OVERTOUN HOUSE, Milton, Dumbarton.
ACCESS : The house can be approached on foot and it has two small car parks. Access to the public is limited to the ground floor tea room - but what a room!
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.
John Bruce describes in some detail how the lands in this area were divided and sold over the years, when and to whom. Gabriel Lang, a merchant based in Greenock had owned them for some time until they were sold to James White. He then became known as James White of Overtoun. He was the the second son of John White of Shawfield, Rutherglen.
In the early years of his business career he was a member of the law firtm of Cooper and White, but in 1851 he joined his father in the Shawfield Chemical Works.
The family prosperity came from these works. James White became one of the foremost businessmen in Glasgow. This enabled him to erect this magnificent mansion in the baronial style on the Overtoun estate as well as other improvements such as the bridge over hte gorge and the estate lodges. When he died in 1884, a statue was erected to jim at the entrance to Glasgow Necropolis where it can be seen as you approach the cathedral.
The chemical works had been opened in the early 19th century (only ceasing 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.
John Campbell White married Grace Eliza Maclure and they lived in Croslet House until the death of his father. He was made a Peer of the Realm by Mr Gladstone in 1893 and thereafter was known as Baron Overtoun od Ovetourn. He was a Liberal and became President of the Dumbarton Liberal Association.
He was well known as a philanthropist and leader is social and religious wellfare of the people of Dumbarton. However, the matter of the conditions of the chemical works were to tarnish the family reputation.
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 and 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. The photograph nelow shows part of the porch with its “Etruscan” design. Above the frescos is a vaulted glazed ceiling with etched glazed panels with roofights above them. (They appear black in the 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.
The entrance vestibule.
The entrance hall looking back to the entrance vestibule.
The top landing
These photographs shows the angel scenes on the ceiling of the main room, often referred to as the Angel Room.
Rich cornices, door and mirror.
BRITISH LISTED BUILDINGS : https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/200361024-overtoun-hospital-dumbarton#.X-OFxXpxdPY (Listed under its one time role as "Overtoun Hospital".
BRUCE, JOHN, History of the Parish of West or Old Kilpatrick and of the Church and certain lands in the Parish of East or New Kilpatrick. 1893. Republished by the Clydebank District Libaries and Museums Department, 1995. ISBN096938112. (Reference above p 244).
CANMORE website : https://canmore.org.uk/site/127662/overtoun-house-hospital
ENGOLE website : https://engole.info/john-white-1st-baron-overtoun/ This has an excellent of John Campbell White, 1st Baron Overtoun.
OVERTOUN HOUSE's FaceBook page : https://en-gb.facebook.com/Overtoun-House-Tea-Room-73778549162/
WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE COUNCIL : https://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/leisure-parks-events/museums-and-galleries/collections/buildings/castles-and-country-houses/castles-and-country-houses-dumbarton/overtoun-house/