Overtoun House, Milton, Dumbarton
High above Dumbarton amidst extensive wooded grounds and alongside a gorge with a bridge sits Overtoun House, a grand Victorian mansion.
James White, proprietor of the Shawfield Chemical Works on the Glasgow-Rutherglen Road, bought the lands of Meikle Overtoun from Gabriel Lang of Greenock in 1859. He commissioned the architect James Smith to design a Scots Baronial mansion, after the fashion of Queen Victoria's Balmoral. These mansions and castles were part of a Gothic revival in architecture, drawing on medieval and Renaissance styles, in reaction to the revivalist Neo-classical architecture of the early half of the 19th century.
The family money came from White's Chemical Works. These had been opened in the early 19th century and only ceased functioning in 1968. The main product was chrome, but the working conditions were abhorrent, and the ground lies unusable to this day. James White died in 1884 and his only son John Campbell White took over.
Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party, attacked the Whites for the conditions of slavery they maintained for their workers, while acting philanthropically, particularly in the Dumbarton area where they donated land for the municipal buildings, supported local churches and voluntary organisations. Lord Overtoun, as John Campbell White had become, could only claim that he had never been to his works for such a long time that he was unaware of the conditions he was forcing his workers to suffer.
When Lord Overtoun died in 1908 the estate passed to his sister Fanny's son, John Douglas Campbell White (1871-1940), who was an occasional resident. Just before he died, in 1939, he made the house and grounds over to Dumbarton Burgh Council.
During World War II the house was used as a convalescent home for both locals and injured army personnel and after the war it became a maternity hospital. It is as this, a hospital, that it is listed “A”. It eventually became unoccupied and started to become derelict. Fortunately the Christian Centre for Hope and Healing took it over under lease from the Council and some restoration was done. The house has some fantastic stone features, but it is the interior that fascinates me most.
The building is entered from a porte-cochere into an entrance porch of very unusual form. This photograph shows part of the porch with its “Etruscan” design. Above the frescos is a vaulted etched glazed panels with roofights above them. (They appear black in my photograph because of the lighting conditions). While various parts of the building have been restored, this area with its unique design and damp has so far proved out reach of suitable skilled attention.
The building is closed to visitors most of the time, but does have a tea room at the ground floor that is open on weekends. It is very worthwhile to visit. Check the website for opening times.
This photograph shows the angel scene on the ceiling of the main room, often referred to as the Angel Room.