Black Cart Mills 2: Millbank Burn and the Calder

Minor Mills on Millbank Burn and the Calder

Several burns flow into Barr Loch on the way to the Black Cart. The largest of these burns is Millbank Burn which powered Millbank Mill, a traditional grain mill. Until about a decade ago the mill’s grinding stones and large water wheel were still intact.

millbank-mill

Millbank Mill gearing – between water wheel and grindstones

Between the burn and Barr Castle, water was collected from a copious spring to turn another waterwheel to pump water out of the then drained Barr Loch (discussed in a previous Advertizer article).

The main watercourse in the headwaters of the Black Cart is the Calder which falls into Castle Semple Loch at Lochwinnoch. The Calder falls 400 metres from Queenside Loch down to Castle Semple Loch. The stream and its smaller feeder burns, particularly the Cloak Burn, powered numerous mills which ranged in size from the humblest grain mills to the biggest cotton mills.

This month we look at the Calder’s smaller mills. Up on the moors at Muirshiel, the Calder powered a mill for grinding Barytes (discussed in a previous Advertizer article). Further down the Calder were two lint mills, at Loups and at Bridgend, the latter of which at one time was also a grain mill. Another lint mill sat on the Cloak Burn. There were also several bleachfields on the edge of Lochwinnoch village, for whitening and finishing cloth. One lay beside the Calder at Burnfoot, at the bottom of the minor Garple Burn. Another two, the Old and New Bleachfields, at Calderhaugh, were advertised from 1793.

It took considerable ingenuity to power a variety of mills from such a powerful and unpredictable burn as the Calder. Water rights were a thorny issue and even the mighty Castle Semple owners did not escape disputes. From the 1790s the flow in the Calder in dry spells was controlled by the owners of dams recently built on the Calder at Queenside Loch and on the Cloak Burn at Knockbartnock.

James Adam of Barr owned the Glen Mill on the Cloak Burn, which had been a corn mill for at least 150 years. It had full rights to the mill dams and lades on the Cloak burn, including the Black Linn, Boghead and Kaim dams. However the owners of the new cotton mills had closed the dam sluices for weeks to store up water for dry weather. This stopped the working of Glen Mill. However the traditional water rights were upheld and the cotton mill owners were instructed to provide enough water for Adam to drive his modest grain mill. Cotton mills will be the subject of a future article.)

© 2016, Stuart Nisbet

Black Cart Mills 1: Rowbank Burn

2016-08-15 08.27.04 MAP ROWBANK BURN

This is the first of several articles on the mills on the Black Cart and its tributaries, from its source to the Clyde. The Black Cart flows all the way from Barr Loch, via Johnstone and Linwood, to join the Gryfe and the White Cart, before meeting the Clyde near Renfrew. The Black Cart itself powered at least a dozen mills. It is fed by various lesser burns which rise in the hills between Barr Loch and Kilbirnie Loch and define the Renfrewshire-Ayrshire border. These smaller burns powered another dozen mills

The Rowbank (or Moor) Burn forms the border between Renfrewshire and Ayrshire, between Lochwinnoch Parish and Beith. The burn is not very big, but it makes up for this by falling more than 100 metres, giving the potential to power numerous mills. Most were clustered around the three main bridging points of the burn.

At Clarksbridge, a toll point on the original turnpike road into Ayrshire (now the A737), there were several mills, including a lint mill (for dressing flax before it was spun) and a thread mill (for twisting yarn into sewing thread). Just above the bridge was Loanhead (or Rowbank) bleachfield and printfield, which became quite large. Further downstream in the 1850s, on a minor tributary, was a smaller bleachfield at Grangehill.

The next bridge up the burn from Clerksbridge was at Mill of Beith, an old grain mill on the Ayrshire bank. Just upstream, near Knowes, was a traditional waulk mill for fulling (or softening) cloth, to which was added the larger Knowes cotton mill in the early 1800s. Further up, also on the Ayrshire side of the burn, was another lint mill near Brownmuir.

At the third and final bridge, at the appropriately named Newmill, was another traditional grain mill, with a very long lade. The burn finally petered out on Shutterflat Muir and, via the Muirhead Burn, below Walls Hill.

Today the Rowbank Burn has been changed greatly by the whinstone quarries along its banks, and by Barcraigs reservoir at its headwaters. At its foot, the burn flows via the Dubbs Water, into Barr Loch. On the opposite side of the Dubbs, the Maich Water forms the boundary between Lochwinnoch and Kilbirnie Parishes. Near the foot of the burn was a water powered engine for draining a coal pit at Nervelstone.

The Dubbs Water is the high point of the rivers in the area, often  flowing in both directions, draining the bogland between Kilbirnie Loch, the headwaters of the River Irvine (flowing east), and Barr Loch, which flows into the Black Cart, and begins our journey west towards the sea.

© 2016 Stuart Nisbet

The Reverend Peter Dale – minister Houston and Kilallan Parish, (1843-56)

The Reverend Peter Dale was minister of the joint parishes of Houston and Kilallan from his induction on 5th September1843 until his death on 11th December 1856.

He was born in the parish of Torpichen, West Lothian, on 21st September 1808 to John Dale and Jane Walker and was baptised there on 9th October. Nothing is known of his boyhood education but, according to the Fasti of the Church of Scotland, he was later educated at Edinburgh University.

The first reference to Peter Dale as a minister is in 1841. The 1841 census (taken on 7th June that year) records Peter as living in Bloom Village, Livingston, West Lothian.  His occupation is given as Assistant Minister. However, there is no mention of him as a minister in the Kirk Session Records for Livingston Parish Church, nor is he listed in the Fasti of the Church of Scotland as being a serving minister at that time. It appears that he was associated with a parish library which was established in the village of Livingston about 1839. The library, supported by subscription, is recorded as having nearly 300 books. In the proceedings of the Session Meeting of Livingston Parish in September 1841 Mr Dale is referred to as giving up “his charge of the library”.

The Fasti record that, on 2nd December 1841, he was ordained to Milngavie where a new Presbyterian church had been opened in May that year and Peter served as its first minister. Peter’s ministry in Milngavie lasted less than 2 years. The Scotsman dated 2nd August 1843 records that “The Presbytery of Paisley, on Monday last week, gave a call to the Rev Peter Dale, minister of the quoad sacra church at Milngavie to the church and parish of Houston.” On 5th September 1843 he was inducted as minister of the united parishes of Houston and Killellan.

On 26th October 1843, less than 2 months after his induction to Houston parish, Peter went to Londonderry and there married Margaret Hay of Templemore parish. In their comparatively short married life, the couple had 5 children who were:

  1. George Hay Dale, born 26 August 1844.
  2. Jessie Walker Dale, born 14th April 1846.
  3. John William Dale, born 31st January 1849.
  4. Elizabeth Mary Dale, born 10th June 1851.
  5. Wilhelmina Fleming Dale born 23rd September 1852.   Died 1st October 1853.

As previously mentioned, Peter died on 11th December 1856, and was buried on 18th December 1856 within the old Kilallan Church, where a wall tablet records the event.    The report of his death and funeral service in the Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser dated 27th December 1856 records that he “was very acceptable as a preacher; and he had the character of being an affectionate and dutiful pastor, and was kind to the poor.”  Margaret died in Londonderry in 1895, aged 84.

This is a brief summary of the ordinary tale of an ordinary family of their times, but one wonders how Miss Hay of Londonderry and the Reverend Peter Dale of Livingstone, Milngavie and Houston got to know each other. Further research might provide an answer.

© June 2016, Gina Fisher

Robert II, the first Stewart King

When writing the article for the Advertiser last month about the Stewart 700 Conference in Paisley Abbey on Saturday 10 September 2016, I realised that I knew practically nothing about King Robert II, the first of the Stewart dynasty, apart from the fact that he was the son of Marjorie Bruce (only child of Robert the Bruce and his first wife, Isabella of Mar) and Walter, the 6th High Steward of Scotland. So, on the perhaps fanciful grounds that the Stewards/Stewarts could be called Renfrewshire’s local royal dynasty, I thought I’d write another article, this time mainly about Robert himself.

Robert II was born in 1216 in or near Paisley Abbey where his mother died, possibly after a riding accident. At birth, Robert was not in line to the Scottish throne as his mother’s right of succession had been extinguished by entail by the Scottish Parliament in April 1315 in favour of her uncle, Edward Bruce, brother to her father, King Robert the Bruce. (Marjorie had apparently agreed to this.) When Edward, who had been crowned king of Ireland in 1316, was killed at the battle of Dundalk in October 1318 another entail by the Scottish Parliament provided that Robert would become king if Robert the Bruce, his grandfather, died without male heirs.

However, when in 1324 Robert the Bruce and his second wife Elizabeth de Burgh, produced a male heir, David, the Bruce line was secured. After Robert the Bruce died in 1329, Robert the 7th Steward was one of the noblemen who was involved in the regency during the minority of his (half) uncle, who had become David II, and also during David’s imprisonment in England after being captured at the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. Robert finally became king, the first Stewart king, in 1371 when he was in his fifties and reigned until his death in 1390 at Dundonald Castle in Ayrshire.

Leaving aside his activities both as hereditary Steward/Stewart and as king, what I find remarkable about Robert II is the number of children he had, both legitimate and illegitimate. With his first wife, Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan, he had 4 sons and 5 daughters. By his second wife, Euphemia Ross, he had 2 sons and 2 daughters. All together he is said to have fathered 21 children, including 8 illegitimate sons.  Some regard his 4 children with Euphemia as his only legitimate children as several of his children with Elizabeth were born before their marriage in 1347. These children were legitimised by Papal dispensation but there was still the issue that he and Elizabeth were considered to be too closely related. However, Robert II was succeeded by his eldest son by Elizabeth, John, Earl of Carrick, who took the regnal name of Robert III.

© 2016 Gina Fisher

STRATHGRYFFE AND THE BATTLE OF FLODDEN, 9TH SEPTEMBER, 1513

The Battle of Flodden took place in turbulent times. Pope Julius II had manipulated the European sovereigns, Henry VIII of England, Emperor Maximillian and Ferdinand of Spain to invade France. Despite the fact that his wife was the sister of Henry VIII, James IV of Scotland felt obligated to invade England in support his ally France. The ensuing Battle of Flodden was a national disaster for Scotland. According to George Buchanan (1582) 5,000 Scots lost their lives, including King James IV himself, his illegitimate son (the Bishop of St Andrews), ten earls, thirteen lords, a bishop, two abbots, a French ambassador and a host of local nobility. However, most of those slain in battle were ordinary men called to arms by their feudal superiors.

In the aftermath of the slaughter the bodies of the nobility were taken to nearby Branxton Church and some were buried there. The bodies of ordinary participants in the battle, and of King James IV, were less well disposed of. It is said that the King’s corpse was transported from the battle site in Northumberland to London where Henry VIII had promised to give him a Christian burial in St Paul’s Cathedral. James left as his heir a seventeen month old baby, who was crowned as James V in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on the 21st of October.

Strathgryffe suffered great losses, as did the rest of Scotland. The local nobility was decimated and hundreds of their followers lost their lives. Lord John Sempill, 1st Lord Sempill, was among the 13 Lords who lost their lives following their king. He was one of the lucky ones whose body was buried with respect. His corpse was returned to his estate in Lochwinnoch, where the Collegiate Church was extended with the addition of an apse to house his tomb.William Cunningham of Craigends was also slain in the battle. He was the second son of the Earl of Glencairn and had been granted Craigends in 1479. Robert Wallace of Johnstone Castle was another victim of the slaughter. The Wallaces of Johnstone owned the original Johnstone Castle which was situated on what later became Milliken Estate. William Fleming of Barochan, died with six of his sons. He left a seventh son who succeeded him. Peter Houston of Houston Castle, thought to have been born c 1460, also died in the battle. Houston Castle, at that time, was possibly the original tower house built on the site of a later Houston Castle, the remains of which are incorporated in the Houston House of today. Robert Crawfurd, 5th Baron of Auchinames, another of the casualties was succeeded by his eldest son. The land of Auchinames, in the west of Kilbarchan Parish, had been granted to Robert’s ancestor, Reginald Crawfurd, for services to Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn. The decimation of the local nobility and hundreds of their retainers, un-named in history, must have been a devastating tragedy in Strathgryffe.

The Battle of Flodden took place in turbulent times. Pope Julius II had manipulated the European sovereigns, Henry VIII of England, Emperor Maximillian and Ferdinand of Spain to invade France. Despite the fact that his wife was the sister of Henry VIII, James IV of Scotland felt obligated to invade England in support his ally France. The ensuing Battle of Flodden was a national disaster for Scotland. According to George Buchanan (1582) 5,000 Scots lost their lives, including King James IV himself, his illegitimate son (the Bishop of St Andrews), ten earls, thirteen lords, a bishop, two abbots, a French ambassador and a host of local nobility. However, most of those slain in battle were ordinary men called to arms by their feudal superiors.

In the aftermath of the slaughter the bodies of the nobility were taken to nearby Branxton Church and some were buried there. The bodies of ordinary participants in the battle, and of King James IV, were less well disposed of. It is said that the King’s corpse was transported from the battle site in Northumberland to London where Henry VIII had promised to give him a Christian burial in St Paul’s Cathedral. James left as his heir a seventeen month old baby, who was crowned as James V in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle on the 21st of October.

Strathgryffe suffered great losses, as did the rest of Scotland. The local nobility was decimated and hundreds of their followers lost their lives. Lord John Sempill, 1st Lord Sempill, was among the 13 Lords who lost their lives following their king. He was one of the lucky ones whose body was buried with respect. His corpse was returned to his estate in Lochwinnoch, where the Collegiate Church was extended with the addition of an apse to house his tomb. William Cunningham of Craigends was also slain in the battle. He was the second son of the Earl of Glencairn and had been granted Craigends in 1479. Robert Wallace of Johnstone Castle was another victim of the slaughter. The Wallaces of Johnstone owned the original Johnstone Castle which was situated on what later became Milliken Estate. William Fleming of Barochan, died with six of his sons. He left a seventh son who succeeded him. Peter Houston of Houston Castle, thought to have been born c 1460, also died in the battle. Houston Castle, at that time, was possibly the original tower house built on the site of a later Houston Castle, the remains of which are incorporated in the Houston House of today. Robert Crawfurd, 5th Baron of Auchinames, another of the casualties was succeeded by his eldest son. The land of Auchinames, in the west of Kilbarchan Parish, had been granted to Robert’s ancestor, Reginald Crawfurd, for services to Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn.

 

Lord Semple's tomb in the Collegiate Chapel, Lochwinnoch

Lord Semple’s tomb in the Collegiate Chapel, Lochwinnoch

The decimation of the local nobility and hundreds of their retainers, un-named in history, must have been a devastating tragedy in Strathgryffe. The dead are remembered by the song (and pipe tune) “Flowers of the Forest”:

We’ll hae nae mair lilting at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are dowie and wae.
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The flowers of the forest are all wede away.

© 2016 Helen Calcluth

The Barony of Auchinames

For over four hundred years the long-forgotten Barony of Auchinames, on the west of Kilbarchan village, was the property of the Crawfurds of Auchinames. Reginald Crawfurd was granted the Barony by Robert the Bruce in 1320 for his services at the Battle of Bannockburn. It remained in the possession of the Crawfurds until the middle of the eighteenth century when Patrick Crawfurd, the 16th baron, sold the estate off in lots. The Crawfurd’s Castle of Auchinames was demolished, but the remains of their chapel, dedicated to St. Catherine, and an old knight’s gravestone can still be seen in the old Parish Churchyard.

St.Catherine’s Chapel was built early in the 15th century by Thomas de Crawfurd, 3rd Baron of Auchinames. The function of this chapel was the salvation of his soul and the souls of his predecessors and successors. The patronage was vested in himself and his heirs. By the Foundation Charter of 1401, Crawfurd gave the rental of some of his lands for maintenance of a chaplain ministering in the chapel, which was about to be built; or ministering to the altar of the Holy Virgin Mary in the Church of Kilbarchan. The charter was ratified by King Robert III and St Catherine’s Chapel was built soon after.

At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Crawfurds lost the chapel lands which were given over by charter ‘in feu’ to laymen. Mary Queen of Scots confirmed this by charter in 1565 and she ‘dispensed with the statues’. However, some years later, William Crawfurd, 9th Baron of Auchinames (1547-82), regained the endowments of St Catherine’s Chapel, and James Chalmers, a zealous Protestant, was the appointed patron. The chapel was still upstanding in 1696 when Archibald Crawfurd, 9th Baron of Auchinames included ‘the chappell of Saint Katharine, situat within the church yeard of Killbarquhane’ in the property he wished to leave to his heirs.

The chapel was shown as a ruin in the 1st ed. OS Map of 1856. The accompanying O S Name Book states that the walls of the chapel stood about 4ft high. The walls had been faced with dressed stone, and an iron railing placed on top, the enclosure being in use as a private burial ground. The iron railing has since been removed. The lower walls of the chapel still stand in the churchyard today as an enclosure where subsequent owners of former Auchinames lands were buried.
St. Catherines Chapel

 

An old medieval gravestone of a knight, irreverently used as building material, can be seen in the churchyard wall on the left of the entrance pillars in Church Street. The gravestone appears to show the spots of ermine of the Crawfurd coat-of-arms and is almost certainly from the burial place of an early Baron of Auchinames.

medieval gravestone

 

© 2016 Helen Calcluth

 

 

 

 

The Second Draining of Castle Semple Loch

When wealthy sugar planter William McDowall purchase Castle Semple Estate in the 1720s, the drainage of Castle Semple Loch became his main pastime. He employed experts to assist in his plans and also to lay out his estate, water features and fish ponds. Improver William Boucher came from Edinburgh and land surveyor John Watt mapped the loch and took levels along its centre and down the Black Cart.

In May 1727, McDowall opened the sluice of the Semple’s old dam just at the mouth of the loch. His men began digging out the Semple’s central drain, which he called the ‘boat canal’. McDowall ordered the building of a small shallow-draught boat ‘light and neatly contrived, to hold about six people, to go either with oars or sails’, to impress his visitors. He dug a branch canal from the main drainage canal up to the wall of the old Castle of Semple, which fronted the loch. The bed of the Black Cart was blasted and dug out as far down as Thirdpart Hall. During the drainage works, several dug-out canoes were unearthed from the loch bed, dating from the prehistoric period.

Overall, the drainage works had limited effect. Maps and estate plans over the years provide a snapshot of the varying water level. Although the loch was dry in summer, the inflow, especially from the Calder Water at Lochwinnoch after heavy rain, could flood the loch and destroy the crops before they could be harvested. The outlet at the Black Cart end was simply too flat to drain the water away fast enough.

The falling water level in Castle Semple loch caused various difficulties for the local folk. McDowall also ‘threw down’ the bridges spanning the loch narrows at either end. The loch was now too shallow to cross by boat. It was also too muddy to wade across easily, and the central canal was a deeper hazard. The locals now faced with a long walk round via Elliston Bridge. Rather than face a detour around the loch, some locals were brave enough to risk wading across the loch and canal, especially near the mouth of the Calder Water at Lochwinnoch.

©2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

 

Drownings in Castle Semple Loch and holding Mill Owners to Ransom

Once the water in Castle Semple Loch was lowered, the locals took a shortcut across the centre of the loch at the ‘Wading Place’ to Lochwinnoch. But this was a dangerous route. In the winter of 1767 a young lady and her footman were drowned there, in full view of her mother, brother and fiancé. Later a causeway was built and the crossing became the modern road from Lochwinnoch station to the village. Over the years, the gradual development of this road split the single long stretch of water into two lochs, Barr Loch and Castle Semple Loch.

There was another bigger difficulty for the locals. Back in 1680s, when the Semples had begun to drain the loch, they had drawn up a legal agreement that any new dry land created around the shrinking loch would become their own property. Once McDowall took control, he tried to enforce the old agreement to the letter of the law. Defying fairness and common sense, he attempted to prevent access to the shrinking loch by all those living around the perimeter, even to water their cattle.

McDowall’s desire for privacy and improvement created barriers at every turn for the local population, when going about their daily lives. McDowall also enclosed all the land along the loch and blocked the public road. The purpose was two-fold, to create separate enclosed fields, and to keep the local riff raff away from his mansion. This process of wealthy landowners denying access is familiar today, but in 1730 it was one of the earliest challenges to the public’s right to roam. The locals took McDowall to Court of Session and unexpectedly, they won. McDowall was forced to reinstate the bridges across the narrows of the loch.

The third big scheme was by McDowall’s grandson. From the 1770s he rebuilt the old dam at the east end of the loch and start of the Black Cart. His initial purpose was to re-flood the loch as a landscape feature, with man-made islands fronting his mansion.But from the early 1790s he had other reasons. By this time the loch had become a reservoir for six new water powered cotton spinning mills down the Black Cart at Johnstone and Linwood. McDowall closed the sluice in the dam and held the mill owners to ransom. They had no choice but to pay him fees in proportion to the size of their mills.

©2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

McDowall's House beside Castle Semple LochMcDowall’s House beside Castle Semple Loch

The Draining of Barr Loch: Canals and Tunnels

Canal circling Barr Loch

The final big drainage scheme was to drain Barr Loch, but keep Castle Semple Loch full of water. This scheme was the inspiration of another local landowner. In 1813, Adam of Barr purchased the whole of Barr Loch, plus about 100 acres of Castle Semple Loch. The first part of his plan was to dig a circular ditch, or canal, right round Barr Loch, to prevent the water from the burns pouring in, and carry their water into Castle Semple Loch.

Outlet of Adam’s Drain at Eliston BridgeThe second plan was to carry the water away from Barr Loch to the Black Cart down a canal which would bypass Castle Semple Loch. Adam started the lower end of his drain at the Black Cart near Elliston Bridge, where the outfall can still be seen.

The next 800 metres were in full view of Castle Semple House and had to be buried in a stone-lined tunnel. The tunnel then changed to the open canal which can still be seen following the south side of Castle Semple Loch. The canal connected to Barr Loch via a tunnel under the causeway which crossed the lochs. The scheme was carried out in 1814 by masons and Irish navvies. The water at the lowest point of Barr Loch, which was too low to drain away naturally, was raised from the loch bed up into the canal by a pump driven by a water wheel at Hole of Barr.

Although the works cost £10,000, the annual profit generated from oats and hay grown in the former loch bed, was about £1,500 a year, and the scheme paid for itself in a few years. Barr Loch had become ‘Barr Meadows’ and Adam’s scheme kept 170 acres of former loch bed dry and under crop for more than 131 years. One morning in 1946, locals were astonished to wake up and find that what had for generations been green meadows, was now a loch again. A lack of maintenance had led to the failure of the sluices and the turning of Barr Meadows back into Barr Loch.

In future, the lochs are likely to remain safe from the whims of wealthy landowners, thanks to the establishment of the nature reserve and country park. However, when visiting Castle Semple Loch, it is worth remembering that at various times in the past it was possible in a dry summer, to walk across the loch.

©2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum

The Draining of Castle Semple Loch

 

Around 13,000 years ago, all of Renfrewshire west of the Black Cart was an island in the Clyde, twice the size of Arran and almost as dramatic. It is a sobering warning of the potential effects of climate change, that a warm period between glaciations had raised sea level by around thirty metres. At that time, it was possible to sail through the Lochwinnoch Gap from what is now Paisley, west to the Ayrshire coast at Irvine. Today this seems ridiculous, yet the Eglinton family tried to do the very same thing with a canal, until their ambitions dried up at Johnstone, less than half way from Glasgow to the coast

Half way along the Lochwinnoch Gap lies Castle Semple Loch, a focal point of the country park of Castle Semple Country Park. Three hundred years ago Castle Semple Loch and Barr Loch were one single stretch of water, six kilometres long. The lochs are only two or three metres deep, and the ground underneath is rich in decomposed vegetable matter. From the 1680s, a number of ambitious engineering projects were carried out to drain away the water, and create hundreds of acres of fertile farmland. The first scheme was more than 300 years ago, when the Semples began a scheme to make Castle Semple Loch ‘Meadow-Ground’.

The Draining of Castle Semple Loch Castle Semple Loch from Kenmuir Hill

At its east end, Castle Semple Loch drains away down the Black Cart via Johnstone, to the join the Gryfe and the White Cart, before meeting the Clyde at Inchinnan. Each successive drainage scheme had two main features. Firstly, the Black Cart was deepened at its outlet from the loch, to allow the water in the loch to drain away more easily. A dam and sluice were built at the outlet to allow the water level to be controlled. Secondly, as the loch emptied, a canal was dug down the centre to drain the water towards the Black Cart. The burns which flowed into the loch were channelled into this central canal. At the time, the Semple family were in decline, and the initial drainage scheme had limited results.

In 1726 Castle Semple was purchased by sugar planter William McDowall, on his return from the Caribbean. McDowall purchased Castle Semple estate specifically ‘in expectations of making it a profitable purchase, in the hope of draining the loch of about 500 acres, which will be of more value than the estate’.

© 2015 Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum