NS3975 : Remains of Dumbarton Prison

taken 12 years ago, near to Dumbarton, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

Remains of Dumbarton Prison
Remains of Dumbarton Prison
What remains of this building (following its almost complete demolition in 1973) has been incorporated into a boundary wall of the nearby court building. These remains are located alongside the busy A814 (Glasgow Road); prominent among them is the tall entrance portico, which stands in its original position. For a closer view of the entrance, see NS3975 : Dumbarton Prison - entrance portico.

The original crown stone of the prison has also been preserved; it is now built into a wall, and is located just to the right of the entrance. The stone is barely visible at the extreme right-hand edge of my image, but can be seen inNS3975 : Former portcullis entrance to Dumbarton Prison. For a close-up view of that stone, see NS3975 : Dumbarton Prison - Crown Stone.

Finally, on the far side of this structure, two original cell windows have been preserved: NS3975 : Dumbarton Prison - two original cell windows.

- - - -

Some executions were carried out here. The second-last one, that of Patrick Lunnay, in 1861, was the last to be carried out in public (not at the prison itself, but in front of the nearby County Buildings). The last execution was that of David Wardlaw, my ancestor, in 1875, at the prison itself. The men were buried at a site near the prison building (the two graves were side by side).

At that time, the town's gasworks were nearby (in the area shown in NS3975 : Construction on site of Burgh Hall); by 1903, the most recent of several extensions of the gasworks (mentioned in passing at NS3975 : Dumbarton Municipal Buildings) had resulted in their burial site being within one of the buildings of that industrial site. The workmen's spades had come very near to their resting place, but the graves were left undisturbed at that time.

Whether they remained undisturbed up to the redevelopment shown in NS3975 : Construction on site of Burgh Hall of parts of the old gasworks site in 201617, I do not know.

See also the end-note, which greatly expands on these comments.

- - - -

On the theme of historic punishment, it is natural to wonder where the town's gallows stood at an earlier period, before Dumbarton Prison was built. It seems likely that they were also, from an early time, somewhere near here. In the present picture, busy Dumbarton Road can be seen passing the prison; in the late nineteenth century, a shorter road called McLean Place followed roughly the same line past the prison. McLean Place had earlier been known as the Croft Loan, but a popular name that was then still in use was Witches' Loan.

I can only guess that this popular name might be relevant, as being one that might become associated with a road leading to a place of execution; Dumbarton had indeed, in the seventeenth century, held several witch and warlock trials, some leading to executions.

The only picture I have seen that gives any indication of the location of the town's gallows is a diagram that appears facing page 137 of "Dumbarton Common Good Accounts 161460" (1972; Fergus Roberts & I M M MacPhail), showing "Dumbarton about 1640". It is not an old map, but, rather, a schematic diagram, representing the authors' conception, though in all probability a well-informed one, of the layout of Dumbarton at that time.

In the diagram, the authors, for reasons that are not elaborated upon anywhere in the book, place the site of the gallows in the area between the Kirk Vennel (modern-day Church Street), Smiths' Vennel (one of the smaller roads leading off the east side of the Kirk Vennel), and the Knole Burn (the Knowle Burn or Mill Burn, which was also known at one time, for reasons that should now be obvious, as the Gaswork Burn). There was once a bridge over that burn at about NS39907522; it served as one of Dumbarton's ports ("port", in the sense of a controlled point of entry to the Burgh). The bridge was at a place (or a part of the burn) that was, revealingly, called the Gallow Mollan or Mollen(*), as is mentioned in passing in the last part of the description for NS3975 : Dumbarton Riverside Parish Church.

The space between the two vennels and the burn is the general area where Dumbarton Prison would later be built.

(*) The works of different nineteenth-century local historians give different spellings: "Mollan" from John Glen, and "Mollen" from Donald MacLeod. Other place-names in the district containing a similar element (though not necessarily with the same meaning) are Stoneymollan and Mollanbowie.
Dumbarton Prison

A Geograph article Link discusses the prison in detail. It was built from 182426, enlarged in 1863, and closed in 1883. It then held county records until 1965. During the realignment of Glasgow Road in 1973, the prison was almost entirely demolished. An entrance portico survives in place; some cell windows and a Royal Cipher have also been preserved, and are now incorporated in the modern (1973) boundary wall.

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NS3975, 598 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Friday, 13 February, 2009   (more nearby)
Friday, 13 February, 2009
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts  Derelict, Disused 
Ruin (from Tags)
Place (from Tags)
Architect (from Tags)
James Gillespie Graham  Robert Scott 
Former (from Tags)
Place of Execution 
Ruins > Ruins   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3987 7534 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:56.6606N 4:33.9388W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3985 7535
View Direction
East-southeast (about 112 degrees)
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Other Tags
Dumbarton Prison  Toponymy 

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