Once upon a time in the early 2oth century, the British Mexican Petroleum Co Ltd filled in some of the River Clyde near Dunglass Castle and started a whole new story for the area.
The oil terminal grew and eventually became an installation of the more familiar Esso brand.
History abounds within its perimeter, the 15th century Dunglass Castle stood here until robbed of much of its stone for a quay repair 250 years ago, but luckily some of its walls still stand to tell a tale. There is a more complete house on the site, which although building first took place there in to 1590, it’s much altered and is likely to be mostly less than 200 years old. The interior was once a showcase for renowned designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh but all of his work has long been removed and some can be seen on display in Edinburgh.
A dookit stands as part of the perimeter wall and is remarkably complete and seems to be wind and watertight. Towering above it is the Henry Bell Monument, a memorial to a pioneer of the steamship transport and builder of Clyde steamer The Comet.
The oil terminal made its own mark on history too. The SS Ohio which carried vital kerosene and diesel to siege-bound Malta in 1942 took her cargo on board here before her legendary final voyage where she scraped, broken-backed, slowly sinking and lashed between other vessels into harbour to deliver her cargo after a pounding by Axis weapons en route. As the last drop of cargo was pumped ashore the Ohio hit the bottom of the harbour.
Poets and writers have passed through here, artists and statesman, Cromwell pulled his horse up for a while. It’s a neglected history though, private ownership of the site and council indifference to the heritage has let it slip into a poor condition. All that is there is savable, but it won’t be that way forever.
Esso are cleaning the site, the contamination of 100 years of oil has left its mark and they are on a multi year action plan to make the site available for something. As part of the community engagement process the Bowling and Milton Community Council had access to the site and were shown around by staff and given free access to all the areas we really wanted to see. Esso staff were pleasant enough, but guarded with answers as you’d expect, but fair play to them for taking us round and neither rushing nor patronising us.
I was there as a hanger on, Joycee’s the official one, but it was great to see it all again. I’d been in there a few times in the 70’s and 80’s (and more recently under the cover of dusk on my bike) and noticed a big change. All the oil infrastructure is gone except the shoreline piers which will remain as they’re bird migration stop-offs now and nature is taking it all back, including the house and castle.
The site has a future, work is being done, but we don’t know where it’s going to go.
Next time you slow down for the Dunglass Roundabout on the A82, cast your eyes to the river, you’ll see the monument and some of the other shapes, a little bit of hidden history.