By Amanda Eleftheriades
Photos by Chris McCaughey & courtesy of West Dunbartonshire Arts & Heritage
Green ghosts, royal remains, revolutionaries and writers, industrial spies and luxury liners, they all have one thing in common – a home in West Dunbartonshire.
Take a walk along most of our local streets, through the parks, up the hills or beside our waterways and you will find a rich history dating back to Neolithic times.
But it’s not just the Celts, the Romans, the Vikings or the historic heavyweights like Bruce, Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots who left their mark here.
It’s also the seamstresses, the dye workers, the welders and joiners, whose blood, sweat and undoubtedly tears, went into world-class ships, sewing machines, clocks, motor cars and textiles, manufactured in this area.
It was these industries which created the towns we live and work in.
And it’s this heritage that still has life in it today, passed down in the memories and stories of parents, grandparents and older residents who don’t want their ancestors and loved ones to be forgotten.
In August we hosted three Walkin Talkin events in Dumbarton, Alexandria and Clydebank.
These were short walking tours through some of our fascinating heritage led by local experts Elspeth Crocket and Paul Murdoch.
We wandered through Levengrove and Christie Parks, meandered beside the Clyde, gasped at impressive architecture and artwork, marvelled at the industrial prowess and ingenuity, and felt the loss of loved ones beside the Cenotaphs and the International Asbestos Memorial.
En route and when we returned to base, local people who joined us on the walks shared their memories and stories of the past, talked about what is currently being done to the area’s heritage and offered ideas of how we could help promote it locally and nationally.
We also shared a selection of the short heritage films we are making as part of this project, which are funded by Heritage Lottery Scotland.
Over the next six months we will be posting one of these Take a Minute films every Sunday on our social media platforms – please share and help us promote the area’s heritage to as wide an audience as possible.
The films will also all be available on our Clydesider Creative YouTube channel and at the end of this project we will share them with local schools, community groups and libraries.
If you would like a copy of the films to share with a group please email email@example.com
We could fill several issues of Clydesider with all the fascinating stories shared on these Walkin Talkins but sadly don’t have the space.
Instead, we compiled some intriguing and perhaps lesser-known snippets, some historical rumours, plus a list of resources where you can find out more.
Did You Know?
• Some of King Robert the Bruce’s remains are buried in Dumbarton’s Levengrove Park
• Emily Pankhurst once spoke at Clydebank Town Hall at the invitation of local political activist Jane Rae
• The Argyll Motor Works in Alexandria won a three-year legal dispute against Daimler but were bankrupted by the court costs
• Christie Park is known by locals as ‘Bonus Park’ because it was ‘donated’ to the people of the Vale in 1902 by industrialist John Christie but he used the workers’ Christmas bonus to pay for it!
• Dumbarton Castle has the longest written history of any Historic Environment Scotland site and also the most volunteer guides. Before the pandemic it regularly had 29,000 visitors a year
• The Bonhill & Alexandria Masonic Lodge was originally the Gilmour Institute for Working Girls built in 1888. Murals and friezes above the fireplace and doorways were painted by one of the Glasgow Boys, Harrington Mann, and the wooden hammer beam roof in the main hall is one of only three similar designs – the other two being in Edinburgh and Stirling castles.
• 1,200 Clydebank men and women died fighting in WWI; during the Blitz 528 people died in Clydebank and over 500 in the surrounding areas – that was in just two nights
• John Brown was the son of a Sheffield slater. He made his fortune in iron and steel but resigned from the company which bore his name long before it purchased the shipyards in Clydebank, and died a pauper.
Fact or Fiction?
• The heron on top of the Smollett Fountain was sent to the wrong Alexandria and ended up in Egypt!
• Singer’s clock had the biggest clockface in the world. When it was demolished, the hands were melted down and made into ashtrays for the mangers’ Christmas presents.
• The ceremonial key to Dumbarton Castle has been misplaced
• Haile Selassie the former Emperor of Ethiopia visited Alexandria during WWII
• A replica village was built on the Kilpatrick hills during WWII to distract German bombers away from the shipyards
• John Logie Baird (founder of the TV) worked in Argyll Works and one of his colleagues – a man from the Vale – was the first person to appear on television
• There is a piece of tartan in the Vale which has been to the moon and back
• The bronze statute of Mercury the winged messenger, once stood on top of Clydebank Town Hall Tower but was blown down in the storm of 1968
Find Out More
• Vale of Leven Heritage Hub in Alexandria Library
• SCRAN – https://www.scran.ac.uk/
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