This magnificent turbine steamer evokes many
happy memories for many Clyde people.
She was called QUEEN
MARY II because Cunard wanted the name for their latest luxury liner building
at Clydebank. A story attached to THAT ship's name is an amusing one.
According to a number of subscribers to our Clydeshipping site, the directors
of Cunard met with the King and informed him "we are going to name
our ship after the greatest Queen in our nation's history". They
meant Victoria, but the King immediately responded with "Thank you
gentlemen, Queen Mary will be most pleased." It is said the directors
were too embarrassed to correct him, so QUEEN VICTORIA became QUEEN MARY.
I digress, we will
return to Dumbarton now!
Of all the yards of Dumbarton, the story of them is largely centred on
two names. McMillan and Denny. It is difficult now to imagine what the
town was like even fifty years ago, but it was completely different from
today, go back fifty more years and it was wildly different again. This
picture shows a rarely seen view of the town with McMillan's shipyard
dominating the view and vessels towering over the buildings of the High
It is a picture that, for someone who comes from the area, and has strong
family connections with the owners, evokes strong passions and extreme
sadness. Few people remember McMillan's, and there are very few alive
today who will remember just how much space and presence the yard had.
Note too that for it's time it was a very modern shipyard. This view probably
dates from about 1921 and Clydesite subscribers reckon that the two ships
building are for Lamport & Holt. They built three cargo motorships
for the company at the time LASSELL, LEIGHTON and LINNELL. At this time
these were incredibly modern vessels, their designs were much more like
thirties - even 1950's built vessels..
The picture is actually a crop of an advert which appeared in the Rock
Magazine in 1926 which was Colin McBride's first posting on Clydeshipping.co.uk.
earlier this year.
Denny ranks as one of the most prolific shipbuilders of all time and by
the twentieth century they were already a very venerable firm, and by
now firmly the favourites for cross channel and pleasure steamers builds.
1901 catapulted them into the new century with the world's first passenger
turbine steamer the KING EDWARD. To generations who have nevr experienced
a turbine ship, it it difficult to convey just how much of a luxurious
way to travel they were. Virtually noiseless, they epitomised graceful
travel - a motorship is a noisy beast of a machine compared to a turbine!
Below is a view of the Denny and McMillan yards, this time from 1912.
It was posted last year on Clydeshipping by Stuart Cameron who adds the
"In 1912 vessels under contruction were: S.S. INDARA for Australasian
United Steam Navigation Co; three torpedo boats and two floating crane
lighters for the Admiralty; S.S. WAHINE for Union Steamship Co of New
Zealand; S.S. PEGU for P Henderson & Co, Glasgow; steamer for Russian
Steam Navigation and Trading Co; steamer for Compania Transatlantic Co;
and river paddle steamers and barges for Rangoon. "
Today we can only wonder at such an order book! It is doubtful if the
whole of the UK has produced such a number of commercial ships in a year,
Denny became synonymous with turbine steamers and produced a great many
over the years of many types. Sadly, the expense of running such vessels
proved less than satisfactory when compared with the diesel engine and
a great form of travel, for the most part, died out throughout the 20th
Denny's were always
innovators, right up to the end and it is particularly saddening that
this great company was amongst the first to go. Amongst their last projects
was the hovercraft, something they, and many others at the time, thought
would be the way of sea travel in the future. I remember well interviewing
an old man who worked in Denny's. I was 16 at the time and was going to
do an article for the local paper, the County Reporter (probably rather
like the one you are reading now! - oh well, better late than never!).
It was his view that the company could have gone on to greater things,
however, the shareholders pulled the plug, and government stood by and
let it collapse.
The shock of this reverberated around the Clyde - one of the most distinguished
of shipbuilders - modern, innovative, superlative at all they did, by
1964, was no more. Many more firms would collapse over the next thirty
years and Dumbarton, I don't think, ever fully recovered from the blow.
Now the town is embracing its River Leven, we shall have to see if this
means a reconnection to the greater river it flows into.
I will leave you with two pictures - Denny's last vessel, and survivor
that still sails the Clyde. The first is MELBROOK, she was left high
and dry after Denny went into liquidation. The second is, excuse the pun,
THE SECOND SNARK, built for Denny by Denny and used, so I am assured,
by the Denny family for their own jaunts around the Clyde. Of Burma teak
decks and built as solid as any ocean liner, she is well worth a visit
and you can do so by joining her on her cruises from Greenock, operated
by the Munro company, Clyde Marine out of Victoria Harbour.
Drums keep playing different tunes, it is good to see that one of her
proud products has remained unaltered!
The last ship ever
built by Wm Denny at Dumbarton. She was completed by Alexander Stephen
and went to Hall Bros.
She was quite a large ship for a Leven-build - 11075 grt.
She ended her days
as the ANNITA, scrapped at Gadani Beach in Pakistan in 1986.
This excellent photo is from Bob Wright, who posted it on Clydesite last
It is a most unusual photo, given it is in full colour and the position
the camera is in and shows the Clyde as many of our subscribers well remember
it - bustling and full of work with the yards of Barclay Curle, Connells,
Alexander Stephen and Fairfield.
Nowadays the only yard left is Fairfield, now owned by BAE SYSTEMS, and
now a very modern, highly productive builder of warships and support ships.
our last look at a Denny ship simply has to be THE SECOND SNARK, built
in 1938 as a yard tender, but as I alluded to before, it is said the Denny
family often used her for trips and hospitality.
Of rugged construction, she is still operating, now as a cruise vessel
and sometimes on the ferry service from Helensburgh to Kilcreggan and
This wonderful view of her was taken by John Huggins, one of our younger
subscribers and I recommend a sail on her whenever you get the opportunity.