Entertainment, Pubs and Hostelries in the Vale of Leven
Black Bull Inn, Alexandria
The Black Bull Inn in Alexandria was one of the first buildings to be erected after the founding of the village, dating from the early 1800’s if not earlier. For over a century it was also one of the most prominent, appearing as it does in many photographs of the area around the Fountain, which it predated by at least 50 years and probably more.
Unfortunately we don’t have an image in which it is still carrying the name “Black Bull”. It stood adjacent to the first grocer’s shop after which that part of the hamlet of Alexandria was called “The Grocery” and close to the Old Oak Tree. When it was built it was the social centre of the village and a hall was added which was used for social functions such as weddings and dances. Both of these buildings can be seen on the 1860 map as well as the angle at which they stood to the top of Bank Street. That angle suggests that that section of what would have then been Ferry Loan might have followed a slightly different line.
In later days the Bull was given the address of firstly 3, then 5-7 and then 7 Bank Street, but when it was built it stood just back from the junction of Ferry Loan and Main Street, close to Ferry Loan’s junction with Susannah Street. However there was vacant ground between the Black Bull and Susannah Street, as can be seen in the 1860 map, and it was on that piece of ground that Dugald Stevenson built Stevenson’s building in 1895. That building is still standing. (Click Map Image to Enlarge)
Like the other “Black Bulls” in Bonhill and Renton, the name denotes that it was a drover’s inn, and that’s hardly surprising given that cattle en route to the market at Falkirk Tryst were driven past the front door, down Ferry Loan and across the ford (later Bonhill Bridge), before heading up onto the hills above Auchencarroch. The Bull was also the stopping place for stage-coaches travelling between the Vale / Loch Lomondside and Glasgow.
As well as being an Inn it was also a tenement building and appears in the first census in 1841 as an address its own right, with a number of people living there in addition to the publican. It was still a pub in 1900 when the last publican was a Mr James Nellis, but shortly thereafter the property was bought by Dugald Stevenson who had his own public house in his adjacent building. Not surprisingly, the Black Bull stopped being a public house when Stevenson acquired it. Instead it was occupied from about 1901 onwards by the Vale of Leven Liberal Association, whose name appears on the building in the first of the accompanying photographs.
The Liberal Party was very strong in the Vale at the time and although it already had rooms in Alexandria at 305 Main Street, a move to this most prominent of positions was clearly seen as highly desirable in helping to increase the Liberal vote.. The move to the former Black Bull seems to have worked, too, because in the 1906 General Election the Liberals captured the marginal seat of Dunbartonshire from the Tories and held onto it until the “Coupon” Election of December 1918. However, the Liberals had vacated the Black Bull Building many years before that. Incidentally, 305 Main Street is now occupied by the Old Vale Bar, and has been since1900 when the Liberals moved out
Although it was still occupied by the Liberal association in 1910, by the outbreak of war in 1914 the Black Bull’s tenant was James Wilson, ironmongers, whose name appears on the building in the photograph dating from 1932. Wilsons owned various shops, stores and workshops around the Fountain from about 1890 until the Second World War. To begin with Wilson listed the Black Bull building as a store rather than a shop, but it is later designated a shop.
The Stevenson family continued as owners for many years, with Wilson as the occupier right up until the demolition of the building in February 1936. It was demolished to make way for a new Commercial Bank building. However that was never built and the site has remained vacant ever since 1936.