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DENNY TANK MUSEUM, or more properly, The Scottish Maritime Museum - Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank. This is part of the Scottish Maritime Museum.

Castle Terrace, Dumbarton. 

ACCESS : For opening times refer to the museum's website below. 

Listed A. 


The premises were designed in 1882-3 by E R Mumford, Superintendent of the works together with William Froude, naval architect (d. 1879). Professor J. McQuorn Rankine was the engineer.

To quote the museum's website : Founded in 1983 and based in the West of Scotland with sites in Irvine and Dumbarton, the Scottish Maritime Museum holds an important nationally recognised collection, encompassing a variety of historic vessels, artefacts, art, fascinating personal items and the largest collection of shipbuilding tools and machinery in the country. The buildings and sites which the Scottish Maritime Museum occupies are themselves part of the heritage collection.

The Scottish Maritime Museum in Dumbarton is located on the site of the former, influential and innovative William Denny Shipyard and features the world’s first commercial ship testing facility, the Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank.

 A visit to the museum in Dumbarton will enable you to : 

  • discover how William Denny and Brothers’ innovative and experimental approach to shipbuilding made waves in the shipbuilding industry from the 1800s to 1963.
  • See the world’s first commercial ship model experiment tank, the length of a football pitch
  • Enter the world of the bygone ship designer in William Denny’s drawing office, and find out how to design your own ship.
  • Learn about Denny Brothers, builders of the famous Cutty-Sark and inventors of the Denny helicopter, Denny hovercraft and Denny-Brown stabilisers.
  • Discover ship models, photographs and historic objects in the Propeller shop. Experience the working environment of the traditional model makers, clay moulders and carpenters in 1882.
  • Try your hand at smoothing and carving a real wax hull model.

William Denny defined the function of the tank as “To determine with commercially acceptable accuracy the power required to achieve the contract speed, and to reduce that power for any installation to a minimum.” [Denny].

The tank went to on some impressively technical testing to a wide range of vessels. For the technically minded it is recommended that you enquire from the museum about their very detailed information sheet. Some of it can be a bit mind boggling for a general overview such as this here. 

For the less technical amongst us, perhaps most of us, the basic principles are sufficient. These include the best profiles to suit the ships at sea, the bow waves and the impact of ocean waves on the ships. This extract from the visitor notes gives some idea of the mechanism in the years before it was fully mechanised. In 1887 the tank installed its first wave maker. It consisted of a broad wooden board stretching the full width of the tank and was hinged at its lower end. Man-power was the energy source and the movement was timed by the beat on a drum, something akin to the Roman Slave Galleys. [Denny Tank museum]. 

After many years of testing and research in 1977, the tank passed into the hands of British Shipbuilders Ltd. In 1983 the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich instigated a scheme to save the tank for posterity. With financial assistance from various bodies, the tank was purchased in 1984 by the Scottish Maritime Museum for £50,000 and suitably converted for public access. That means that you too can visit it. 

Near the entrance to the Tank Museum is the first marine steam engine built by Robert Napier (1791-1876) of Dumbarton in 1824. His works were at Camlachie, near Govan. The engine was designed by the work’s manager, David Elder (1785-1866). There was no precedent for this wrought iron construction, which was mainly accomplished by cartwrights and house joiners using very rudimentary machines and cold chisels. This engine was fitted in the PS LEVEN, built by the Dumbarton shipbuilder James Lang for the Dumbarton Steamboat Company.

The facade of the older section on Castle Terrace.

The memorial to William Froude who was a major inspiration of the Dennys. It is said that Denny dedicated the facade of the building to his memory

The long roof over the experimental tank.

The experimental tank.

Working models such as this large naval ship are tested in the long tank.

The model workshop.

A wax model used to perfect the hull shape.

A wax hull form in progress. You too can contribute.

The drawing office. 

Before electronic calculators drawing offices would rely heavily on slide rules. This is a Fuller calculator. essentially a slide rule with printed logarithmic scales set pn a manually operated set of cylinders. 

One of the display cases.

A model of the famed Cutty Sark which was built by the Denny's yard 1869 for the firm of Scott & Linton

The board room.



The Scottish Maritime Museum (Denny Tank) celebrates the remarkable history of lighthouses, their keepers and the engineers who made them possible, with a fascinating new exhibition, ‘Following the Lights’.

The exhibition, which is now on show at the Museum on Castle Street, Dumbarton, charts Britain’s iconic lighthouse design through centuries of innovation from the first lighthouse in 1635 to the 1821 Fresnel lens – ‘the invention that saved a million ships’ – and the use of solar energy today.

‘Following the Lights’ also offers visitors a unique insight into the working life of lighthouse keepers. 

BRITISH LISTED BUILDINGS with maphttps://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/200360980-ship-model-experiment-tank-castle-street-dumbarton-dumbarton

CANMORE : https://canmore.org.uk/site/87782/dumbarton-castle-street-ship-model-experiment-tank


HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT SCOTLAND website for listed buildings : http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB24873

SCOTTISH MARITIME MUSEUM : http://www.scottishmaritimemuseum.org/who-we-are/. Also THE DENNY SHIP MODEL EXPERIMENT TANK - THE OLDEST TEST TANK IN THE WORLD - The Scottish Maritime Museum : Information notes available from the museum. 

WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Denny_and_Brothers : This discusses William Denny and Brothers and this tank.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Froude : This discusses William Froude who inspired the Dennys and whose memorial is on the front facade.

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