NS4276 : Remains of a turbine house

taken 9 years ago, near to Bellsmyre, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

Remains of a turbine house
Remains of a turbine house
This structure is located near NS4276 : Spardie Linn (a waterfall), and alongside a NS4276 : Path through the woods (part of the ruins can be seen, although not very well, in the latter photograph). See the end-note for a summary of its purpose; further information is provided in the present discussion.

This photograph shows the northern half of the ruined turbine house. The most obvious feature is the brick wall that is shown here. A few remaining patches indicate that the wall was once covered in white tiles, appropriate to an interior (compare NS4672 : Remains of Old Kilpatrick railway station); this, in turn, indicates that the structure was formerly roofed. At the base of the southern end of this section of the wall, a pipe, about 30cm in diameter, passes through it.

For a couple of later photographs of the ruin, see NS4276 : Remains of a turbine house and NS4276 : Remains of a turbine house.

This structure matches the description of a ruined turbine house that had been reported from somewhere in this area, and which was said to have had a white-tiled interior; the location of that building had, until now, been uncertain. See LinkExternal link (at WoSAS) for some details of the hydro-electric scheme with which the turbine house was associated.

The WoSAS reports give no indication of the date of the structure, but it turns out to be a particularly early example of hydro-electric power for domestic consumption: there is contemporary notice of the scheme in, for example, the journal "The Electrical Engineer" in its volume of 1892, where it is noted that John Campbell White planned to introduce electric light into his mansion of Overtoun (NS4276 : Overtoun House), and that a waterfall at Spardie Linn (see above) "is to furnish the motive power". The journal adds that it was thought that sufficient power could be generated at the same place to light the whole of Dumbarton by electricity. That seems rather doubtful, since the flow of the burn is not great, except in winter; however, in lighting Overtoun House itself, the scheme appears to have been a success, and it was expected to pay for itself within the space of a few years.

For fuller details of the scheme, a very useful source is the Lennox Herald newspaper, in its issue of 17 September 1892; there, part of page 5 describes the scheme in some detail: the Overtoun Burn was, at night, employed to generate electrical power for Overtoun House. In that connection, water was dammed, about a third of a mile upstream of the turbine house, in what had been an ornamental pond, to form a reservoir: NS4276 : Former dam and lily pond. From there, a cast-iron pipe led to the turbine house, which was 180 feet lower than the reservoir.

The turbine house itself was divided into two compartments, one containing the turbines, the dynamos, and their associated equipment, and the other an accumulator. There were two turbines, each of 12 horsepower, mounted on separate base plates. Each turbine was coupled directly to the shaft that it drove. Each dynamo could supply 120 lamps of 16 candlepower each, or twice as many 8 candlepower lamps. There was a mechanism for stopping the turbines automatically, thus dispensing with the need to have someone in constant attendance: an eight-day clock was fitted with a device, similar to the workings of an alarm clock, to release a weight at a pre-determined time; this would operate a valve to shut off the water supply, stopping the turbines.

After the turbines had been stopped (at 11 o'clock), the accumulator would supply any electrical current that was needed until the turbines were started again on the following evening. The accumulator could (according to the figures appearing in the newspaper article) supply 50 lamps of 16 candlepower for ten hours, or the same number of 8-candlepower lamps for twenty-four hours.

The current was conveyed to Overtoun House by means of an underground cable: this was a substantial piece of work in itself, and consisted of a copper core surrounded by insulating material; this, in turn, was placed in a lead tube that was protected by a sheathing of galvanised iron wires coated with jute braiding and treated with a submarine cable compound. The article also explains that the hydro-electric scheme had been made possible by some recent amendments to the Electric Lighting Act. It concludes by noting that the wiring of Overtoun House was carried out by Messrs Maver and Coulson of Glasgow, who had recently created an "electric lighting station" at Kirktonhill (c.NS388752), powering houses in that neighbourhood.

To return to what is visible in the photograph, the wall shown there has a taller one behind it; the structure clearly had a sloping roof (a sloping end-wall can still be seen at its far end). An opening at the far (the northern) end of the building provides access to a narrow uncovered passage at the back, between the two walls. The passage leads to a small chamber, from which a cramped, lightless tunnel leads through the southern half of the ruin, towards a small opening at the southern end.

Directly in front of the pipe mentioned earlier is a rectangular pit, 1.2m by 0.8m; that pit is one end of a water channel that leads westwards beneath the footpath beside which the structure stands, and towards the valley of the burn. [After I submitted this image, the ruin seems to have attracted more interest: on my first visit, when this picture was taken, the pit was covered over, except for a small hole; when I returned three weeks later, I found that someone had removed its cover, exposing it completely.]

The ruin is set against a rising slope, which reaches to the top of the rear (east) wall of the structure; as noted above, the inflow to the turbine house was by means of a buried pipe.
Overtoun House hydro-electric scheme
This was one of the earliest examples of a hydro-electric scheme producing power for domestic use: in around 1892, the occupant of Overtoun House, John Campbell White (soon to be created Lord Overtoun), had a turbine house built to provide electricity for his home. See LinkExternal link for more on Overtoun House. The ruins of the turbine house are located beside a waterfall called Spardie Linn LinkExternal link on the course of the Overtoun Burn. Water was impounded further up the burn in a dam, which doubled as an ornamental lily pond. The dam is fed by the Overtoun Burn, whose channel, just upstream of the pond, can be seen to have been artificially straightened; the remains of a sluice gate are visible there.
Overtoun House Nature Trail :: NS4175
Locally, the woodland walks within the Overtoun Estate are still collectively known as "the Nature Trail", in memory of the fact that they used to be laid out as a nature trail with numbered marker posts (the Nature Trail, made with funds left over from the Quality of Life Experiment, officially opened on the 26th of April 1980). New waymarkers were added, both here and in the adjacent Lang Craigs Woodland ( LinkExternal link ), in May 2015. For more on the Nature Trail, see Overtoun House: LinkExternal link
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NS4276, 211 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Friday, 18 June, 2010   (more nearby)
Monday, 28 June, 2010
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts  Derelict, Disused 
Ruin (from Tags)
Turbine House 
Period (from Tags)
19th Century 
Near (from Tags)
The Overtoun Burn 
Turbine house   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4222 7605 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:57.0896N 4:31.7085W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4221 7604
View Direction
Northeast (about 45 degrees)
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Other Tags
Hydro Electric Power 

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