Connecting People




Flints found at Nervelstone and Nether Broadhouse suggest Stone Age Man inhabited this area prior to 2300BC. There is archaeological evidence of settlements in both the Early Bronze Age (2300BC-1100BC) and the Late Bronze Age (1100BC-500BC). Items from a bronze horde found in 1790 at Gavelmoss Farm are displayed in the Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum and the Kelvingrove Museum. A form of Pictish is likely to have been spoken in the area at this time.

From 500BC Iron Age Man inhabited the area in structures such as the fort on Knockmade Hill, or in the small village at the confluence of the Berry Burn and the River Calder, or in one of the many stone circle huts which are still identifiable today. Of the 16 or so Iron Age tribes which migrated into Scotland it was the Damnonii who settled here to form part of the Kingdom of the Britons of Strathclyde.

The dominant language from 500BC-450AD was Britonic and some local place names are derived from this. Calder, as in the river, means “a hard water”, from the Britonic “caledwyr“ and Locher means a “burn which forms pools“.

The next migration into the area was of the Gaels , specifically the Goidelic tribe , and this took place around 400AD. Like the Britons already in the area, the Gaels were ethnic Celts. After a long period of transition their language, Irish Gaelic or Erse, fused with Britonic and a dialect of Scots Gaelic evolved. This is traceable in local farm names such as Balgreen ( baile grein = sunny farm/hamlet ), Moniabrock ( moine-nan-broc = moor of the badger ) or Cloak ( cloch = large stone ).

The name Lochwinnoch was originally attributed to the loch which was renamed Castle Semple Loch in the late 18th century. It was not until around 1560 that the name was directly linked to a settlement and this was the the village which developed around the post-Reformation kirk at the foot of Johnshill, the Kirktoun of Lochwinnoch.

The earliest record of the name is contained in a Charter dated 1158 which gives the spelling as Lochinauche. From then until the compilation of the “Cairn of Lochwinnoch“ by local surgeon Andro Crawfurd (1786-1854), more than 60 different spellings have been found, though most were of an ad-hoc nature. The standardisation of today’s spelling evolved about 1860-1870.

The derivation of the name is thought to have evolved out of the Britonic language ( Llwchyn-Uwch meaning “upper little loch“ or “loch prone to flooding“ ) and then absorbed into the local dialect of Scots Gaelic as Locheunach meaning “loch rich in birds” before being anglicised into Lochwinnoch. It has occasionally been suggested that the origin is from either of two Breton saints called Winnoc or from St Winnin after whom Kilwinning is named. There is no direct or folk-lore evidence linking either St Winnoc to the village and the claim is not supported by the British Orthodox Church which venerates both saints. The linkage to St Winnin was first given in Johnston’s book on Scottish Place Names in 1892. But his research was inaccurate on several key points and the derivation has subsequently been dismissed by local historians.

The  history of Lochwinnoch is inextricably linked to that of the Castle Semple Estate and the three families who owned it for about 450 years.


Semple Coat of ArmsTHE SEMPLES ( SEMPILL ) c1470 – 1733
The early history of the area is dominated bythe activities of the great feudal family of Semple and their rise to power through the patronage of the House of Stewart

King David I gave his “High Steward“, Walter Fitzalan, huge tracts  of land including the “launs o’ Lochinauche“ some time before 1150. From this the House of Stewart evolved and became the Royal House of Scotland. Walter founded Paisley Abbey about 1165 and the “cappelam  at Lochinauche“ became a dependant chapel to the Abbey.

The Sempill ( Semple ) family supported the Stewarts and this ensured their advancement at  Court and their material progress. The name Sempill is first recorded in 1246 when Robert de Sempill witnessed the donation of the church at Largs to the monks of Paisley Abbey. Then, as Steward of the Barony of Renfrew, he witnessed Charters in 1280 and 1309, the latter under the seal of James, High Steward of Scotland. His two sons, Robert and Thomas, supported Robert the Bruce, the elder son being rewarded for his services with “ whole lands and pertinents  which belonged to John Balliol, lying in the tenement of Largs, to be held by him and his heirs in free barony “. The younger son, Thomas, fell at Bannockburn in 1314.

William de Sempill succeeded as Steward of Renfrew c 1340. Around this time the family acquired the lands of Eliotstoun ( now known as Elliston ) within the Parish of Lochwinnoch and this became the territorial designation of the chiefly line for the next 160 years. During these years the family increased their power and influence in Renfrewshire and beyond.

In 1367 Thomas de Sempill of Elliestoun is given the lands of Sanquhar by Charter.

In 1375 Sir John Sempill received a Charter from King Robert II comprising the grant which the Earl of Carrick, the King’s eldest son, had made to him of lands of Glasford in Lanarkshire. The daughter of Sir John Sempill, Jean, married Sir John Stewart, Sheriff of Bute, an ancestor of the Marquis of Bute.

In 1421, the next in the Sempill line, also Sir John, was one of the Commissioners appointed to negotiate the release of James I  from the English. In 1423, he was given safe passage to Durham by order of King James I “ to wait on his Majesty “. He later sat in the parliaments which met in the early 1440’s in Edinburgh and Stirling.

In 1451 further lands were secured by Charter to Sir Robert Sempill of Elliestoun. In 1463, his son Sir William became Hereditary Sheriff of the County of Renfrew and was conferred with a chapter of the Baronies of Elliestoun and Castletoun by King James III. A decade or so later Sir Thomas Sempill, Sheriff of Renfrew, moved the family seat to Castletoun. Sir Thomas died at the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488 and was succeeded by his son Sir John Sempill who was created Lord Sempill in that same year.

The First Lord Sempill, had Castletoun rebuilt and renamed Castle Sempill. In 1505 he founded a Collegiate Church close to the castle and dedicated it to the “honour of God, and the blessed Virgin Mary, for the prosperity of his sovereign James IV and Margaret his Queen, for the soul of Margaret Colville of Ochiltree his former spouse and also for the salvation of his own soul and that of Margaret Crichton his present wife and all of his predecessors and successors and all the faithful deceased“.

John Ist Lord Sempill died at Flodden in 1513. Collegiate ChurchThe Collegiate Church was extended to accommodate the tomb recess of its founder within the apse. Today the church is under the care of Historic Scotland and considered a remarkable example of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture.

The eldest son, William, succeeded to the title and obtained a charter to the lordship with the assistance of the Regent Albany in 1515. The 2nd Lord Sempill was Lord Judiciary and heritable Baillie of the Regality of Paisley. More importantly he was a member of the Privy Council of James V in which role he favoured the marriage of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots,to the Edward, son of Henry VIII of England. William died in 1548 and was succeeded, as 3rd Lord Sempill, by his son Robert who was later to be known as the ”Great Lord Sempill“.

In 1547, the year prior to his father’s death, Robert had fought at the Battle of Pinkie and was taken prisoner by the English. He later became a supporter of the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, widow of James V and was devoted to the interest of Mary Queen of Scots. Indeed, in 1560, Castle Sempill came under attack because of his opposition to the Reformation. However, after the murder of the Mary’s husband, Earl Darnley, Robert entered into a bond of association with other Scots peers to promote Mary’s son as King James VI. He fought against the Queen and Bothwell at the Battle of Carberry Hill and was a signatory to the warrant imprisoning Mary in Lochleven Castle. In 1568 he fought with Regent Moray at the Battle of Langside and in “consideration for this and many valuable services to king and government“ was given a charter to the lands of Paisley Abbey “upon the forfeiture of these from Lord Claud Hamilton”. The Hamiltons were later to regain these lands.

Of interest, within the wider context of Lochwinnoch’s history, it was through the Great Lord Sempill’s association with Regent Moray and the advancement  this patronage secured for the family, that later the first bridge across the River Calder was named  the Regent Moray Bridge, now more familiarly known as Bridgend.

During his tenure the Great Lord Sempill engaged in long-running feuds with the Houses of Eglinton and Glencairn – the Montgomery and Cunningham families respectively. These were dangerous times and in around 1570 Lord Robert built a small, easily defended stronghold, the Peel Castle, on an islet in the loch. This remained a place of relative safety for the family for some 150 years until it’s “dingin’ doon“ around 1735 as recorded in the Legend of Ringan Sempill. This Sempill was by reputation a “warlock“ and the ruins of the Peel Castle he frequented can still be viewed today.  Robert, the 3rd and Great Lord Sempill died in 1572.

Though he did not succeed to his father’s title, John, the 7th son of the Great Lord Sempill by his second wife, laid claim to his place in the family history. John married Mary, daughter of Alexander the 5th Lord Livingstone, who was one of the Maids of Honour to Mary Queen of Scots and immortalised in the folk-ballad :
There was Mary Beaton, and Mary Seaton, Mary Carmichael and me

This relationship allowed John to become a great favourite of the Queen and the Sempills prospered well under her patronage. However, this was the time of the Reformation. The Sempills had not renounced Roman Catholicism. John was castigated as “Sempill the Dancer“  by the Reformer, John Knox and in 1577 was accused of treason for conspiring to murder the Regent Morton. Denounced by one of his co-conspirators, he was sentenced to be hung, drawn, and quartered. The influence of family and well-connected friends enabled this sentence to be reduced to imprisonment and he was later released.

It was John’s elder, half- brother Robert who, in 1572, had succeeded the Great  Lord Semple. The  4th Lord Sempill assisted at the baptism of Prince Henry in 1594 and attended on the Queen at  the celebratory banquet for the event at Stirling Castle. James V1 appointed Robert as Privy Councillor and sent him as Ambassador to Spain in 1596. And shortly after that his scholarly uncle, Sir James Sempill of Beltrees was appointed Ambassador to France by James VI and I.

Robert , the 4th Lord Sempill, continued the family allegiance to the Roman Catholic faith and, in 1608, he was excommunicated  by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  This meant that he could  no longer hold public office.

The 5th and 6th Lords, Hugh and Francis respectively, led somewhat less public lives. The latter died without issue and was succeeded as 7th Lord by his brother Robert . He supported the Royalist cause in the Civil War and was fined by Cromwell’s Common-Wealth under the Act of Grace and Pardon in 1654. By this time, their long royalist association had also resulted in the family estates being significantly diminished through enforced land forfeitures.

The 7th Lord was predeceased by his first two sons, both without issue, and was succeeded by his third son, Francis. This was a significant succession as Francis, the 8th Lord Sempill, was the first to become a Protestant and so became the first Sempill to take a seat in Parliament since the reign of Mary Queen of Scots. Embracement of the reformed religion came about as Francis, while a minor, had been placed under the care of the protestant Earl of Dundonald. Francis, 8th Lord Sempill, died without issue in 1684 and was succeeded by his elder sister, Anne, as Baroness Sempill. This succession was possible by a Deed of Entail confirmed by the Crown in 1685. Three years later Baroness Sempill secured a new charter to the title which granted succession to her daughters  should there be no male issue. Anne married Francis Abercrombie of Fettermier in Aberdeenshire and was succeeded to the title by three of her sons ! It would not be until 1835 that the title would next pass to the female line.

Anne’s eldest son, Francis the 10th Lord Sempill, sat in Parliament from 1703 and was strongly opposed to the Union with England. In the Craigievar Manuscripts , the 16th Baroness Sempill was later to note that “not withstanding very considerable offers if he would comply with the measures of the Court in relation to the Union, he ( Francis ) gave that treaty all opposition in his power and  voted against every article”. Francis was unmarried, died in 1716, and was buried in the Chapel Royal at Holyrood. The title passed to his brother, John.

The 11th Lord Sempill supported the Hanoverians during the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion and trained an Ayrshire regiment for the fight against Prince Charlie. He died in 1727, also without issue, was buried at Holyrood and succeeded by his brother, Hugh as the 12th Lord Sempill.

Hugh was a professional soldier whose military career had seen action in Flanders, Spain, and France. He was later to become Colonel of the 25th Regiment of Foot at the outset of the 1745 Jacobite rising and was Brigadier-General in command of the left-wing of the Royalist army at Culloden in 1746. He died that year and was interred at the West Church in Drumsaisle, Aberdeenshire.

However, Hugh 12th Lord Sempill had brought his family’s association with Lochwinnoch to a close many years earlier. In 1727, the year he had succeeded to the title, Hugh sold the estate at Castle Sempill. By then the Sempills had become less wealthy and influential; their years as powerful Barons in the county of Renfrew ended.

The family had little or no connection with Lochwinnoch thereafter. Until, in the 1990’s the present Lord Semple, a marketing professional, set up a Semple Family Association, now referred to as Clan Semple, and formed some link to the place through the Clyde Muirshiel  Regional Park Authority.


Just as the Semples had acquired their lands through royal patronage, the Macdowalls had similarly been granted lands in the south-west of Scotland. They were made Lords of Galloway with estates around Garthland Tower near Stranraer.

In the late 1600’s, like other sons from West of Scotland families, William MacDowall sailed to the West Indies to make his fortune. He settled on the islands of St Kitts and  Nevis to work on the sugar plantations. It was there that he met his lifelong friend James Milliken, originally from Ayrshire. In time both men succeeded in becoming plantation owners. The fortunes of both men were enhanced considerably through marriage ;  James Milliken married the widow of a well established Bristol plantation owner and William MacDowall married her daughter. In 1724 William now aged 46 decided to return to Scotland. His wife and 6 year old son would join him some 3 years later.

William MacDowall, the First of Castle Semple ( 1727-1748 )
Although most of his business interests were in London and Bristol, William determined to settle in Scotland. In 1727 he purchased Shawfield Mansion in Glasgow which stood on Argyle Street at the junction with what is now Glassford Street. He also sought to purchase a country estate as an investment. In 1727 he bought the Castle Semple Estate of Lord Semple “ being one of the best inland estates in Scotland “
William had amassed considerable wealth and at the time he purchased  the Castle Semple Estate was considered to be “ the richest commoner in Scotland “. His commitments included
* The maintenance of shipping to transport goods and provisions to his plantation
  In the West Indies and to return with cargoes of sugar. 
* Arranging a supply of plantation managers and labourers
* The construction and management of Sugar Houses in Scotland to refine the imported 

Prior to his buying Shawfield Mansion it had been badly damaged during the 1725 rioting over the Malt Tax. William therefore had to have the house largely rebuilt. In addition, the old Semple home, “Castletoun”, had fallen into disrepair and was no longer a fitting residence.
Seven years after he had taken ownership, William replaced the old building in 1735 with 8  Castle Semple Housethe much larger and finer Castle Semple House.
As principal land owner, William MacDowall was responsible for the Kirk and parishioners of the extensive Parish of Lochwinnoch. The old church building at the foot of Johnshill had been negelected and, under MacDowall’s stewardship, was partly rebuilt in 1729. This included the construction of a new gable on the south-west face which remains standing today ( Auld Simon ). Around this time parishioners living on the south side of the Loch were requesting that a bridge be built to replace the ferry from Loch Hall to the small pier where the Skippers Path joined the lochside. A bridge would ease their journey to and from the kirk and the market.
William’s wife, Mary, who had spent all her life in the West Indies, died shortly after coming to Scotland. She is buried in Glasgow Cathedral. His second wife, Isabel Wallace of Woolmet near Edinburgh, gave him two sons and a daughter. James, managed the St Kitt’s estates while John looked after the Woolmet Estate. When William died in 1748, his eldest son from his first marriage, also named William,  inherited the Castle Semple Estate.

William MacDowall the Second of Castle Semple 1748-1776
William was 30 years old when he inherited the estate. In the same year he married Elizabeth Graham, daughter of Admiral Graham, by whom he had 12 children. Four years later he bought the Garthland lands and title from his cousin in Galloway. His title became William MacDowall, 20th of Garthland and 2nd of Castle Semple.
He continued to manage family businesses in Scotland in close partnership with the Millikens and also the Houston family from Johnstone who had ships plying between the Clyde and the West Indies. Members of the family looked after the overseas interests.

William was one of the founders of the Ship Bank in 1752. This was the first bank established in Glasgow to provide venture capital for traders and industrialists.
In 1760 Shawfield Mansion in Glasgow was sold to John Glassford and the Ralston Estate and lands at Cathcart were purchased. In the same year William had the wooden bridges over the River Calder in Lochwinnoch and the River Cart in the Howwood replaced with fine stone bridges.

In 1768 William was elected Member of Parliament for Renfrewshire.

5 Tower Kenmuir HillIn the 1760’s the small tower on Kenmuir Hill was built almost certainly as a vantage point over the estate. The 1770’s witnessed many improvements on the estate ; planned gardens to the front and rear of the house, open parklands with carriage drives, re-established fish ponds, extensive tree planting, and an additional 250 acres of agricultural land exposed by a drainage system on the loch.

Copyright National Museum of Scotland

Copyright National Museum of Scotland

Before William died in 1776, European wars during  in the 1750’s/1760’s and the American War of Independence had damaged the MacDowall fortunes. The ensuing movement to abolish slavery would more significantly affect the family’s wealth and influence.Of note, Kelvingrove Museum has a set of silver Communion cups inscribed in Latin, “William MacDowall of Castle Semple generous man gave four of these cups for use in Lochwinnoch Church, 1756”.

William MacDowall, 21st of Garthland and 3rd of Castle Semple 1776-1810
William III remained unmarried, giving much of his life to politics and civic matters.He was a non-practising advocate and served as Rector of Glasgow University from 1795 till 1797. He was a Member of Parliament from 1783 until his death in 1810 and acted as Lord Lieutenant of Renfrewshire from 1794, again until his death. His contribution is recognised in a Memorial Plaque in Paisley Abbey.

The Macdowalls were prominent in Scottish society at this time ; William III’s brother, James was Lord Provost of Glasgow in the 1790’s and is assosciated with the foundation of the Royal Infirmary in the city. Another brother, David, was Governor General of Bombay.

By 1776, many of the Macdowall enterprises had been incorporated into the larger business of  Alexander Houston & Co. This was involved in shipping sugar,rum,cotton and tobacco across the Atlantic and returning with herring and goods required on the plantations in the Caribbean. This business collapsed in 1795 bringing a significant reduction in the wealth of the MacDowalls.

William III’s time as Laird of Castle Semple witnessed the transformation of Lochwinnoch from a largely agricultural/cottage industry village economy to one with a greater industrial base.
MacDowall was prominent in the management of this change.

The development of mills in the village necessitated an increase in population to provide the workforce for these. The new mill owners, as in Macdowall’s case, came from the wealthy landed class whose focus had hitherto been on farming. Changes to farming methods coincided with the growing industrialisation and farm-workers were encouraged to move from the farms into the village to work in the mills. Housing would be required for this new village population and MacDowall developed his plan for the New Town of Lochwinnoch from the existing centre in the Kirktoun around Auld Simon westwards to Calderhaugh.

From 1788-1795 MacDowall feu’d parts of Calderhaugh and during these years 53 new houses were built on what are now High Street and Main Street. Additional feus were granted in subsequent years. In 1791 a feu charter was granted by MacDowall to Messrs Fulton, Buchanan and Pollock for the land and water rights to build Calderhaugh Mill (the Silk Mill flats of today). MacDowall owned Lochwinnoch Old Mill and the Mill in Factory Street, now St Winnoc Road, in partnership with other wealthy villagers.

By the end of the century the Kirk at the foot of Johnshill, which had been partly rebuilt in 1729 by William I of Castle Semple, was again in disrepair. William III incorporated a new location for the replacement Parish Church into his New Town Plan and as patron of the church he   was responsible for it’s construction. The new parish church opened in 1808 in a position central to the “new”  village.

In 1792 William had given land to build the Burghers Kirk and manse, now the Calder United Free Church, and paid for the construction of part of the tower. He withdrew support, however, when told that the ministers would not be chosen by himself but by the congregation. The tower was not completed until 1815 when the new laird, John Harvey, donated £50 for the purpose.

William MacDowall, 22nd of Garthland and 4th of Castle Semple 1810-1814
On the death of William III in 1810 the wealth of the family had reached the point where his nephew, also William, had no choice but to put both family estates on the market. The Garthland Estate near Wigton was sold in 1811 and the Castle Semple Estate in 1814.

114 Garthland House = St Josephs 1During the Lairdship of William III, the family had purchased the lands of Barr including Barr Castle in1778. In 1820, William 4th was able to buy Garpel House which stood on this land and, as the original Garthland Estate had been sold, this was renamed Garthland House. This remained in the family until 1935 when it was sold to the Mill Hill Foreign Missionary Society. It latterly became St Joseph’s Nursing Home.

Throughout the period 1727-1814 the MacDowall family had significant influence in Scotland and were the principal  landowners in the Parish of Lochwinnoch. From the time of the Reformation landowners were the Heritors of the Parishes with responsibility for providing a church with a bell and belfry, seats for at least two-thirds of the parishioners, a manse with a garden, a glebe of at least four acres, and a burial ground for the parish.In addition, they had responsibility for Poor Relief in the village and for contributing towards education by providing Parish Schools.

The current chief of the MacDowalls, Professor Fergus Day Hort MacDowall of Garthland, Baron of Garochloyne, Garthland and Castle Semple, Chief of the Name and  Arms of MacDowall, has been resident in Canada for many years. The family still own lands around the village ; the Barr castle and surrounding land,  the west side of the “Engine Tees “  ( more correctly the “Ingaunees”), fields on the Glenlora road and behind the recently demolished Garthland House, and Lochwinnoch Golf Club is on land rented from MacDowall.