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Now on the Clyde: The Changing Face of Dumbarton

Click here for Robert's original post on Clyde Shipping (subscription required) DUMBARTON
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 maritime community website Clydeshipping.

In this one place, so much changes have been wrought over the years, it is hard to imagine anything ever being a permanent feature!

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 people!

A McFarlane & Company
A McLachlan
A McMillan & Son
Alexander Denny & Brother
Archibald Denny
Birrell Stenhouse & Company
Boyd & Turner
Burrell & Son Low Woodyard
Chas Wood
Denny & Rankine
J Lang
MacLaren Bros
McKellar & Chambers
Morton & Wilde
Murray Brothers
R Chambers
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 Street.

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 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 following:

"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, for years!

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 Century.

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.

Although Dumbarton's Drums keep playing different tunes, it is good to see that one of her proud products has remained unaltered!

Pictured Right: mv MELBROOK

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 year.

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.



And 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 Gourock.

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.

Copyright B.Biddulph, Clydesite 2005 - Unless otherwise stated. Any materials credited shows the name of the copyright owner where known. The pages are intended for private use, for educational purposes. Reproduction in any form is prohibited without the permission of the copyright owner. Reassemble the following to email address format to contact: editor at clydesite . co . uk