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Dumbarton : Glencairn Greit House

Dumbarton began as a settlement on the River Leven very close to where it enters the might Clyde. Above this confluence is the volcanic plug of Dumbarton Rock, a very strategic feature utilised over the ages and on which arose Dumbarton Castle. But the very qualities that made it defensible also made it impractical for most people, for trade and daily life. The High Street therefore roughly follows the Leven and aims at the Rock along Castle Street which used to meander towards the Castle. The High Street became developed with tightly packed frontage, but with narrow properties stretching out behind them. Most would have been used for vegetable growing, but those towards the river banks became utilised for handling produce to or from the boats and even large ships docking there. Glencairn Greit House is one such property.

The listing text names it unconvincingly as “Glencairn Tenement”, but it was in fact a house from which trade was undertaken. Canmore describes it as a three-storeyed townhouse built in 1623 (the date appears on the dormerhead) for the Earls of Glencairn and later occupied by the Dukes of Argyll. If you refer to older pictures you will see that the ground floor at street level was originally quite different. The residential area was reached from up a staircase right on the pavement. There still remains an arched throughway to the side which linked the street to the yards and store on the riverside docks. Alterations were made in 1924-25 to remove those stairs and insert stone arches. While this still looks appropriate and we have got used to it, such alterations mean the listing is not “A”, but “B”. The upper floors still retain many of the architectural features associated with seventeenth-century Scottish architecture. Crow-stepped gables (now only at the westend), extensive decorative stonework, a central plaque recess, pedimented dormerheads and spike finials still stand testament to the status of the owners and skill of the builders.

My photograph above shows the upper floors with their pediment dormers one winter's day. The building is flanked on each side by art-deco buildings. While very different in style I find that the eclectic feel of the streetscape retains a certain validity through similar scale, not just in height, but in detail and texture, something that contemporary interventions seem to usually deny.

A particularly intruiging feature is this pair of corbels above the archway. The lower one may be broken. Was the upper one a replacement? Was it meant to have an oil lamp on it? Or something signifying good luck such as a religious figure? Depending on the light it appears to have a face carved on it.... or a cross on a shield.

West Dunbartonshire Council who own the building have been considering its future since it was vacated, but they are also looking at a wide range of improvements to the town generally. It has been proposed by several people that this building become a museum to depict and promote the area's rich history, industry, society and geography.

WDC archive : http://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/libraries/archives-family-history/archive-photograph-of-the-month/archive-photos-2013/glencairn-greit-house-dumbarton-c-1898/

British Listed Buildings : http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/200360997-dumbarton-high-street-glencairn-tenement-dumbarton#.WOflhqFrjIU

Undiscovered Scotland : http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/dumbarton/dumbarton/

Canmore : https://canmore.org.uk/site/42350/dumbarton-81-high-street-glencairn-tenement


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