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DENNY SHIPYARD, River Leven, Dumbarton

ACCESS : Easy access from along the Dumbarton Waterfront Path. (At the time of writing this, only part of the path is complete. It will eventually become possible to walk all the way to Dumbarton Rock below which the shipyard had some of its quayside). 

///also.drop.critic Approximate centre of the remaining basin next to Lidl.

///usual.boom.drove Approximate centre of the basin over which the football stadium is now situated.

To get an idea of the development of shipbuilding on this side of the River Leven we need to first consider some of the preceding shipbuilders. 

Early maps c 1860 show "Dock Ship Building". This is probably what became James Lang’s Dockyard which was located just south of St Patrick's Churchyard (itself close to that of the Riverside Parish Church). It was acquired in 1845 by Archibald McMillan and Sons, who were established in 1834 at West Bridgend Yard. In 1867 the yard was extended to the east to take in a small timber yard and a dockyard that included a graving dock. By 1894, however, the yard had begun to specialise in steel steamers and as a result of repair work ceasing the dock was filled in. The shipyard was further expanded in 1910 with the purchase of part of the churchyard. The yard closed in 1930 and from 1938 it was the site of Ballantine’s Distillery. Production at the distillery ceased in 2002 and its buildings have since been demolished. (Canmore). This area was to be defined by the basin that still exists. The distillery overlooked it on one side and on the other was Denny's shipyard. In the first of the aerial photographs you can see the dominant cubic form of the main distillery building.

The same old map shows the "Victoria Ship Building Yard" about half way between the afrorementioned yard and the Rock. That had a single narrow slipway and a few workshop buildings. It was effectively little more than the very earliest of shipbuilding sites that used the tides rising onto the low lying mudbanks to launch ships built there. 

The name of Denny is very prominent in the story of Dumbarton. This being a website that discusses places and then attaches the stories of those involved,activities and occurences at them finds that some stories get divides across different places. Such is the case here. To find out moe about the early days of the company, see the section on WOODYARD across the River Leven. To find out more about Peter Denny, the most influential of the family, see PETER DENNY STATUE. And to get a taste of the design of ships by the company, see DENNY TANK MUSEUM.

William Denny. Picture kindly provided by the Denny Tank Museum. ©

In this section we are discussing the location and form of the Denny Shipyard on the east bank of the River Leven. 

The Denny shipyard was quite extensive and stretched from and included the basin adjoining Ballantines Distillery to that below Dumbarton Rock. In between were a number of slipways on which ships would be built before launching and then fitted out in the basin. Behind them were various workshop, storage  and administrative buildings.

It not only produced ships. 

In 1900 Edward Mumford, the Tank Superintendent, collaborated with a Spaniard named Vergara and carried out experiments at the tank on a form of orthinopter. After Mumford patented his design in 1905, under the utmost secrecy, he carried out experiments with air screws, initially utilising the joiner’s shop which had a greater height. Later a full size machine without an engine was tested in a shed in the hills above Overtoun. [Denny Tank Museum]. 

In November 1960, Denny were one of four firms collaborating with Hovercraft Development Ltd on the design of Hovercraft. The 5.5 Tn prototype D1, built of plywood and sheet metal, comprised twin fixed wall skirts enclosing an air cushion serviced by 2-25 HP fans. Propulsion was by means of two 35 HP Mercury outboards which propelled the 18 metre craft at 22 knots in the Gareloch on June 22nd, 1961. [Denny Tank Museum]. 

The basin below Dumbarton Rock has long been filled in. The Dumbarton Football Stadium is now located over where it was. 

The other basin still exists and is skirted by the Dumbarton Waterfront Path. 

Parts of the shipyard are now occupied by housing (or will be) and the Morrisons Supermarket. 

The following maps and aerial photographs are reproduced with permission of the NLS and NCAP. See below for details.

This was the situation up to 1860. The Woodyard shipyard on the banks of the Leven opposite the town centre is well established and there are two small shipbuilding yards on the town side.


By 1896 the situation is very different. There are now two basins serving two shipyards. The small shipyard nearest the town centre would eventually become the Allied Distillery. The larger shipyard would be occupied by Dennys.


This view looks eastwards. Dumbarton Rock on the right with the River Clyde beyond it. The River Leven meanders from the Rock northwards below the photographer. You can see both basins. The one on the right has been infilled and is now occupied by the football stadium. The other still exists. Below the photographer is Sandpoint which now handles boat maintenance. Note the jetties. (If you look closely at the top right hand corner you will see a flying boat, but that is another story). 


This view looks westwards. Dumbarton Rock on the left with the River Clyde beyond it. The River Leven meanders from below the Rock northwards (right). You can see both basins. The one on the left has been infilled and is now occupied by the football stadium. The other still exists. The bulky cubic form of the Allied Distillery can be seen on its far side. Across the Leven is Sandpoint and a little upstream from it, Woodyard, the site of the first Denny Shipyard. 


The shipyard in 1932. Layout map kindly provided by the Denny Tank Museum. ©. The aerial views above are from 1940 by which time little had changed. The edge of the Denny site is along Castle Road, although they had a few small buildings and pens across it towards the Rock and some posts in the mud of the Clyde to hold timber. The space between the works and the Clyde was a separate site that was to be used for the Blackburn Aircraft Factory.

This is the remaining basin, the one closest to the town centre, as seen from the new Waterfront Path. The path will eventually go right around it all the way to Dumbarton Rock.

A closer look at the other side. There is a small slipway. That is the edge of the Denny Shipyard. Morrisons can be seen beyond. The wrecked boat is one of several in the area and unlikely to be unrelated to the yard.

These two photographs taken from about the same point on the parapets of Dumbarton Castle illustrate how this area is changing.

In the photo above the tower of the Allied Distillery still stands. It has replaced the shipyard nearest the town centre. Alongside that is the basin that still remains. To the right of that is the land on which Denny had its shipyard. In the foreground is Sandpoint boatyard.

In this photo the distillery tower has gone. (There is now housing on it and Lidl close by. To the right was the extensive area of Denny's shipyard. The second basin has long been infilled and the football grounds and stadium erected on it. You can just see one corner to the extreme lower right. Morrisons takes up much of the site. Also visible are some concrete landing platforms. There were also various heavy timber jetties and quays. These got to such a poor state that most remnants have been removed. The Waterside Path will meander along this riverside edge. 

On the Clyde shore are a slipway and poles sticking out of the mud. They do not appear on the early map, but do on this one from 1914. They are labelled as timber ponds. Timber for shipbuilding. (Also visible to the left is the old jetty from the base of the Rock. The double lines to the right are a watercourse through the low tide mud).


Many of the poles that contained the logs still remain in place.

Although Denny used this shoreline for timber, this slipway was not part of their works, but that of the Blackburn Aircraft Factory.

In this old photo we see a shift just ended and the workforce going home. That gateway and buildings were to be taken over by the Allied Distillery and survived in Castle Street until the first of the site was cleared many years before Lidl was built. The street with a few remaining buildings lead up to the Denny Tank Museum. Photo kindly provided by the Denny Tank Museum. ©.

There is that gateway again as the Allied Distillery before demolition. The works railway line has been preserved at this point.

This is the experimental Mumford Helicopter. Picture kindly provided by the Denny Tank Museum ©

CANMORE : https://canmore.org.uk/site/90315/dumbarton-shipyard#:~:text=The%20yard%20was%20formerly%20James%20Lang%E2%80%99s%20Dockyard%20but,and%20a%20dockyard%20that%20included%20a%20graving%20dock. Archibald McMillan and Sons;   https://canmore.org.uk/site/90311/dumbarton-distillery?display=collection&collection_items_page=2 Allied Distillery; https://canmore.org.uk/site/186808/dumbarton-castle-road-william-denny-and-brothers-ltd-watching-brief William Denny and Brothers.

THE DENNY SHIP MODEL EXPERIMENT TANK - THE OLDEST TEST TANK IN THE WORLD - The Scottish Maritime Museum : Information notes available from the museum. 

NATIONAL LIBRARY OF SCOTLAND (NLS) : Maps reproduced with permission.

1860 map : Archive title "Dumbartonshire, Sheet XXII (includes: Cardross; Dumbarton; Erskin... Survey date: 1860 ,  Publication date: 1864". https://maps.nls.uk/view/74426624

1896 map : Archive title : "Dumbartonshire XXII.6 (Cardross; Dumbarton; Old Kilpatrick) Revised: 1896 to 1897, Publication date: 1898". https://maps.nls.uk/view/82875684

1914 map : Archive title : " Dumbartonshire Sheet nXXII (includes: Cardross; Dumbarton; Erskin...Date revised: 1914, Publication date: 1923". https://maps.nls.uk/view/75827402

NATIONAL COLLECTION OF AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY (NCAP) : Aerial views reproduced with permission. 

Top aerial photo. 1940. Archive title. " Silverton; Dumbarton; DUNBARTONSHIRE; SCOTLAND. Coordinates (lat, lon): 55.939280, -4.560360. Description: Oblique aerial photograph taken facing South East. Denny’s shipbuilding yard, with at least six destroyers and one larger ship under construction, the Blackburn Aircraft factory in the background with a Flying boat outside factory".  Sortie: CAM/005. Frame: G_00306.

Bottom aerial photo. 1940. Archive title : "Dennystown; Dumbarton; DUNBARTONSHIRE; SCOTLAND. Coordinates (lat, lon): 55.939840, -4.565730
Description: Oblique aerial photograph taken facing West. Denny's shipbuilding yard. Sortie: CAM/005. Frame: G_00312

WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE COUNCIL : https://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/leisure-parks-events/museums-and-galleries/collections/shipbuilding/shipbuilding-dumbarton/denny/ on William Denny and Brothers and https://www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/leisure-parks-events/museums-and-galleries/collections/shipbuilding/shipbuilding-dumbarton/the-cutty-sark/  Cutty Sark.

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