NS3977 : The former site of Dalquhurn House

taken 11 years ago, near to Renton, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

The former site of Dalquhurn House
The former site of Dalquhurn House
In the area shown here, demolition of the few remaining buildings from the old Dalquhurn Dye Works (see NS3977 : The former Pillanflatt) had already taken place. After a period of inactivity, construction work had begun in earnest. (When the photograph was taken, the area was surrounded by a security fence, but the picture was taken from outside the fence, on the adjoining cycle path; the large building visible in the background, on the left, is part of a bottling and blending plant at Kilmalid, and is located on the other side of the River Leven.)

["Dalquhurn" is pronounced [dalˠˈhʌɾn] (IPA); more crudely, "dal-HURN".]

Note, at the centre of the photograph, an area of flat, vegetation-free soil in front of the large mound (for its context, see NS3977 : Construction site at Dalquhurn). This location (NS 39238 77801, within a few metres) was once the site of Dalquhurn House, where the novelist Tobias Smollett was born in 1721. At the points where the main road enters and leaves Renton, signs announce the village as Smollett's birthplace. His monument (see Link for details) stands beside Renton Primary School.

An artist's depiction of the early Renton area shows the monument standing alone in a field, near a road that leads to Dumbarton. This illustration is reproduced on page 65 of Dr I.M.M.MacPhail's "Short History of Dumbartonshire" (the artist's name, if known, is not given), and can be found in a few other places.

The village of Renton itself, which grew up as a settlement around the Dalquhurn bleach fields (see the link in the first paragraph), had only been founded and named as recently as 1762, and was still in its infancy; it is therefore not surprising that the landscape depicted in the illustration features very few buildings, and consists mainly of open countryside. In the distance, it includes Dumbarton Rock, and the three huge cones of Dumbarton Glassworks (see Link for details).

[The same illustration is reproduced in other works, which have generally assigned it a date of 1775. That date is incorrect, since the print shows three cones, all in use, at the distant glassworks. This implies a date of 1792 or later (see NS3975 : The Artizan Bridge for the reason). As far as I can tell, the error originated in the book "The Old Vale and its Memories" (1927), and has propagated from there to later works. That book includes the picture, with a caption stating that it shows Renton in 1775 (the main body of the text does not mention the picture or provide any information about it).]

Also visible in the illustration, beside the River Leven, is a three-storey building, with three windows on each floor of its near (northern) side, and with a single-storey addition on the side furthest from the river (the western side); a low wall can be seen around these buildings.

This can only be Dalquhurn House, which was described in the late nineteenth century by historian Donald MacLeod as a "three storey, gaunt, prosaic building, of a severely plain style of architecture. Its northern front showed unadorned walls, pierced with three oblong windows in each flat. It had a one-storey wing at its west end, the whole being surrounded by a low wall" (this description reads as though it is based on the illustration mentioned above; nevertheless, there is little doubt about the identity of the building shown there).

The building was demolished long ago. Some information on this can be found on Donald MacLeod's book "Historic Families, Notable People, and Memorabilia of the Lennox" (1891). There, we are told that the stones of the building were used to fence neighbouring fields, and that, about two or three years before the writing of that book, the foundations of the house had been dug up, so that only a sandpit now marked its site.

Despite this, some traces appear to have survived; see LinkExternal link (at WoSAS) for some brief notes on the site as it was in 1997. In 2006 and 2007, the site was excavated and examined in detail, in preparation for the housing development; see LinkExternal link for a summary of the investigation's results.

As noted there, the site of Dalquhurn House will not be covered by any of the buildings of the new housing development, and its location is to be marked in some way when construction is complete.

[Incidentally, for a detailed history of Renton's beginnings, see LinkExternal link (at the Vale of Leven website).]

- - - -

Regarding the ownership of Dalquhurn up to the time of Tobias Smollett, details are supplied by Joseph Irving's "The Book of Dumbartonshire" (Vol 2, "Parishes", 1879), where it is stated that the lands of Dalquhurn were "conveyed in the fourteenth century by Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, to his seneschal, Walter Spreull. Dalquhurn continued in the hands of his descendants till 1620, when it was sold by James Spreull of Cowden to his son-in-law, John Dennistoun. His grandson sold Dalquhurn, in 1669, to Thomas Fleming, and the two Cordales to John Sempill of Fulwood. Dalquhurn was acquired by James Smollett of Bonhill from Charles Fleming (son of the last mentioned Thomas), in 1692, and was settled in liferent upon his third son Archibald Smollett, whose son, Tobias, the eminent novelist, was born here in 1721".

The same work goes on to mention that, in 1762, in order to accommodate the increasing number of workmen being drawn to the Cordale and Dalquhurn bleach fields, "Mrs Smollett of Bonhill founded a village on which, in honour of her daughter-in-law, she bestowed the name of Renton"; this daughter-in-law was Cecilia Renton, who was the daughter of John Renton of Blackadder, also known as John Renton of Lamerton, and of Lady Susan Montgomerie (daughter of Alexander Montgomerie, the ninth Earl of Eglinton, and of Susanna Kennedy).

To supplement this information, I will note here that the Rentons took their surname from a much older village of that name, located in Berwickshire (more specifically, at NT8265). LinkExternal link (at Canmore) describes the remains of its tower house. Much earlier written forms of that Berwickshire village's name include "Rennyngton" (1296) and "Regninton" (1100); see Nicolaisen's book "Scottish Place-Names", which gives the probable meaning "farm associated with Regna or Regenwald". Other locations mentioned above are from the same region: Blackadder (NT8452), an estate named after the river of the same name (again, see Nicolaisen), and Lamerton, generally spelled Lamberton (NT9657).

Returning to Renton in Dunbartonshire, scene of the present photograph, the weighty volume "The Making of Scotland: A Comprehensive Guide to the Growth of Its Cities, Towns and Villages" (2001) gives the year 1782 for the founding of the village; this is apparently an error, but the same incorrect date appears in a number of other works.
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NS3977, 335 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Tuesday, 2 March, 2010   (more nearby)
Saturday, 13 March, 2010
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts 
Place (from Tags)
Renton  Dalquhurn 
Near (from Tags)
River Leven 
Person (from Tags)
Tobias Smollett 
Construction site   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3924 7780 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:57.9728N 4:34.6314W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3920 7785
View Direction
Southeast (about 135 degrees)
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Archaeology  Toponymy 

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