Castle Semple, Lochwinnoch – Clan Sempill
Situated within the grounds of the beautiful Castle Semple Country Park in Renfrewshire, this Castle takes its name from the historic Sempill Clan, who made it their home for over 250 years.
Given to the Sempill family through a charter in 1474, the area surrounding the castle would be developed by the clan over the subsequent centuries, with a castle first being constructed there in 1504. The castle would continue to be expanded over the years, eventually reaching a height of 4 storeys in 1580, and would be surrounded by other buildings such as the ‘collegiate church’, which was staffed by a college of canons employed by the family.
As the Sempill’s influence began to grow and their estate expanded within the area, they would also gain a number of enemies and, following a number of raids, the third Lord Sempill would construct another house on the estate, known as ‘Peel Tower’, which was to be used as a place of refuge in the event of an attack. Peel Tower would not last long though, as it was besieged and overrun in 1560.
The family would continue to call Castle Semple their home until the beginning of the 18th century when it was sold to the MacDowalls, a family originally from Galloway who had made their fortune from sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Therefore, while the family were to make significant improvements to the area, they would do so with money that would later be associated with the slave trade and all of its negative connotations.
Built with this money was a new mansion house that replaced the ageing castle. This building would be called ‘Castle Semple House’ and was built on the site of the Sempill’s demolished home, it was intended to be the holiday retreat of the MacDowalls as they were believed to have been the richest commoner in Scotland at the time, however, the MacDowalls would eventually sell the property upon realising that, as landowners, they would have to provide services to their tenants such as the construction of a bridge across the nearby sample loch. It is said that the family were shocked to discover this as they expected to control their tenants the same way they had controlled their slaves in the Caribbean and the family would later sell the mansion to John Harvey after being forced to spend a significant amount of money on improvements over the subsequent years.
Following this sale, the castle would eventually be abandoned and would burn down in 1924, before being finally demolished in 1960. Some of the castle’s walls still remain and the former billiards room and stables have been reroofed and are now used as farm buildings. The castle’s grounds also remain a popular place for locals to spend time outdoors and the banks of Semple Loch make a great location for a picnic.