The chang­ing face of Dum­bar­ton town

Lennox Herald - - MEMORY LANE - Bill Heaney

To any old Dum­bar­to­nian re­turn­ing to the town af­ter a pro­longed ab­sence, the town’s lay­out must seem strange.

Some of the old streets, in­clud­ing the best known, Col­lege Street or the Ven­nel, have dis­ap­peared, the banks of the Leven are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble from the High Street, and large, pleas­antly laid-out hous­ing es­tates sur­round the town.

So wrote Dum­bar­ton his­to­rian Dr Ian MacPhail in a book to com­mem­o­rate the 750th an­niver­sary of the grant­ing of Royal Burgh sta­tus to the town.

The last part of that may have been gild­ing the lily a bit, but it is not un­sur­pris­ing given that the late Dr MacPhail had been com­mis­sioned by the Town Coun­cil to write “Dum­bar­ton Through the Cen­turies”.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing how­ever Dum­bar­ton did look bet­ter than it does now.

Age has taken its toll on the An­cient Cap­i­tal of Strath­clyde.

Great for­ti­tude and faith were its motto in those days 40 long years ago but that motto, along with its ele­phant and cas­tle coat of arms, has been con­signed to the past.

Just as the Mu­nic­i­pal Build­ings is cur­rently un­der­go­ing a face-lift, the whole town re­quires a makeover.

Over the past few weeks, I have been put­ting Dr MacPhail’s re­search to good use, list­ing the changes that took place here in the first three quar­ters of the 20th cen­tury.

And to round this off, it will be help­ful to fu­ture schol­ars with an in­ter­est in Dum­bar­ton’s past to know that there have been other sig­nif­i­cant changes since the Se­cond World War.

The model yacht­ing pond at the Com­mon, which in win­ter be­came a skat­ing pond and was known as the Goose­dubs, was filled up and be­came the play­ing fields of Dum­bar­ton Academy, which was still lo­cated at Brae­head, in the 1950s.

When elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the railways was in­tro­duced in 1960 and Dum­bar­ton waved good­bye to steam trains, the old North Bri­tish or LNER line through the town was closed.

Trou­ble with trans­form­ers on the newly-in­tro­duced “blue trains” led to break­downs and with­drawal of ser­vices af­ter just a few weeks.

But nine months later they re­turned to op­er­ate suc­cess­fully and in­cluded what be­came known as “the bowler hat ex­press” from He­lens­burgh which called at Dum­bar­ton Cen­tral only at 8.25am each morn­ing.

The set­ting up of the Scot­tish Gas Board in Dum­bar­ton in 1948 meant that Dum­bar­ton lost its own gas­works, with only mea­gre com­pen­sa­tion.

A large new gas­works was then erected at Castle­green Street in the New­town but that was it­self ren­dered su­per­flu­ous by the in­tro­duc­tion of nat­u­ral gas in 1971.

Who re­mem­bers the men and boys of poor fam­i­lies in the town, who could not af­ford coal, go­ing out to the gas­works with an old bar­row or pram to col­lect char­coal to keep their home fire burn­ing on cold win­ter nights?

Up to 1949 the Burgh of Dum­bar­ton had its own po­lice force housed in the Mu­nic­i­pal Build­ings, but it was merged with the County Con­stab­u­lary, which was housed up the pend in the Old Academy build­ing in the Burgh Hall in Church Street.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Bert Gunn was in charge at Dum­bar­ton and Chief Con­sta­ble Wil­liam Kerr, one of the de­tec­tives who in­ves­ti­gated the theft of the Stone of Destiny from West­min­ster, was the Chief Con­sta­ble.

Sadly, Mr Kerr was se­ri­ously in­jured when he ac­ci­den­tally walked into the rear ro­tor blades of a helicopter at the “new” po­lice head­quar­ters at Crosslet.

He was re­placed by Chief Con­sta­ble David McNee, who be­came Chief Con­sta­ble of Strath­clyde and was later knighted when he was pro­moted to be­come Com­mis­sioner of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Po­lice in Lon­don.

The Dum­bar­ton Fire Brigade, which was en­larged dur­ing the Se­cond World War be­cause of the dan­ger of air-raids on the ship­yards and fac­to­ries, was brought un­der the con­trol of the Cen­tral Area Fire Brigade in 1948.

Fire­mas­ter Sam Park took charge of a num­ber of big fire op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing the one that de­stroyed the Burgh Hall and the one that swept through Denny’s of­fices in Cas­tle Street.

Fire­mas­ter Sam was in­jured that night as he and his men fought to save the old build­ing.

In 1968 the burgh’s wa­ter un­der­tak­ing was taken over by the Lower Clyde Wa­ter Board.

This brought an end to the an­nual “wa­ter trip,” which was the jun­ket to end all coun­cil jun­kets in that era. This was an in­spec­tion of reser­voirs, which was sup­posed to in­volve walk­ing about eight miles in all over Dum­bar­ton Muir and down into the fil­ters at Gar­shake.

Dr MacPhail wrote that it was “rem­i­nis­cent of the tra­di­tional per­am­bu­la­tion of the marches”.

Be­lieve me, it was the whisky drink­ing ses­sion of the year when co­pi­ous amounts of Scotch, some of which was do­nated by the lo­cal dis­til­leries, was con­sumed by the par­tic­i­pants.

These were coun­cil­lors and of­fi­cials and oth­ers who were deemed to have given sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic ser­vice over the year.

They stag­gered from reser­voir to reser­voir.

It was a time when a free dram was greatly ap­pre­ci­ated and an in­vi­ta­tion to the Wa­ter Trip was an in­di­ca­tion that you had “made it” in Dum­bar­ton so­ci­ety.

The sur­ren­der of con­trol of fire and wa­ter ser­vices, the fire brigade and the po­lice force her­alded the be­gin­ning of the “economies of scale” ap­proach in lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

In­stead of sub­sidiar­ity – lo­cal de­ci­sions be­ing taken by lo­cal peo­ple at lo­cal level – a sys­tem of re­gional gov­ern­ment was be­ing pre­pared for Scot­land.

It was the be­gin­ning of a re­or­gan­i­sa­tion which re­sulted in the least im­por­tant func­tions in Dum­bar­ton be­ing gov­erned by a Dis­trict Coun­cil.

The Town and County Coun­cil’s most im­por­tant func­tions, Ed­u­ca­tion, So­cial Work, High­ways and Trans­porta­tion and oth­ers passed into the hands of Strath­clyde Re­gional Coun­cil, which came into be­ing in 1974.

Out with the old, in with the new Dum­bar­ton’s chang­ing sky­line

All change Mu­nic­i­pal build­ings in Dum­bar­ton

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.