Overtoun House

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Overtoun House
121124 Overtoun House, Dunbartonshire.jpg
Overtoun House
Location Milton, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland
Coordinates 55°57′07″N 4°31′32″W / 55.9520°N 4.5256°W / 55.9520; -4.5256Coordinates: 55°57′07″N 4°31′32″W / 55.9520°N 4.5256°W / 55.9520; -4.5256
Built 1862
Built for James White
Architect James Smith
Architectural style(s) Scots Baronial
Listed Building – Category A
Designated 3 March 1971
Reference no. 24907
Criteria Historical
Designated 2007
Overtoun House is located in West Dunbartonshire
Overtoun House
Location of Overtoun House in West Dunbartonshire

Overtoun House is a 19th-century country house and estate in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. It is located on a hill overlooking the River Clyde, 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of the village of Milton, and 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) east of the town of Dumbarton. The house, an example of Scottish Baronial architecture, was built in the 1860s, and was gifted to the people of Dumbarton in 1938. It was subsequently a maternity hospital, and now houses a Christian centre. The house is protected as a category A listed building,[1] while the grounds are included in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland.[2]

Overtoun Bridge, an arched approach bridge over the Overtoun Burn, has gained media attention because of the unusually large number of dogs that have reportedly leaped to their deaths there over a number of decades.[3]

Estate history[edit]

White family[edit]

View of the house and gardens from the north.

In 1859, James White, a retired lawyer and a co-owner of the J&J White Chemical Works in Rutherglen, bought Overtoun Farm with the purpose of building a mansion there.[4] He intended for it to be a country retreat, and initially acquired 900 acres (360 ha); he soon increased this to 2,000 acres (810 ha). White hired the Glasgow-based architect James Smith (1808–1863) (father of the murder suspect Madeleine Smith) to design and construct the house. A farmhouse on the site was demolished to make way for the mansion.[4] Overtoun House was built between 1860 and 1863,[1] though Smith died before work was completed, and the house was completed by one of his partners. White's family began living in the mansion in 1862. It is recorded that the grounds were laid out by Mr C Kemp of Birkenhead, which is thought to refer to the landscape gardener Edward Kemp (1817–1891), who was superintendent of Birkenhead Park for Joseph Paxton.[4]

In 1884 James White died, and his son John moved to the estate in 1891 after the death of his mother. John White wanted the house to be expanded further, so he came to an agreement in 1892 with a local pastor, Reverend Dixon Swan, the heir to the adjacent Garshake Farm lands. Under the deal, John White was able to lay out the West Drive and its lodge. The eastern and western sides of the estate were split by a waterfall on the Overtoun Burn. To connect the two sides, a road was built and the Overtoun Bridge erected to designs by Henry Milner, son of Edward Milner.[4]

John White took the additional surname of Campbell, and was elevated to the peerage as Baron Overtoun in 1893. However, he died childless in 1908, and was succeeded by his nephew Dr Douglas White, a London-based General practitioner. Lady Overtoun continued to live in the house until 1931, after which Dr White, who seldom visited Scotland, gave the house to the people of Dumbarton in 1938.[4]

Later reuse[edit]

During World War II, Overtoun was turned into a convalescent home for injured soldiers and locals.[5] The house remained mainly isolated, and it was not damaged by the bombings of the nearby Clydeside shipyards.

In 1947, Overtoun was turned into a maternity hospital.[4] A fire destroyed part of the house in 1948, although there were no deaths, and the hospital remained in operation until 1 September 1970. By this time many of the garden structures, including a folly castle and the walled garden, had been demolished.[4] In 1975 the British government decided to use the house as a base for its Quality of Life Experiment.[5] From 1978 to 1983, a religious group, the Spire Fellowship, utilised the home, and from 1984 to 1994, the estate was used by a group named Youth with a Mission.[5]

The house fell into abandonment soon after Youth with a Mission left the area, but in 2001 Pastor Bob Hill from Fort Worth, Texas, leased the property from West Dunbartonshire Council to use as a Christian centre for Scottish youth. Renovations to the house are currently underway to repair extensive damage and to better use the facility. Specifically, the services that will eventually be provided include but are not limited to: youth sports/life training, residential care for expectant teenage mothers, short term care for mothers in crisis, family and leadership training, counselling centre, and tearoom and bed and breakfast.[5] The house was recently used in the 2012 film Cloud Atlas, where it doubled for the house of Vyvyan Ayrs in the 1936 segment, and Aurora House in the 2012 segment. "Regeneration" which was partially filmed in Overtoun House, is a 1997 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Pat Barker; starring Jonathan Pryce, James Wilby, Jonny Lee Miller, Stuart Bunce, Tanya Allen and James McAvoy.

In October 1994, a man named Kevin Moy threw his two-week-old son to his death from the bridge because he believed that his son was an incarnation of the Devil. He then attempted to commit suicide several times, first by attempting to jump off the bridge, later by slashing his wrists.[6]

Dog deaths at Overtoun Bridge[edit]

Overtoun Bridge

Studies have shown that since the 1950s or 1960s numerous dogs have leapt from the bridge at the rate of about one dog per year. Dogs that leap over the bridge parapet fall 50 feet (15 m) onto the waterfalls below. Some dogs that survived this drop were then taken back to the bridge, and jumped again. The only linking factors for this unexplained event are that dogs mostly jump from the same side of the bridge, in clear weather, and they are breeds with long snouts.[7]

As the unexplained phenomenon received international media attention, the Scottish SPCA sent an animal habitat expert to investigate the causes as to why dogs kill themselves at Overtoun Bridge. Initially Dr David Sands examined sight, smell and sound factors. After eliminating what a dog could potentially see and hear on the bridge, he eventually focused on scent following the discovery of mice and mink in undergrowth on the side of the bridge from which dogs often leaped. In a test, the odours from these animals were spread around an open field. Ten dogs were unleashed, representing the most common breeds that jumped off the bridge. Of the dogs tested, only two showed no interest in any of the scents while nearly all the others made straight for the mink scent. Sands concluded that, although it was not a definitive answer, the potent odour from male mink urine was possibly luring keen-nosed dogs to their deaths.[7] However, local hunter, John Joyce, 50 years resident of the area says that "there is no mink around here. I can tell you that with absolute certainty."[8]


  1. ^ a b "Overtoun House: Listed Building Report". Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2011-03-22. 
  2. ^ "Overtoun". An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland. Historic Scotland. Retrieved 5 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Sands, David. "Overtoun Bridge Mystery". Animal Behaviour Clinic. Retrieved 2011-03-22. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Overtoun: Site history". An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland. Historic Scotland. Retrieved 2013-03-20. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Overtoun House". West Dunbartonshire Council. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  6. ^ "Father who threw 'devil' baby from bridge sent to Carstairs". The Herald. 1 February 1995. 
  7. ^ a b "Why have so many dogs leapt to their deaths from Overtoun Bridge?". Daily Mail. 17 October 2006. 
  8. ^ The Unexplained Files. "Bridge of Death". 16 September 2014. The Science Channel.

External links[edit]