- Earlier burial grounds
- St Serf's Church
- The Parish Churchyard
- Watching the dead
- The oldest stones
- Reduction in size
- Surviving memorials
- West Bridgend
- Dumbarton Cemetery
- Closing the parish churchyard
- Handing over the cemetery
- The location
- A selection of memorials
- Local historians
- Shipbuilding and other industries
- Doctors and surgeons
- Societies and fraternities
- Other memorials
- New Dumbarton Cemetery
- Plans and construction
- Views of the new cemetery
|The main entrance of the cemetery.|
Dumbarton Cemetery was formally opened in October of 1854. This article describes the town's older burial grounds, the closure and gradual diminution of the parish churchyard, and the events and circumstances related to the creation of Dumbarton Cemetery. The article concludes with a few pictures of its successor, New Dumbarton Cemetery, which opened at the end of 2015. Some of the historic memorials in the older burial grounds are pictured and discussed.
Much of this article is based on local historian Donald MacLeod's book "The God's Acres of Dumbarton" (1888), a work that is long out of copyright. Although I possess an original copy of it, few modern readers will have access to this material; for that reason, I have chosen to put the text of the present article into the public domain (note, though, that the images within the article are licensed under different terms).
the ruins of St Serf's Church in what is today Levengrove Park.
This area was originally part of the parish of Cardross, and St Serf's was then the parish church; however, the parish boundaries have changed, and the area is today part of the town of Dumbarton. For the most part, the history of the church itself is not relevant to the present discussion, but it is worth noting the burial here of the viscera of King Robert the Bruce in June of 1329, as recorded by a plaque beside the ruins. (Robert's heart was buried at Melrose Abbey, and his body at Dunfermline Abbey.)
There was a church at Cardross from an early period: a charter made by Maldowen, Earl of Lennox (1225-c.1270), to Walter, Bishop of Glasgow (1208-1233), mentions the "Ecclesia de Ca[r]dinros" and its lands [charter #108 in "Registrum Episcopatus Glasguensis" (Vol 1), Bannatyne Club edition, printed in Edinburgh, 1843].
|(left) Ruins of St Serf's.|
(right) Plaque: Robert the Bruce.
The church is located near an old well, Shear's Well, which is now represented only by an old water pump (in 1714, a pipe was laid across the bed of the River Leven to conduct the water from here to serve Dumbarton's town well, but as the town later grew, that supply would prove insufficient).
There was formerly a cluster of buildings around the church; these made up the clachan of Under Kirkton (another reference to the old church is found in the name of nearby Kirktonhill – NS388752). Even after a new parish church was built elsewhere in the mid-seventeenth century, a few burials continued to take place here at the ruins of St Serf's. By 1888, there were still one or two people who could recall interments taking place here within their own lifetime.
The Dixon family acquired this area in 1805, and they built Levengrove House (which is now long gone) nearby. About 1820, they lifted up the old gravestones that were beside the ruined church, before ploughing up that burial ground. As a result, only a couple of the earlier stones survive. They are located within the ruined church; one of them is marked with a shield and cross, and is shown below. The other old stone is located beside it; even in the late nineteenth century, only a few words of its inscription were legible (namely, "THE XII OF APREL" and, at the other end of the stone, "HEIR LYES, 17").
The Dixons used the ruined church as their own mausoleum; inside the eastern gable, they fastened some marble tablets commemorating various members of their family (in the above view of the ruined church, the eastern gable is at the far end). However, their own family gravestones did not escape destruction. In the nineteenth century, some children managed to get into the ruined church, and, wanting smaller pieces to play with, they broke up the marble tablets.
Aside from the two earlier surviving stones, already mentioned, there are half a dozen stones within the church that date from the Dixons' era (some of them may be fragments of the smashed marble tablets). Several have text on top, e.g., "JD 1832", "JD 1838", and "AK 1851". The JDs are presumably Dixons, but the AK stone (which is illustrated below) commemorates a certain Ann Knox, a relative of the Dixons; the Knoxland area of Dumbarton is thought to have been named after her, or her ancestors (see Memorial to Robert Buchanan for more on that subject).
|(left) The AK stone.|
(right) Old gravestone marked with shield and cross.
About 1885, Major Robert Dixon erected a large red granite slab within the east gable of the ruined church; it can be seen on the end-wall in a view of the ruins. Its inscription commemorates several members of the family; the stone also bears the Dixon coat-of-arms, and the family motto "Fortes Fortuna Juvat".
The ruins of the church are located within what were once the extensive grounds of Levengrove House. In 1885, these lands were presented to the town as Levengrove Park, the gift of Peter Denny and John McMillan.
(For pictures and details of some of the surviving memorials in the churchyard, see the next few sections of this article.)
The churchyard used to be considerably larger, extending southwards as far as the River Leven on one side; it also extended further (about ten or twelve feet) westwards into what is now Church Place; and further to the north, where it was bounded by a line of houses called Beggar Row.
When the present parish church was built (on the site of several earlier ones) in 1811, the northern boundary wall was shifted three feet to the south. In February 1880, a few more feet were taken from the northern side of the churchyard (see below).
Long ago, the churchyard appears to have been treated with little respect. Donald MacLeod, writing in 1888, says that, in the past, young children would make a game of trying to get around the churchyard without touching the grass, by hopping from one flat stone to another; older children would settle disputes here with fisticuffs, these fights being conducted according to strict rules. Even cock-fighting is said to have taken place in the churchyard.
The burial ground was under the management of the Kirk Session, but its day-to-day care was left largely to the sexton and his assistants. It eventually became extremely overcrowded (see the start of the section entitled Proposals, below).
Despite the watch that was kept on the churchyard, a grave was robbed here in 1830. The body was that of a man who had been a patient, with an uncommon disease, at the Infirmary in Glasgow, and suspicion therefore fell on the city's medical students. It was said that the robbers had marked the new grave before dark by scattering herring scales on it (these were supposed to emit a ghostly glow in the dark). Later, another body was taken, that of an 80-year-old woman who had also been a patient at the Infirmary in Glasgow (suspicion once again fell on medical students), but the offence was not discovered until six years after the original burial, when the grave was opened for another interment, and was found to contain only an empty coffin.
What is evidently the oldest surviving stone is one that is about 6 feet long by 2½ feet broad, and which was found in about the 1870s, two feet below ground level. Carved on it is a cross, with a sword hanging from one of its arms. It was found near the spot where the high altar of the pre-Reformation church would have stood, and it seems to have been part of a flagged passageway. The stone was perhaps associated with a crusader, or with the son or other relative of a crusader. The crusader stone is not displayed in the parish churchyard, but a small photograph of it appears on page 17 of "Historic Dumbarton: The Scottish burgh survey" (1999; Dennison/Coleman).
The next oldest stone was found under the floor of the church in the nineteenth century; it was made of sandstone, and measured about 3 feet long by 1½ feet wide; it bore the inscription "HERE LYES / JAMES SMOLL/ET, SON TO / TOBIAS SMOL/ET; OF BONLL / WHO DEPAIR/TED THIS LIFE / THE 23 IVNE 1698". The Tobias Smollett mentioned here is not the better known author of that name, who was from Renton, and who was born at Dalquhurn House; however the two are related. The Tobias mentioned on this stone was the eldest son of Sir James Smollett of Bonhill, and was Provost of Dumbarton from 1696 to 1704. Some time after its discovery, the stone was built into the east wall of the churchyard. In 1972, when much of the churchyard was to be cleared away, the James Smollett stone was reclaimed by the Smollett family and was removed from the churchyard.
below). The council would later take advantage of this closure to widen the adjacent Castle Street. This attracted much local opposition, but the work was carried out by night, in February of 1880; navvies cleared away the graves from the relevant part of the churchyard, dismantled the northern boundary wall, and then rebuilt it in its present position.
In 1910, the shipbuilder Archibald McMillan, whose shipyard was adjacent to the churchyard, was given permission to purchase part of its land; he expanded his shipyard into that area, taking space from the churchyard's southern side, after which he built a new southern boundary wall for it. (McMillan's own memorial is illustrated below.)
In 1972, much of what was left of the burial ground was cleared away to make space for the church halls that now stand there. Before that work began, the approximately 170 gravestones were photographed, and had their inscriptions recorded. This survey took place in 1969, and the resulting records are reproduced in "Dumbarton Parish Church in History" (see References, at the end of this article). The same work notes that, at the time of its writing (after the church halls had been built), there remained only 18 memorial stones, with three more below ground level. One stone that had been missed during the 1969 survey was found later, when ivy was cleared from a wall; it is the Drysdale Memorial, which is shown below.
|(left, middle) Dumbarton Riverside Parish Church.|
(right) The Drysdale Memorial. Romeo Drysdale was Master Gunner at nearby Dumbarton Castle.
monument in Dumbarton Cemetery commemorates his son John McMillan senior, and his grandson John McMillan junior; it is illustrated later in this article). Also shown below is the gravestone of Janet McIntyre. A few more stones are located in a little passage behind the church halls; among them is the gravestone, now mostly buried, of John Aroll, a schoolteacher who was murdered.
There are some separate lairs adjoining the main body of the churchyard to the east, one being the Napier Vault, the burial place of Robert Napier, engineer and shipbuilder; the other lair, which was originally that of the Campbells of Barnhill, now contains the gravestones of John Brown, who was responsible for building Dumbarton Bridge, and of James Oliphant, who was the minister of Dumbarton Parish Church, now called Dumbarton Riverside Parish Church.
|(left) Archibald McMillan.|
(middle) Janet McIntyre.
(right) John Aroll.
|(left) The Napier Vault.|
(middle) John Brown.
(right) James Oliphant.
An illustration of the Janet McIntyre stone also appears in Donald MacLeod's "Dumbarton: Ancient and Modern" (1893). Of the old stones that are no longer present, he notes (in another work) that, in addition to the usual symbols of mortality, one of their number was further adorned with scissors and a tailor's goose; he does not give the name, but the 1969 survey of the gravestones shows that it belonged to "Patrick Young, taylor", who died in March 1716. That stone is no longer present.
The memorial to John Aroll, shown above, is set against the southern boundary wall of the kirkyard. A number of old stones are located here, partially buried in order to protect them from weathering, but with plaques alongside them to identify them. Among the stones located here is one for Captain James Lang, who served on Dumbarton's steamboats; though buried here in Dumbarton, he is also commemorated by a memorial in Greenock Cemetery.
Nearby, against the same wall, is the gravestone of John Bell, flesher; he was one of many who died in October 1825 when the steamer they were travelling on, the Comet (II), collided with the "Ayr". Later generations of the same family are buried in Dumbarton Cemetery; one of them died on a ship called "Three Bells", named after three people with that surname.
Also set against this wall is the gravestone of William McAlla of the Ayrshire Militia; he fell from the eastern side of Dumbarton Castle in 1812. When Dorothy Wordsworth visited Dumbarton in 1822, she spent some time here in the Parish Kirkyard. She noticed this stone, and commented on its verse. Incidentally, she found the kirkyard to be rather overgrown, and not well tended, but it was still a pleasant location from which to look out over the River Leven (up until 1844, the river, at high tide, lapped the south wall of the kirkyard). An adjacent stone, not present when Dorothy Wordsworth visited, is for Private Charles Kerr, who died in a very similar manner by falling from the north-eastern part of Dumbarton Castle in 1825.
third church building, which opened in 1888, is still in use, and is now called the West Kirk. The second church building, which opened in 1860, stands beside it, and now serves as church halls.
As for the associated burial ground, it was still present in 1969, when it was surveyed by John F Mitchell and Sheila Mitchell for the Scottish Genealogy Society (whose published records of pre-1855 monumental inscriptions here and elsewhere are very useful for research purposes). Since then, it has been almost entirely cleared away. All that remains are the Buchanan Memorial and MacAuslan Memorial. A War Memorial (First World War) that stands nearby was brought here from Dalreoch Church, which has since been demolished (its congregation was merged with that of West Bridgend; both now use the present-day West Kirk); the original West Bridgend congregation's own War Memorial (also for the First World War) is located inside the West Kirk. Although they were originally located beside different churches, the two war memorials were presented at the same time, in October of 1921.
There would clearly be need for additional burial ground at some point. As it was, plans for the creation of a new cemetery for Dumbarton were to originate with William Denny, a member of a famous Dumbarton shipbuilding family (the family will be described below). The ideas took shape in the course of informal discussions William was engaged in at the offices of his brother Archibald Denny's shipbuilding yard at the Churchyard (i.e., the same location that would later be occupied by Archibald McMillan's shipyard).
A company would be formed in order to pursue this project. William's brother Peter Denny would become the largest shareholder in that company, which was established at a meeting convened by Peter (who was then Provost of the Burgh) in the Court-hall, Dumbarton, on the 25th of April, 1853.
Land, extending to "11 acres, 7 poles, imperial measure", was feued from Alexander Smollett of Bonhill, at £52 10s 9d per annum (during the twentieth century, the cemetery was expanded to include some more land to the north). The area was laid out according to plans prepared by Mr Stewart Murray, and the work was supervised by him.
Murray was also involved in laying out Paisley's Woodside Cemetery (1845), Greenock Cemetery (1846), Glasgow's Sighthill Cemetery (1840), and the Glasgow Necropolis (1833). (Note that Greenock Cemetery is the subject of an article of its own; see that article for more on Stewart Murray.)
|Woodside Cemetery||Greenock Cemetery||Sighthill Cemetery||Glasgow Necropolis|
The cost of the cemetery had been estimated at £700, but amounted to £300 more. The new cemetery was formally opened on the 4th of October, 1854. However, by special arrangement, one burial had already taken place: that of Mr William Denny, whose idea the new cemetery had been. He had died on the first of July of that same year, and was buried shortly thereafter.
Although the cemetery was now complete, the transition from burials in the old parish churchyard would not be smooth.
Even though the parish churchyard was overcrowded, not all lairs were equally affected, and, as noted above, most people had a natural desire to be buried with their forebears. The proprietors of the new cemetery saw that this situation might continue almost indefinitely, and took legal steps to have the old parish churchyard closed.
On the one hand, the old churchyard was, as a whole, much too full (see Proposals, above). On the other hand, all of those petitioning to have the old churchyard closed were shareholders in the cemetery company, which, up to this point, had been running at an annual loss; the closure of the old churchyard would certainly improve its chances of becoming a profitable venture. Some who owned lairs in the old churchyard joined forces with other interested parties in order to oppose the closure (these opponents numbered about 200 in total).
On the 24th of January, 1856, a petition was lodged, asking the Sheriff of the counties of Dumbarton and Bute to order the closure of the parish churchyard on the grounds that its state was a danger to health, offensive, and contrary to decency.
The Sheriff set Wednesday the 13th(*) of February of that year as the date for the court of inquiry into these matters to begin. It would open at 11 o'clock, at the Court-hall, Dumbarton; the Sheriff also specified the particular newspaper issues in which the place and time of the hearing were to be advertised beforehand. The inquiry itself consisted of ten lengthy sittings. [(*) Given as "Wednesday, the 18th of February, 1856" in "God's Acres", but this date, a Monday, is a misprint; the correct date was confirmed using contemporary newspaper reports.]
On the 28th of March, 1856, the Sheriff (Robert Hunter) gave his judgement: he stated that he found that the petitioners had proved their allegations that the state of the churchyard was in a state dangerous to health, and offensive or contrary to decency. In a note appended to this he stated that "there must always be a marked difference of opinion as to what 'offence to decency' involves, but he holds that in the case of Dumbarton churchyard the existence of such offensiveness is clearly proved, ..."; he concluded that, even aside from the danger to health, the offensiveness or contrariness to decency of the parish churchyard was such "that the continuance of it in its present state as an authorised place of interment is wholly inadmissible".
The judgement was forwarded to the Home Secretary, who subsequently issued a notice that interments should cease in Dumbarton Churchyard after the 31st of December, 1856. That order did not apply to the separate burying places to the east of the churchyard, separate from it though communicating with it by gates, namely, the Napier Vault, and the enclosure that now contains the gravestones of John Brown and James Oliphant (those gravestones were illustrated earlier in this article). Interments were still permitted for at least one generation in those vaults; see the note on page 135 of Joseph Irving's "The Book of Dumbartonshire" (1879), Volume 2.
The case incurred considerable legal fees, which were paid by Provost Peter Denny.
Naturally, the strong feelings that had been roused did not subside with the conclusion of this legal case, and some residents of Dumbarton, denied the prospect of being buried with their family or forebears, expressed a preference that they be buried in other cemeteries, rather than in the newly-created Dumbarton Cemetery. For example, Archibald Fergusson (a painter and town councillor), William McFarlane (a grocer), and Robert Lang (who had worked in a coalmasters' firm) were buried in the kirkyard of Alexandria Old Parish Church, while Lieutenant John Maxwell (an ex-bailie of the burgh) was buried in Rhu [Donald MacLeod, "Historic Families ... of the Lennox" (1891), page 111].
"The Chronicles of Gotham":
As a background to these controversies, it should be noted that there was an underlying rivalry at work in Dumbarton at that time. One group was led by a self-styled "Party of Progress": those who were prominent in local industry, and who were in favour of various improvement projects (this group included the Denny family and their friends). An opposing group was made up of those who were concerned about the consequences, namely, an added burden in the form of increased rates; they consisted largely of men who carried on traditional trades and small-scale business, and the "Party of Progress" sometimes referred to them collectively as "the Old Fogies". The leader of this opposition group was the tanner John Latta [see pages 71-72 of I.M.M.MacPhail's "Dumbarton Through the Centuries" (1972)]. These opponents would find a voice when a new newspaper called the Dumbarton Chronicle (not to be confused with the Dumbarton Herald) was started in 1857.
The Chronicle proved to be fairly short-lived, but one of its features was "The Chronicles of Gotham", a series of articles that recounted various happenings in local civic life. These articles, which are thought to be largely the work of Alexander Babtie (whose brother would later become Provost of Dumbarton), adopted a mock-Biblical style, and used cryptic names for the people being discussed. The Dennys ("the Gothamites") and their friends were the main targets, but others were also mocked, including the clergy ("the tribe of Levi") and the local police ("the tribe of Lazy", or "pegs"). These articles would eventually be collected and published in book form. The "Gothamites" tried to get hold of and destroy as many copies of the book as they could, but a few of them remain in existence.
The title "The Chronicles of Gotham", the writing style, and many of the cryptic names employed in the book were borrowed from another work that had recently been published: "The Chronicles of Gotham; or, the Facetious History of Official Proceedings" (c.1856). The latter had been published in Glasgow, and was about that city, but the two works were very similar in intent as well as in style (an aside: the use of Gotham as a cryptic name goes back much further in time, and it originally referred to a real village of that name in Nottinghamshire. American author Washington Irving would use the name Gotham in a similar way in connection with New York; hence, although very indirectly, the Gotham City of comic books).
For more on the Dumbarton version of the Chronicles, see page 70 of I.M.M.MacPhail's book "Lennox Lore" (1987). In my own opinion, the original Glasgow version of "The Chronicles of Gotham" was, as an irreverent but humorous work of literature, far better. The Dumbarton version aims to be like it, but, to my mind, has a bitter and mean-spirited tone; it lacks the warmth, the charm, and the wit that made the original Glasgow version so entertaining. However, for all its shortcomings as a work of literature, the book does serve as a valuable record of the controversies and social tensions of its day.
Much of the present article is based on the works of the historian Donald MacLeod (on whom, see below). In the interests of balance, it should be pointed out that he was firmly on the side of the "Party of Progress" in these controversies (he had been a hatter by trade, and receives notice in "The Chronicles of Gotham" as "Donald the Helmet Maker"). MacLeod's honesty in his coverage of these matters is not in question, but it should be borne in mind when reading his accounts of these proceedings that he was not an impartial observer, but a participant in some of the events that he describes; in particular, he was one of the original shareholders of the Cemetery Company, and one of its directors.
the very same place where an ancestress of his, a certain Margaret Denny, used to live: in the kirkyard of Dumbarton Parish Church, there used to be a gravestone commemorating "Patrick Brock, in Stonieflet" (died 23rd December 1742) and his wife Margaret Denny (died 28th February 1781).
The ground occupied by the cemetery was mainly sandy, but with thin beds of clay running through it; it was thoroughly drained before the grounds were laid out. The land slopes gently upwards from the main road (the A82), so that the high ground is at the north-eastern end. The cemetery is bounded by the main road on the south-west, by Garshake Road on the south-east, and by the housing estate of Bellsmyre on the remaining sides. The main entrance is at the junction of the main road and Garshake Road, which is also the eastern end of Round Riding Road. At the time when the cemetery was created, Round Riding Road was called Roundredding Road.
An aside on these place names:
Working back in time, John Ainslie's 1823 map shows these names as Stonyflat, Garshake, and RoundReddan, respectively. Roy's Military Survey of Scotland (1740s-50s) has Stonnyflet(?) and Roundreddin. The Pont/Blaeu map of the Lennox, which was published in 1654, but which was based on surveys carried out in the 1580-90s, shows Stonyflet, Garshoak, and Barundridain, a name that is presumably connected with the later Roundreddin, etc., and with the modern name of Round Riding Road. A 1609 charter by King James VI mentions Stoneflat and Gortshavock (that form of the name more clearly reflects its original meaning: see Garshake); it also uses the names Rindredding and Roundredding.
The element "-flett" occurs in several local names: (1) Stoneyflett, already mentioned; (2) Corsflett (later Corslet and Crosslet); and (3) Pillanflett. The Smollett family were, at one time, feudal superiors of all three of those lands; see page 119 of "Ancient Records of Dumbarton / Ancient Records of Glasgow" (1896).
|(left) Donald MacLeod.|
(right) Joseph Irving.
Walter Brock, named on the Brock Memorial, was prominent in local industry; he became the head of Denny and Brothers (shipbuilders) and of Denny and Company (engineers).
|(left) The McMillan Monument.|
(right) The Brock Memorial.
The Dennys of Braehead were also prominent in Dumbarton's shipbuilding industry. They seem to have had a long presence in the area; as early as 1375, a Gilmor de Denny was recorded as one of the bailies of Dumbarton. Their association with the local shipbuilding industry began with William Denny, first of the Woodyard. He was the third son of John Denny of Townend and of Agnes Lang. He learned ship carpentry, and was, for several years, the manager of McLachlan's shipbuilding business, which was based at the Woodyard. He married Christian McIntyre, and the couple had four daughters and seven sons. Their sons were, in order, John, James, Robert, William, Alexander, Peter, and Archibald. Memorials for four of those brothers (William, Archibald, James and Peter) are shown below. Memorials for many other members of the extended family can be found in the same area; other relatives are commemorated by tablets attached to the Denny Family Mausoleum.
|(left, right) William Denny, second of the Woodyard, originated the plan for the creation of Dumbarton Cemetery, and he was the first person to be buried in it.|
|(left) Archibald Denny, the youngest of the brothers.|
(right) James Denny.
|(left, right) The Helenslee Family Memorial commemorates the family of Peter Denny of Helenslee; he is also commemorated by a statue in front of Dumbarton's Municipal Buildings.|
|(left, right) The Denny Family Mausoleum.|
The Dennys of Castlegreen were also active in the local shipbuilding industry; they were not closely related to the Dennys of Braehead, although there was a more distant relationship between the two families. Peter Denny of Castlegreen was the "Denny" of the shipbuilding firm Denny and Rankin (like his namesake, Peter Denny of Helenslee, he would become the Provost of Dumbarton). Daniel Rankin was his business partner, the "Rankin" of Denny and Rankin. John Tulloch was partner with Peter Denny of Helenslee (not of Castlegreen) and with John McAusland, in the engineering firm Tulloch, Denny and McAusland. John McAusland was the son of a ropemaker, Daniel McAusland, whose memorial is located near the entrance of the cemetery (it is pictured later in this article).
|(left) Dennys of Castlegreen.|
(middle) Daniel Rankin.
(right) John Tulloch.
From this point onwards, see the captions accompanying the images. Click on the images for larger views, and for much more information.
|(left) Robert Ritchie, foreman engineer.|
(middle) Andrew McGaan, partner in the Dennystown Forge Company.
(right) Samuel Brewer, foreman engineer.
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