Dumbarton is a town and burgh which is the administrative centre of the council area of West Dunbartonshire, and formerly of the historic county of Dunbartonshire, in the West-Central Lowlands of Scotland. The town lies on the north bank of the River Clyde where the River Leven flows into the Clyde estuary. As of 2006, the town had an estimated population of 19,990 and forms a conurbation with Alexandria, Bonhill and Renton with a combined estimated population of 44,690.
Dumbarton functioned as the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde, and later as the county town of the county of Dunbartonshire. Dumbarton Castle, sitting on top of Dumbarton Rock, dominates the area. Dumbarton was a Royal burgh between 1222 and 1975.
Dumbarton emerged from the 19th century as a centre for shipbuilding, glassmaking, and whisky production. However these industries have since declined, or demised altogether, and Dumbarton today increasingly functions as a commuter town for the major City of Glasgow which is east-southeast. Dumbarton F.C. is the burgh's local association football club.
Dumbarton history goes back at least as far as the Iron Age and probably much earlier. It was the site of a strategically important early settlement, the residents of which were known to have traded with the Romans. The earliest record of a settlement in Dumbarton is a record in Irish chronicles of the death of Guret, rex Alo Cluathe ("king of Clyde Rock"), in AD 658; but a story about another king of Clyde Rock (petra Cloithe) in Adomnan's Life of St Columba (book 1, chapter 15) probably predates this, and a later source links King Ceretic, a British King who received a letter from St Patrick with Ail, thought to be Clyde Rock.
Dumbarton functioned as the royal centre of the kingdom of Clyde Rock mentioned in these sources, but had probably been eclipsed as a "capital" by the time of the establishment of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde around 900. It was later the county town of the county of Dunbartonshire, formerly known as Dumbartonshire. The name comes from the Scottish Gaelic Dùn Breatainn meaning "fort of the Brythons (Britons)", and serves as a reminder that the earliest historical inhabitants of Clydesdale spoke an early form of the Welsh language. These Britons themselves knew this dùn as Alt Clut, "Clyde Rock", a name which occurs both in Gaelic and in English sources of the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries (also spelled Alclud, Alcluyd, Alcluith).
Dumbarton was struck severely by the black death in 1350 and much of it burned down in 1424. But by the 17th century it was an important port with trade routes going as far afield as the West Indies. By 1800 the town was Scotland's largest producer of glass, for bottles and windows.
In September 1605 Chancellor Dunfermline reported to King James VI that inundations of the sea were likely to destroy and take away the whole town. It was estimated that the flood defences would cost 30,000 pounds Scots, the cost being levied nationwide.
During World War II Dumbarton was heavily bombed by the German air force. The Germans were targeting the shipyards, and the area in the vicinity of the yards was consequently hit, with Clyde and Leven Street being severely damaged. In an attempt to lure the German aircraft away from the shipyards, decoy lights were routinely placed on the Kilpatrick hills above the town, lights were set out on reservoirs to mimic those of the shipyards reflecting on the waters of the Leven and Clyde. The ploy was sometimes successful in diverting the bombers and many bombs fell harmlessly onto the moors and lochs.
The Castle has an illustrious history and many well-known figures from Scottish and British history have visited it. The castle was a royal fortress long before Dumbarton became a Royal Burgh, its ownership went from Scottish to English and back again. The castle was an important place during the Wars of Independence and was used to imprison William Wallace for a short time after his capture by the English. It was from here that Mary, Queen of Scots, was conveyed to France for safety as a child. Mary was trying to reach Dumbarton Castle when she suffered her final defeat at Langside. In later times, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II visited the castle.
Today, Dumbarton Rock is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it has legal protection in order to maintain and conserve the site for the future. As such any sort of work on the rock is strictly regulated by the Scottish Government and activities such as climbing on the rock are forbidden. From the top of the castle can be seen both the River Clyde and Leven Grove Park.
Levengrove Park itself was a gift to the town by the Denny family who owned the shipbuilding company which was located adjacent to the Castle. This was said to be not a purely philanthropic act however; the American company Singer which is famous for the manufacturing of sewing machines had earmarked the land as a potential site for their factory which would eventually be built in nearby Clydebank. Denny were in effect protecting their monopoly on the local work-force.