Last month we saw how the old village of Houston was transformed into a new planned village from the 1780s. Directly to the east of the old village and church lay Houston House or Castle, which stood on a mound fronting a long avenue stretching down to the River Gryfe.
The tower is referred to as early as the 1460s, as the Nether Mains of Houston, with castle, woods and hunting grounds. By the seventeenth century the castle seems to have been of Disneyland style – a square tower, consisting of four sides around a central courtyard. The parapet overlooked the whole countryside from an elevated mound. The south or front elevation looked towards the River Gryfe and had two turrets, flanking an arched entrance with a portcullis. Underneath was a vaulted basement.
Due to the changes of owners and transformation of the estate around the time of the forming of the planned village, there was little evidence to confirm these descriptions. However the newly discovered estate plans, c.1780, show that the descriptions weren’t fantasy, but were in fact correct. They show a large square keep with a central courtyard, elevated on a mound. Even the turrets flanking the entrance can be seen on the plan.
The castle had a grand elevated setting, possibly on an earlier motte. It wassurrounded by parks and woodland. Around the house was a garden and bowling green. To one side was a ‘Pigeonhouse Park’ with a doocot. The great tree-lined avenue led south towards the River Gryfe.
By the 1780s towerhouses were in decline. Three sides of the castle were knocked down shortly after the survey was carried out, and the stone was allegedly used to clad the fronts of the new houses in Houston village. By this time the castle was described as being ‘once a large and very ancient mansion overlooking the whole country, from one of the finest spots’. By that time, only the east wing of the castle remained, but in a ruined condition, only big enough ‘to accommodate any ordinary family’.
© 2015, Stuart Nisbet, Renfrewshire Local History Forum