Dumbarton and the Denny Tank

Scottish Maritime Museum: Denny Tank
Scottish Maritime Museum: Denny Tank

Ever since our visit to the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine in March, John has been itching to visit its other site at Dumbarton, the Denny Tank. The book of Clyde walks we’ve been using recently includes a 5 mile circuit of Dumbarton, so it was conceded that we could visit the tank and do the walk at the same time. But, oh look! It says café. So, of course, we had to have lunch before exploring the museum.

William Denny & Brothers’ innovative, experimental approach made waves in the shipbuilding industry from the 1800s to 1963. (Don’t blame me for the terrible pun, that’s from the museum’s website.) They built the world’s first commercial ship model experiment tank which you can still see in situ, along with associated workshops.

Ho hum, that bit wasn’t really for me, but when we got upstairs to the offices I was much more interested. I’m not usually into model ships either, but this is none other than the Cutty Sark which was built by Denny & Brothers. The cat’s head is a genuine carving from the ship.

I got really excited by this next bit, though – a Banda machine! If you don’t recognise the name, you might know it as a Ditto machine in North America or Roneo in France and Australia. Bandas were spirit duplicators, and as soon as I saw this I was taken right back to my school days. The pong. The pale purple print. The primitive technology!

Also in the offices were these large boxes – Deacon Boxes – containing graphs from over 300,000 individual ship model experiments carried out in the tank. Honestly, the whole place looked as though the workforce could come back in and get on with the job at any time.

That workforce was strictly demarcated by sex, although Denny was one of the first shipbuilding firms to employ women. The men would be downstairs doing the experiments, the women would be upstairs in the offices working as tracer / analysts. I love finding out about the history of women’s lives and how things have changed. They all look so happy in these pictures.

If you’re still with me after all that, it’s time to get some fresh air. From the museum, we headed down towards Dumbarton Castle on its plug of volcanic rock where the River Leven flows into the Clyde. The riverside path boasted a CD tree and some fairy doors!

From here, we looped back into town to the Municipal Buildings. The archway is all that remains of St Mary’s Collegiate Church, founded in 1453 (although the arch has moved twice since then). The statue is Peter Denny, one of the shipbuilding brothers.

Our route then took us down to the River Leven. From the bridge we got a view of Dumbarton Rock again, this time from its other side.

On the other bank of the Leven we walked through Levengrove Park.

The view to the Rock and Castle was stunning.

Dumbarton Rock and Castle
Dumbarton Rock and Castle

Next, we retraced our steps to the bridge. Some of the boats looked as if they needed some attention…..

Our car was parked near the red sandstone ruin in the gallery above, the last remaining part of the former Inverleven Distillery. We returned home tired but happy after a good mix of culture and exercise.

I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks. This week she has a lovely garden for you, plus her usual international band of cyber-walkers. All welcome!

44 thoughts on “Dumbarton and the Denny Tank

  1. jazzfeathers August 12, 2016 / 20:07

    What a fantastic day, Anabel. I love everything you saw.
    That church arc is so intriguing and inspiring.

    When I visited Greenwich in 2009 I wanted so much to see the Cutty Sark. It wasn’t there. It was under restauration after being gravely damaged by a fire the year before.
    Ehhhhh… I suppose I need to go back 😉


  2. Lucid Gypsy July 26, 2016 / 13:09

    I think I’ve been through Dumbarton, I don’t remember the rock though, it looks stunning, can you actually go there? I stayed at Balloch? when my son was based at Helensburgh!


    • Anabel Marsh July 26, 2016 / 13:39

      Yes, they are all in the same area so you are right. The castle is on the rock so you can visit it – there’re a lot of steps to get to the top bit!


  3. Candia July 22, 2016 / 23:33

    My mother’s family were the Dixons of Dumbarton. They owned the glassworks and were Provosts of Dumbarton and Helensburgh.
    I used to climb up Dumbarton Rock when I was three. In the park, Robert the Bruce’s visceral remains are buried alongside my Dixon ancestors. This is definitely where I have my roots….


      • Candia July 23, 2016 / 00:07

        Their land was Levengrove Park, before the Dennys got it and subsequently left it to the people of Dumbarton.


          • Candia July 23, 2016 / 09:48

            Mmm, but we came down in the world thereafter!
            Too much gambling, mistresses and inter-generational death on the same day- cholera 1831??


            • Sarah H Carson. June 18, 2020 / 17:57

              Hi Anabell, That was amazing gallivanting with you. My maiden name was Rae Sommerville.my Parents were the caretakers of Bonhill Drill Hall. I served a 4 year apprenticship as a Tracer at Dennys engine works .l am in the 1957 photo. I married Jim Carson from Dumbarton. He collected prints of The Rock re :-Dumbarton castle .
              When we married we moved to London. In 1963. Sadly Jim died 2006. We had 2 daughters I now live with my daughter and her family in Croxley Green, Rickmanswor the Herts.


              • Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter June 18, 2020 / 20:38

                Hi Sarah, thank you very much for commenting and adding your own story to the blog. It’s amazing to hear from someone who is actually in one of the pictures. I hope you were all as happy in your work as you looked!


  4. lisadorenfest July 21, 2016 / 00:41

    I would have gotten excited (and very nostalgic) for a Ditto machine. I can still smell the ink! But you know that I also love all the ship building lore.


  5. Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor July 20, 2016 / 13:32

    I’d love to have that cat’s head on our boat! It looks like a really interesting museum. Reading all of your posts makes me realize how much I didn’t see when I lived in Scotland. Guess I’ll have to go back one day.


    • Anabel Marsh July 20, 2016 / 17:16

      I’m sure the cat’s head would add a certain je ne sais quoi to your boat!


  6. Ann Coleman July 19, 2016 / 16:32

    I remember those printing machines well…we had one in our school, and somehow or another, I often got stuck cranking out the copies! BTW, what part of Scotland is this? It’s beautiful!


  7. philosophermouseofthehedge July 19, 2016 / 14:43

    Really enjoyed traveling along with you. Lovely pictures.
    But I’ll just hang out over here by the boat stuff (You used to get purple fingers from that ditto machine and trying to fill it with fluid – UGH).


  8. Becky B July 19, 2016 / 10:19

    Great walk, and I’d been with you up in the offices leaving my other half down below!!


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