5. The Dam

Carman Hill

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The Dam

Locally, Carman Reservoir is known simply as "the Dam". Working backwards in time, its history may be summarised as follows: Carman Reservoir is now disused, and there is a trout fishery there. The reservoir had been formed in the 1880s from an existing smaller body of water called Carman Loch. The loch itself, which was occasionally used for curling, was of no great antiquity, but had been created by the Turnbull family in connection with their Millburn Works. The remainder of this section elaborates on that summary. Much of it draws on the Lennox Herald issue of the 16th October 1886, which gives an account of the creation of the reservoir.

Carman Loch

The nucleus of the reservoir had been Carman Loch, a smaller body of water which covered an area of 10 acres, and contained 9 million gallons of water. The loch itself did not long pre-date the reservoir; rather, it had been formed by the Messrs Turnbull in connection with their manufacturing concerns. The family had secured the water rights of the district.
NS3979 : Mausoleum of the Turnbulls of Place of Bonhill by Lairich RigNS3878 : The gravestone of Matthew Turnbull by Lairich RigNS3879 : Millburn Roads Depot by Lairich Rig(left) The Mausoleum of the Turnbulls of Millburn, in Bonhill Parish Kirkyard.
(middle) The gravestone of Matthew Turnbull, in Renton.
(right) The former site of the Millburn Pyroligneous Works.

At least in this area, the family name seems to have been pronounced "Trummel" (see note 1). Carman Loch remained in their possession until it was acquired, with all the water rights and privileges, by the Local Authority of Cardross, for the purpose of forming a reservoir. The loch was occasionally used for curling. The fact that it was created by the Turnbull family is a good reason for its absence from Roy's Military Survey of Scotland (c.1740s50s), which pre-dates it. However, given that the loch covered only about a third of the area of the present-day reservoir, it is by no means certain that it would have been shown on that map even had it existed at that time.


(1) "Trummel": the pronunciation is preserved locally in the name of a road that is now labelled "Place of Bonhill", but which was originally (and more accurately) called Trummel's Loan. Place of Bonhill was the name of the family home, located nearby. Something very similar can be seen with the first Dean of Guild of the Merchants House of Glasgow, a certain Matthew Turnbull, who was elected in 1605 (I do not know whether he is related to the family being discussed here). His surname is usually spelled Turnbull, but it is sometimes given instead as Trumble; his signature also appears to read Trumble. The name Trummel's Loan in Renton, then, is not a corruption of "Turnbull's Loan", as might be thought, but probably indicates how the surname was pronounced in this area.

(2) There is a useful discussion of the Millburn WorksExternal link and other local industries at the Vale of Leven website.

Carman Reservoir

The growing population of Renton had created a need for better sanitation, and it was decided upon to create a new supply of water by gravitation. In accordance with the powers conferred upon it by the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1867, the Local Authority of the Parish of Cardross applied to the Sheriff of Dumbartonshire to form Renton into a Water and Drainage District. Although some proprietors were opposed to this, the application was successful. In March 1883, the Local Authority made a remit to Mr W R Copland, C.E., Glasgow, to report to them on the best scheme for supplying Renton with water, and for the drainage of the village.

At the time, the Local Authority of Bonhill had recently introduced their own water supply, obtained from Loch Lomond by pumping. Mr Copland was asked to consider whether some arrangement might be made, on fair terms, with the Local Authority of Bonhill (henceforth "Bonhill L.A.") to supply Renton with water. In his report, dated May 1883, Copland concluded that while such an arrangement might be made that would prove cheaper than the Carman Loch scheme for the first two or three years, the Carman Loch scheme would prove cheaper in the longer term.

The main disadvantages of an arrangement with the Bonhill L.A. were that the latter would only supply water by meter at the rate of 4d per 1000 gallons, reserving to themselves not only the right to increase that rate as they might think necessary, but also the right to discontinue the supply altogether by giving notice in August of any year. Further, the Cardross L.A. would have to lay and maintain its own pipes in Renton. Attempts to negotiate a better arrangement were fruitless. It was therefore settled upon to provide water from a new reservoir at the site of Carman Loch, and efforts turned to acquiring the necessary land, not only for the reservoir itself, but for its filters and service tank.

Here, fresh difficulties were encountered, and the Cardross L.A. had to make application to the Home Secretary for a Provisional Order authorising them to purchase the necessary land compulsorily; their Petition was dated 14 November 1884. The Home Secretary ordered an Enquiry; this Enquiry was chaired by Sheriff Gebbie, and it reported in favour of granting the necessary powers to the local authority. The Order was made by the Home Secretary, and was confirmed by an Act of Parliament which received Royal Assent on the 6th of August 1885.

In the meantime, the Cardross L.A. were confident of success, so Mr Copland prepared contract plans, and, in May 1885, tenders were invited. Many offers were received; of these, the lowest was that of Mr Alexander Gall of Alloa, who was at that time completing an extensive addition to the Dumbarton Water Works.

The dimensions of Carman Loch, before it was expanded to form the reservoir, were given above. The creation of the reservoir involved the construction of an embankment that was 800 yards long, and which contained 48,000 cubic yards of "earth and puddle". The top of the new reservoir was 398 feet above Ordnance Datum, its surface area was 29 acres, and its capacity would be 83 million gallons, equivalent to about one year's supply for 6000 people, the approximate population of Renton at that time. The surrounding fence enclosed a total of 42 acres.
NS3778 : Carman Reservoir by Lairich RigNS3778 : Carman Reservoir: embankment by Lairich RigNS3778 : Carman Reservoir: valve tower by Lairich Rig(left) The reservoir.
(middle) The embankment.
(right) The valve tower.
NS3778 : Canada Geese on Carman Reservoir by Lairich RigNS3778 : Path beside Carman Reservoir by Lairich RigNS3778 : Carman Reservoir in snow by Lairich Rig(left) Geese on the reservoir.
(middle) An adjacent path.
(right) Winter; Carman Hill is in the background.

The filter and tank were located at a sharp bend in the Carman Road, and the level of water in the tank, when full, was 289 feet above Datum. There was, at the time of opening, one filter, able to pass 135,000 gallons per day, but space had been acquired for another filter. The tank held a full day's supply for the population of Renton. Alongside the filter and tank, a cottage had been erected for Mr Alexander Davidson, who had been the superintendent of the work, and who had acted as an inspector during the construction.


The opening ceremony for the Reservoir was conducted by Mr Alexander Wylie on Saturday the 16th of October 1886. A record of the various speeches and of the events of the day can be found in the Dumbarton Herald issue of the 20th of October 1886. On that morning, crowds began to assemble at Renton's Public Hall from about 10 o'clock; at 11 o'clock, they set off, forming a procession fully half a mile long, up the road to Carman Loch. Along with the local dignitaries and other guests, the above-mentioned engineer W R Copland and contractor Alexander Gall were present (W R Copland had also recently carried out work on Dumbarton Bridge; see that link for further details).

Incidentally, the start of the speech made by Mr Wylie on the day mentions a belief that was then prevalent regarding the large boulders on Carman Hill (the reservoir is at the foot of that hill): Mr Wylie began by saying that "for thousands upon thousands of years, before even the almost prehistoric time when the Druids laid those solid blocks of stone on the top of Carman Hill, to which you are now looking up ...".

The occasion was evidently marked by a concert held beside the reservoir, though no mention of this is made in the old newspaper report. See pages 71, 74, 89, and 121 of "Renton Between the Wars" (2007) by the late Jim Murphy; in particular, page 74 of that book has a picture captioned "The Glen Concert up at the Black Castle, Carman Hill, to commemorate the opening of the dam to supply water to Renton in 1886". As just noted, the concert is not mentioned in contemporary accounts of the opening of the reservoir, but it is possible to determine its probable location (I discuss the name Black Castle elsewhere).

The official opening of Renton Water Works was also marked by the presentation of two drinking fountains within Renton: of these, one disappeared many years ago; the other survives, although, as noted in a more detailed description, it has been moved from its original position beside Renton Primary School. The name of Alexander Wylie, who performed the opening ceremony, also appears on the fountain.
NS3878 : Old drinking fountain, Renton by Lairich RigNS3878 : Old drinking fountain: detail by Lairich RigNS3878 : Old drinking fountain: detail by Lairich RigThe surviving fountain of the original pair.
NS3878 : Old drinking fountain, Renton by Lairich RigNS3878 : The Smollett Monument by Lairich RigNS3878 : Renton Primary School by Lairich Rig(left) Seen from the other side.
(middle) It originally stood in the recess on the right.
(right) The school, from further away.

Though it would be too much of a digression to give many details here, the day of the opening of the reservoir also saw the opening of a Public Library (architect Ninian MacWhannell) in Renton, made of red sandstone from Bonhill Quarry so as to harmonise with the adjacent Public Hall (a building that was later employed as the Roxy Cinema, but which is now long gone).

The Well

NS3778 : Carman Well by Lairich RigNS3778 : Carman Well by Lairich RigNS3778 : Carman Well by Lairich RigCarman Well.

The well is near the southern extremity of the reservoir. The metal cup chained here has been replaced a few times. From the well, the water flows under the footpath, emerging on the other side, from which point it flows towards the reservoir.


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