Place Names (R) Radium Works - Russell Drive

Radium Works, Balloch

The Loch Lomond Radium works to give it its full name, started operations in a disused joinery and sawmill on the east bank of the River Leven at Balloch in 1915. The location was about 30 yards south from the New or Lomond Bridge, and was only a few feet from the River because the plentiful supply of clean water was what attracted the owner to the site in Balloch.

The small factory produced radium, which was used by the Admiralty to provide luminous dials and gauges on its ships, and it was also used by the medical supplies industry in treatments for wounds. Just how toxic the radioactive materials were, was not known to the staff, nor perhaps fully understood by the owner and his various clients. However, most employees knew that there was something unhealthy about the processes because birds had a habit of dropping down dead if they flew over parts of the factory.

There is an account of working in the factory, perhaps the only one in existence, on the web site. It is written by Dunkie Davidson who worked in the factory as a boy, as did his father and brother, Nat, who was later a local councillor - Davidson Road is named after him. It was thought that it closed in 1920 when its owner died, but Dunky Davidson thinks it closed because it was moved to another of his works “down south”. Either way, it closed in the early 1920's.

Since they lived just a few yards from the Works, it is not surprising that the Davidsons later acquired it and ran a piggery in the former Works. Both Dunky and his brother seemed to suffer no ill effects from their lifetime on or near to a site, which was later assessed as being highly toxic. The buildings were not demolished until the late 1950's. It is now a boatyard.

Raglan Street, and Raglan Street Lane, Bonhill

This is now one of the older streets in Bonhill, being the most southerly one in Old Bonhill. It is named after Lord Raglan, one of the British generals who distinguished themselves by their spectacular individual and collective incompetence in the Crimean War of 1853-56. Raglan was the field commander of the British troops. All of the generals were the subjects of vicious, but justified, criticism from all quarters at the time.

The criticism started in 1856, just as the war ended, and perhaps news of the collapse of Raglan's reputation had not yet reached Bonhill. Either that or Bonhill must have been carried away in a bout of blinkered patriotism. Anyway, they named the Street after him. Still it could have been worse.

One of his fellow incompetents was Lord Lucan, whose descendant is still being sought around the world for the murder of the family's nanny - not the sort of crime ever likely to be committed in Raglan Street.

Random Street, Alexandria

This short street, which disappeared in the Town Centre redevelopment about 1972-3, was one of the oldest in the centre of Alexandria, dating from just before 1800. It ran down a slight hill from Mitchell Street to John Street near its junction with Church Street.

Even by the 1950's, its age was shown by the number of gap sites that had appeared in it. In its heyday, a number of Vale institutions were to be found in Random Street. These included Matt Thompson's pub, close to its western corner with Mitchell Street. Jack's Railway Tavern at the bottom of the hill on its western corner with John Street, close to the Station steps from the Balloch-bound platform.

The Vale pawnshop was in a building on the opposite corner of Random Street / John Street. In the early 1800's, this building had housed the Oddfellows Hall, which until the building of the Public Hall was one of the very few halls in the Vale where public meetings, such as election or political rallies, could be held.

For most of the 20th century, the Hibs Hall was also in Random Street, diagonally opposite Thompson's pub. There are two views on the origins of the name Random. The first is that it was built in such a haphazard or random manner that it was logical to call it Random Street. The second view is that it was called after Tobias Smollett's novel, Roderick Random, and it is this one, which most people now seem to favour.

Red Fox Drive, Balloch

This 1970's estate, which lies between Dalvait Road and the Leven, on the south side of Lomond Road, is largely built on the site of Bankhead and McFarlane & Young Nursery (previously Loch Lomond Nurseries). In the latter years of their ownership, the McFarlanes had opened a Tearoom in the Nursery. This is compulsory in garden centres now, but they were well ahead of the times then.

They called it the Red Fox Tea-Room. The choice was an arbitrary one, because Balloch was hardly overrun with foxes of the four-legged variety. When it came to building houses on the site, the developers simply adopted the Tearoom's name.

Red House, Arden

The Red House stood at the junction of the A82 and the B831 “Black Hill” road to Helensburgh. There have been more than one Red House over the years, and the name is said to derive from an Inn that stood there. The last of the houses on the site was built over the cellars of the Inn.

Until its demise it served as the centre of the community of Arden, housing the Post Office, with an adjacent wooden shed acting as a shop and petrol station. For much of its history, the area was known as the Red House, rather than Arden. It was demolished to make way for the new Arden roundabout in the 1980's.

Red Row, Alexandria

This was one of the original streets in Alexandria. It was beside the Leven at the gates of Charleston Works, just about where India Street now is. It was built in the late 18th century and survived until the 1860's or 70's when the old houses were knocked down and new tenements were built on it, and the name disappeared.

Red Row, Renton

This is one of the earliest streets in Renton, dating from the original laying out of the village. To begin with, it was more or less the northernmost point in the village. At that time it was a cul-de-sac.

From 1786 onwards, at the end of the cul-de-sac stood Levenside Church, the first church in Renton (and only the second in the Vale), which passed through many Presbyterian denominations down the years. That Church building stood until the development of Hillfoot in the 1920's, although it was by that time used as a metal workshop. When Hillfoot was built, Red Row was opened up as a through road to Back Street and Hillfoot. Some of the single-story terraced buildings survived until the late 1950's, when Renton redevelopment brought wholesale change.

What are now the offices of Cordale Housing Association in Red Row were built in the early 1950's as Renton Police Station and police houses. That new Police Office was a relocation from Back Street to Red Row.

Redburn Estate, Bonhill

Redburn is another of the hillside estates. It was built in the late 1960's and lies between Nobleston and Braehead. It is another single name estate with only numbers, and is named after the Red Burn which flows off the hill, through the Estate and down via Redburn Park to the Leven. St Ronan's Primary School is located in Redburn.


Renton was given its name by Mrs Jane Telfer Smollett in 1762, in honour of her daughter-in-law Cecilia Renton. It is the most southerly of the Vale villages and towns, and has perhaps the most distinctive personality of them all.

To begin with, it enjoys a variety of names - most usually preceded by “the”, which range from variations in pronunciations such “the Rantan” through aspirations to grandeur as in “the capital” to the humbler “the village”. Sometimes it likes to see itself as “in the Vale, but not of it”, and there is some justification for this. Renton was, and still is for registration purposes, in the Parish of Cardross, unlike the rest of the Vale, which is in the Parish of Bonhill. These days, that distinction is totally irrelevant, but it was by no means so for the first 160 years of Renton's existence, when the parish controlled education and poor relief.

Cardross may be only about 2 miles distant as the crow flies, but the intervening hill makes it a planet away as far as the people of Cardross were, and probably still are, concerned. Renton people quickly learned to fend for themselves as a community and that approach has shown itself in various forms of robust independence of thought and action ever since.

Renton has a very strong claim on a leadership position in the Vale for a number of reasons. The first bleach works in the Vale was opened in 1715 at Dalquhurn, and this was the beginning of the textile finishing industry, which was to dominate the Vale for the next two and a half centuries. Dalquhurn was greatly expanded over time and another works opened at the north end of Renton at Cordale. Between them at their peak they employed over 3,000 people.

In 1721, Tobias Smollett, one of the earliest novelist in the English language, was born at Dalquhurn House, which was eventually subsumed by Dalquhurn works. Mrs Telfer Smollett, who named Renton, was his sister. After he died at Livorno in Italy in 1771, a monument was erected in 1774 to his memory on the spot on which it still stands at School Green.

Renton FC were the first World Football Champions in 1888, after beating West Bromwich Albion 4-1 to win the title. Over the years Renton has produced many champions in sports as diverse as quoiting (the Blacks) and boxing (Skeets Gallacher) as well as football. Pre-eminent amongst them is Alex Jackson (1905 - 46), a son of Renton, who was not only a Wembley Wizard, but also scored a hat trick against England in that victory at Wembley in 1928.

With the rest of the Vale, Renton suffered greatly in the slump of the 1920's and the Depression of the 1930's, and politically swung to the left where it has quite comfortably stayed. From the 1920's to the 40's new housing estates were built at Tontine (on the World Champion's football ground) and Cordale. With the opening of Strathleven Industrial Estate just across the Leven in the late 1940's (and linked to it by a pedestrian bridge) Renton began to enjoy some economic prosperity, in spite of the closure by the UTR of Cordale at the end of the war, and Dalquhurn shortly thereafter.

A gradually decreasing number of businesses continued to operate out of Dalquhurn until its final closure in 2006. A major redevelopment of the old core of Renton took place in the 1960's, while the 1970's saw a refurbishment of Cordale housing estate. As part of the refurbishment it was briefly renamed Kirkland, but this a well-intentioned project ended in failure. However, the next approach to urban regeneration in Renton, through the Cordale Housing Association (“CHA”) has been a resounding success, as well as a well-kept secret.

It began in 1993 on a modest scale, but since then, by just about any measurement from visual appearance, to economic prosperity, to resident satisfaction it has become perhaps the most successful urban regeneration story in Scotland, if not the UK. It continues with the demolition and clearance of Dalquhurn Works, which will be replaced by about 300 CHA houses. CHA already has a substantial waiting list for its houses, and is drawing people back to “the Rantan”. The rest of the Vale should be learning a few lessons. There is a Renton page on this web site.

Renton Cross, Renton

This is the junction of Main Street, Burn Street and King Street in Renton. Until the redevelopment of the 1960's it was a busy intersection and regarded as the centre of the town.  Perhaps with the opening of the very sheltered housing on the south corner of Burn Street and Main Street, restoring buildings to all four corners, it will get back to something like its former status.

Rickett Moss, Jamestown

It was also previously known as Ruckett Moss, or Ruckett's, after the early 19th century family who lived there. It lies between the Inler and Auchincarroch Road, and is accessed via a public footpath between the two. Jamestown Public Park lay just to the west of it for many years in the late 19th - early 20th century, and it could be entered either from the Rickett Moss, or a gate behind Levenbank Terrace.

Ritchie Hill, Alexandria

This hill lies between Smollett Street and the Alexandria bypass, north of Gilmour Street. These days Margaret Drive runs along its crest, but until the 1970's it was a favourite sledging run for children in the centre of Alexandria. The houses of Cowie Terrace had already encroached on it in the 1960's.

There was a farmer called Ritchie in the Jamestown area in the 1850's, who owned different plots of land throughout the Vale. He probably owned, and gave his name to the field in which the Hill stands. He was the father of Laurie Ritchie, famous in the Vale in the second half of the 19th century as violinist, although blind from birth.

Ritchie Terrace, Alexandria

Named after the Hill, this terraced row of privately owned houses, is on the west side of Smollett Street, close to Gilmour Street. It was built in the 1970's.

Riverside Court, Balloch

The last remaining large 1850's building in the former Levenbank Works is the main occupant of this small cul-de-sac. It was very successfully converted from Kuntz's engineering works more than 20 years ago, and now as well as being a modern apartment building is a wee piece of history. Like the adjoining Levenview Court, Riverside Court has just that, good views over the Leven.

Ross Priory, Gartocharn

This Lochside mansion house takes it name from the promontory (in Gaelic “ros”) near which it stands. It was one of several large houses that were owned for centuries by the Buchanan clan in the area from Balmaha to Gartocharn. There has been a house on this site since at least 1693, and probably earlier, although there is no evidence of there having been a priory there.

With the old Balloch Castle and Rossdhu House, it has the most interesting history of all the Lochside grand houses. After the 1745 Uprising, the Jacobite Marquis of Tullibardine, who was the elder brother of the Duke of Atholl, and had been disinherited from the Dukedom for his support of the previous Rising in 1715, sought shelter there. He was fleeing from the defeat at Culloden in which he had just fought and lost, and he most urgently needed a place to hide. He thought of his old friend Buchanan, laird of Ross.

Now you may think that he had already shown pretty poor judgement in backing the same loser twice, and you would be completely right. But in turning to his friend Buchanan, he was showing even worse judgement. Buchanan let him in and housed him in one of the vaulted apartments of the old house, which can still be seen below the present mansion. The treacherous Buchanan then went to Dumbarton Castle and told the government troops who his current houseguest was.

As he was led away in custody by the troops, Tullibardine at last found his true vocation - a soothsayer and curse layer - a bit late, true, but still quite impressive. He cursed Buchanan, saying “There'll be Murrays on the braes of Atholl (The Dukes of Atholl are Murrays), when there's never a Buchanan at Ross”. This turned out to be true thrice over.

By the end of the 18th century the Buchanan of Ross male line had died out and a legal wrangle between two heiresses ensued for the inheritance. In another fine example of the legal profession looking after itself first, the lawyer for one of the claimants married his client and changed his name to Buchanan. He therefore became Hector MacDonald Buchanan, and one of his closest friends turned out to be Sir Walter Scott, a brother Clerk of Session and one of the truly great novelists.

Scott was a frequent visitor to Ross Priory and travelled extensively around the Lochside and the Trossachs while staying there. In the process he gathered much material for his writing, particularly the Lady of the Lake and, of course, Rob Roy. It was in a first floor bedroom at Ross Priory, looking across to the Pass of Balmaha, that Scott wrote most of Rob Roy. You can still visit the bedroom and see much the same view as Sir Walter Scott did.

The present house takes it shape from a substantial rebuild in 1812, to a design by the architect James Gillespie. By 1830 Tullibardine's curse struck again, and the male line died out again. This time a daughter married a Sir Alexander Leith, whose family became Leith-Buchanan and members of that family still live on in the Gartocharn area. But not at Ross Priory. By the middle of the 20th century, Tullibardine's curse struck for the third, and for the Buchanan's, almost certainly final, time. Ross Priory was sold and passed from the Buchanans into the hands of Major George Christie (of the UTR family) who had lost a leg in the First World War.

He eventually sold it to members of the Teachers Whisky family, who in 1971 sold it to the University of Strathclyde. The buyer on behalf of Strathclyde was the first bursar of the University, Louis McGugan. Louis was a Vale man through and through, whose parents were amongst the first occupants of the timber houses in Lansbury Street, Levenvale. Buying Ross Priory and making it accessible to a wide group of academics, students, graduates and university workers, gave Louis just about the greatest pleasure in his business career.

It is now not only Strathclyde's Recreational and Conference Centre, but it also has a nine-hole golf course with some of the best views in the world - for a wee bit less than a £50,000 membership fee. In fact, £50,000 wouldn't get you in. You have to be an employee or graduate of Strathclyde University, and then democratically join a waiting list. Close to Ross Priory house are the pipes by which water is extracted from the Loch for supply to users in Central Scotland and the Paisley and Renfrew areas.

Rossdhu Estate / House Luss

Lying a mile or so south of Luss on the west bank of the Loch is Rossdhu Estate and House - in Gaelic, the black headland - the ancestral home of the Colquhouns of Luss.

The Colquhouns married into the Luss estate in 1385, and were elevated to the Barony of Luss in 1457, so they have been around for quite some time, acquiring attractive and affluent real estate as they jogged along. Originally, their castle seems to have been on the crannog of Ellan Rossdhu, but sometime in the 15th century they built a castle nearby on the mainland - Rossdhu Castle. Its remains lie adjacent to the present mansion.

They needed a fortified castle because they didn't get on well with their clan neighbours to the north and northeast - the McFarlanes and the McGregors - although they were hardly blameless for that. After the bloody Battle of Glenfruin in 1603 (the last clan battle in Scotland as it turned out), in which they came a particularly poor second, the McGregors pursued them to the very gates of Rossdhu Castle. By 1773, when the present Rossdhu House was built, things had totally quietened down. Indeed, just about the first visitors to the new House in 1773 were Dr Johnson and Boswell, and it has welcomed many other well-known guests over the years.

In the 20th century, the Colquhouns were made many offers for the development of the lands of Rossdhu, but turned them down, saying that they did not want to turn the Lochside into Coney Island. When they did come to make new use of the Estate and House, it was with probably the least intrusive Loch development of the 20th century, which proves that sympathetic modern use can be found for Lochside land.

The Colquhouns signed a 100-year lease for the Estate to be made into a golf course to Tom Weiskopf's design, with the House serving as the Clubhouse. The very exclusive Loch Lomond Golf Course opened in 1994, and has hosted the revived Scottish Open for a number of years now. In spite of the exclusivity of golfing access, pedestrian access is guaranteed - another example to all Lochside developers. The Colquhouns only moved a few hundred yards closer to Luss, to take up residence in the former Rossdhu dower house at Camstradden.

Rosshead, Alexandria

Since January 1963 Rosshead has been the name given to the housing estate on what used to be the Boll or Bowl o Meal Park, Alexandria. However, the use of the name “Rosshead” goes much further back than 1963, appearing in various documents from the second half of the 19th Century onwards. The term “Ross” has two principal meanings in Scotland. The more common one relates to a promontory or headland and in that definition it appears on a number of places around Loch Lomond such as Ross Priory and Ross Point.

However, it is most probably the second meaning which applies in the Vale – woods or woodland. The general area covered by Rosshead extends from the end of Fisherwood / Calamoon Woods at the Heather Avenue, to the former Levenfield Works and from the Leven to the Heather Avenue where it is running in a north-south direction. “Head” meant simply “the top or end of” and is used elsewhere locally – e.g. in Bankhead and Knowehead which are just a couple of hundred yards away to the north-east on the other side of the Leven. Therefore Rosshead would have meant “the end of the woods.”

The name “Rosshead House” was given to a Craft manager’s detached house which stood and indeed still stands, on the Heather Avenue. Also, when in 1884 a new Boathouse was built for Loch Lomond Rowing and Regatta Club at the junction of the Heather Avenue and the Leven Tow-path, its address was given as Rosshead; for many years afterwards the Boathouse was referred to as the Rosshead Boathouse.

The name the "Boll" or "Bowl o' Meal" probably derived from the annual rental that a farmer had to pay the landlord (probably originally the Smolletts of Bonhill). The Boll of Meal had been used in the 1950’s as a football park serving not only as the home to the UTR team (the UTR owned the ground), but also to the UTR’s woman’s football team, the Craft Cuties. In the summer, it was also the home of the Vale of Leven Cricket Club who moved there from the Argyll Park from about 1955-60. The clubhouse was a large green wooden shed, and the Bowl of Meal was an ideal location, but housing needs meant they had to move back to the Argyll Park for a number of years.

Dunbarton County Council awarded the contract to build the houses on the Boll o Meal to George Wimpey & Co in early 1962, and worked started immediately. In its wisdom the Council decided that Boll o Meal was an inappropriate name for the new housing estate but it was not until January 1963 that the Council announced the name Rosshead. Work on its building had proceeded very speedily and the completed estate was officially handed over to the County Council Tuesday 27th August 1962. It was actually completed ahead of schedule and people were living in Rosshead well before the hand-over date. Wimpey built 318 houses, 2 shops, 117 garages and parking for 92 cars on 16.5 acres of land at a cost of £643,000 and even although that was 50 years ago it still seems an amazingly low figure for all that work – an average of about £2,200 per house but including all the groundworks, roads etc. Even at that, Wimpey had made enough profit to take councillors, officials etc to Lomond Castle Hotel for a Buffet Lunch.

Rosshead has been substantially refurbished in the past few years, with a number of tenement blocks being demolished to make way for open spaces, including a community garden that the BBC’s gardening program helped to create. The estate has a strong Tenants Association, which pioneered a scheme of taking a view on potential tenants, but the Council scrapped it.

Rowardennan, Loch Lomondside

Two derivations are on offer for the origin of the name of this hamlet at the foot of Ben Lomond. The first is Hunter's Gaelic “ravir daonnan” which means, “yesterday to be always remembered”, in memory of a Fingalian victory. If you don't fancy that one, how about  “Eunan's high promontory”? Whoever Eunan was, it's a pretty good description of the area around Rowardennan Hotel. There is an entry for Rowardennan in the Lochside Villages pages.

Roy Young Avenue, Balloch

This Avenue in the Haldane is currently undergoing refurbishment and rebuilding. It was part of the original Haldane build of the mid-1950's. It is named after a much-respected surgeon at the old Bromley and new Vale of Leven Hospitals.

Russell Drive, Alexandria

This street in Tullichewan, built in the 1960's, is named after James Russell who lived in Auburn, Main Street in Alexandria. He was from the 1920's to the 50's the local journalist and reporter. In the Lennox Herald he contributed a weekly column called Valeman, which kept the readership abreast of Vale gossip and happenings, while he supplied local stories to all of the national newspapers.

His name is particularly associated with the Russell Cup. Initially this cup was competed for by Vale primary school football teams, but eventually all the primary schools in West Dunbartonshire joined in. The final was played at Millburn. The competition was abandoned for a number of years because of violence amongst the spectators. Russell also donated cups to Alexandria Bowling Club, and these are still competed for.


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Aber - Auchencarroch Road

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