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The glory that was Garthland

The glory that was Garthland

 GARTHLAND House, on the outskirts of Lochwinnoch, was one of Renfrewshire's most majestic mansions. The greyish-pink Tudor-style architecture of the two-storey building was enhanced by a pillared porch, elegant stairway, ivy-clad walls, pedimented portico, soaring chimneys, sloping roof and exquisitely-carved dormer and bay windows.

Built in 1796 by David King for wealthy land-owner James Adam, Garthland was embowered by beautiful gardens embellished by manicured lawns, gravel paths, sprawling rhododendrons, towering conifers and fragrant flowers and herbs.

Sadly the historic house is now but a shell of its former self. Today it lies derelict, abandoned and boarded-up in woodlands now overgrown and neglected. Yet still the old mansion clings tenaciously to its proud history. Even in the midst of its devastation it is not difficult to imagine Garthland in all its architectural and horticultural glory.

Known originally as Garpel House then Barr House before becoming Garthland House, the regal residence was acquired by the Macdowall family who came initially from Garthland in Wigtownshire and were descended from the Lords of Galloway. During the mid-1930s, Henry Macdowall sold it to the Mill Hill Foreign Missionary Society that was founded. Garthland House was renamed St Jospeh's College by the Society and, during its heyday, around 30 young men were students there.

A three-storey dormitory block was added in 1936 followed by a beautiful brick-red chapel in 1943. Both the sleeping quarters and the chapel can still be seen today although, like the house, they have fallen into disrepair and are but fragments of their former selves.

Despite its ruinous state, the chapel exudes a powerful aura, which conjures up visions of former days when it was used as a place of prayer and meditation for the trainee priests as well as by the people of Lochwinnoch who worshipped there until the construction of Our Lady of Fatima Church in the village in 1955.

Its most outstanding features were stained-glass windows, pink and black altar pieces, wooden pews and mosaic wall panels, exterior wall of the chapel. Portraying the majestic figure of St Joseph, the serene sculpture confronts visitors when they travel down the tree-lined avenue to the former college from the Largs Road. 

The inspirational icon would have evoked a divine sense of mission for students arriving at St Joseph's for the first time from every corner of the British Isles at the start of their vocation to the priesthood. The carving depicts St Joseph – better known as the husband of the Virgin Mary – with a hammer in one hand and a long plank of wood in the other. The sculpture reminded students that St Joseph was the patron saint of carpenters. But the sermon in stone had an even deeper significance.

Following their ordination and admittance to the priesthood after their course of study, the missionaries were sent to places like Malaysia and Uganda in East Africa. Their duties included supervising the construction of churches, schools, hospitals and orphanages.

Wood – the material with which St Joseph worked—was used in these projects. So the link with their patron – and St Joseph's College where they studied – would always be with them wherever in the world they served.

Some time after the Mill Hill Missionaries moved from the college at Lochwinnoch for pastures anew around 1985, the building became
St Joseph's Nursing Home, where senior citizens were looked after for many years until its closure not so long ago.

It is hoped that the building will be saved from destruction by being transformed into flats at some point in the not-too-distant-future.

Unsurprisingly, a building so Gothic in appearance as the abandoned mansion is linked to ghostly hauntings. People who worked at St Joseph's Nursing Home will tell you there were several incidences of mysterious things 'which went bump in the night' during their time there. These mysterious events included doors opening and closing, weird thumping noises, plates and dishes falling from tables and pictures dropping from walls. There were also reports of ghostly horses galloping up and down the avenue at dead of night.

Once there was a priests' cemetery in the woodlands behind St Joseph's. Following the closure of the college, the coffins were exhumed and reburied in sacred ground elsewhere. For a long time afterwards, there were frequent tales of phantom priests still wandering over the burial ground which once contained their graves. There were many people who believed the apparitions were the spirits of priests who trained at the college and whose souls had returned to the happy haunts of their youth after they died.
One of the most inspirational words in Latin, which was the official language of the Catholic Church up until the Second Vatican Council nearly 50 years ago, is 'Resurgam.' It means: 'I shall rise again.'
As you look at the stone crosses still visible on the roof of the old building and which loom defiantly amidst the architectural wilderness surrounded by the briars and thorns of encroaching vegetation you sense a message of hope.
And that hope is that –

the beauty which was Barr,
the glory which was Garpel,
the grandeur which was Garthland and the serenity which was St Joseph's

– will rise again from the rubble of
ruination and be restored to its
former elegance. 

Derek Parker worked as a countryside ranger at Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, Lochwinnoch, from 1985 to 1999.