NS4074 : Dumbarton Rock: sentry box and curtain wall

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

Dumbarton Rock: sentry box and curtain wall
Dumbarton Rock: sentry box and curtain wall
[This is one of a linked series of articles about Dumbarton Rock. See the end of Link for a list of the reference works that are cited here in abbreviated form.]

The previous article in this series showed the location of a powder magazine that was built in 1748. That structure replaced an earlier magazine that had been built in the late seventeenth century; it stood against the near side of the portion of curtain wall that is shown in this photo [HD, p75]. That building, in turn, had replaced an even earlier magazine (or ammunition house) that stood on the summit of the eastern peak (close to the point from which this photo was taken), but which had been damaged by a severe storm in November 1675 [MacPhail, p133].

The sentry box visible in this photo dates from 1735, and is presumably the work of Captain John Romer; compare the very similar sentry box (also built in 1735) in King George's Battery: Link [OSG07, p5].

For the two small openings in the wall, see NS4074 : Dumbarton Castle: window of an earlier Magazine; they are said to be windows of a Magazine that was the predecessor of the one now standing.

Dr Samuel Johnson and his biographer James Boswell visited the Rock on the 28th of October, 1773. Boswell writes, in his "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides", that "we stopped at Dumbarton, and though the approach to the castle there is very steep, Dr Johnson ascended it with alacrity, and surveyed all that was to be seen. During the whole of our tour he shewed uncommon spirit, could not bear to be treated like an old or infirm man, and was very unwilling to accept of any assistance".

Boswell may have had a specific incident in mind, although he does not record it: according to pages 151-152 of I.M.M.MacPhail's book "Dumbarton Castle" (1979), the doctor had difficulty extricating himself from "the small turret near the magazine on the summit of the eastern peak", in other words, the one that is shown in the present photograph [MacPhail's reference for this incident is Irving, cited below; however, Irving is less specific(*) about where the event occurred].

A footnote to page 262 of Joseph Irving's "History of Dumbartonshire" (see NS4076 : The gravestone of Joseph Irving for more about the author) says that Johnson's guide on this occasion was Mr Neil Campbell, then Sheriff-Substitute of the county (see NS4076 : Memorial to the Campbells of Barnhill).

The footnote says that "entering a sentry-box on one of the batteries, which it may be readily believed was made for men of quite another size, the great lexicographer found, to his surprise, that his egress was likely to be a matter of some difficulty. Seeing the dilemma the Doctor had placed himself in, Mr Campbell was about to offer his assistance; but Boswell stepped forward, touched him on the arm, and advised him to take no notice of the circumstance, and by no means to think of offering his aid, as such a proceeding would only tend to provoke the Doctor, who was already somewhat ruffled. Acting upon this suggestion, Mr Campbell left Johnson to get out of his difficulty by his own efforts".

[(*) Irving is not specific about the location of the sentry box where this occurred, but local historian Donald MacLeod, in his 1877 "History of the Town and Castle of Dumbarton (2nd edn), passes on a tradition, one that is probably correct, that had come down to him in the first half of the nineteenth century; he identifies the site as the one shown in my picture: "in my boyish days a tower in the north-eastern corner of the high Castle wall was shown, in the doorway of which the burly doctor stuck hard and fast, and that was put forth as the reason why Boswell recorded so little in regard to their visit to the famous Fortress and Rock of Dumbarton".]

Of the two peaks of Dumbarton Rock, the western peak (White Tower Crag) is thought to be much too steep to have served as anything more than a look-out post in the Early Historic period [HD, p11, 71]; see NS3974 : Dumbarton Rock: White Tower Crag. An archaeological excavation performed in 1974-5, looking for remains from that period, therefore concentrated on the eastern summit (known as the Beak, it is the summit on which this photo was taken). Such investigations are hampered by the effects of building and rebuilding that have taken place on the Rock throughout the centuries since then.

It had been thought that the eastern summit might prove to have been the site of a nuclear fort (in these, a summit citadel overlooks a series of enclosures located further down the hill; examples are found at Dunadd NR8393 and Dundurn NN7023). However, the 1974-5 excavations disproved the idea that the fortress at Dumbarton Rock was of that type; the natural defences of the Rock apparently made such a system of enclosures unnecessary.

One of the most significant finds was made on the north-eastern side of the Rock, outside the present curtain wall (i.e., on the far side of the section of wall that appears in this photo): namely, traces of a timber-and-rubble rampart that appears to have been destroyed by fire. The area on the far side of the wall is well illustrated here: Link

See Link for the details of Alcock's report on the excavations.

Previous: NS4074 : Dumbarton Rock: the Magazine.
Next: NS3974 : Dumbarton Castle: western curtain wall.
Dumbarton Rock and Castle

The Rock is a volcanic plug, and it has a long history as a fortified site. For further information, see the Geograph article "Dumbarton Rock and Castle": Link

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NS4074, 228 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Friday, 26 June, 2009   (more nearby)
Thursday, 2 July, 2009
Geographical Context
Defence, Military  Derelict, Disused  Historic sites and artefacts 
Former (from Tags)
Sentry Box 
Period (from Tags)
18th Century 
Place (from Tags)
Dumbarton Rock 
Fortifications   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4006 7451 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:56.2174N 4:33.7269W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4003 7450
View Direction
East-northeast (about 67 degrees)
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Defensive Wall  Archaeology 

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