Roman... in the Gloamin'

'Legion' by David Kemp, near Kilmacolm (Attribution)

Kilmacolm's very own Roman Legion has guarded the 17 mile marker from Glasgow on the former Firth of Clyde line for as long as I can recall. The number of soldiers (unfortunately falling somewhat short of a full legion) was designed for Sustrans presumably some time in the early 90s by one David Kemp, whose work is spread across the British National Cycle Network. I used to be quite fascinated by this fairly simple sculpture, probably in common with every child who has grown up around them. This week, a photograph of the Legion was included in the BBC's Your Pictures series (see no. 2).

If memory serves correctly, they've gone through a number of different colours over the years, and now find themselves in a fairly striking shade of scarlet. Unfortunately, some hooligan has made off with the legion's prize possession, their "XVII" staff, once held proudly by one of the troops. While I hope it is eventually replaced, I am afraid I do not hold out much hope.

Villages of Strathgryffe: Houston

Welcome to Houston, a teeming metropolis by the standards of the Gryffe Valley. I would be inclined to otherwise characterise it as something of a one-horse settlement, however the presence of the Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Hunt and the Equestrian Centre on Kilmacolm Road would render that somewhat ironic.

In actuality, however, very little of significance surrounds Houston – it was at some point rather notable for weaving, having furnished the House of Lords with its upholstery, and apparently Lord Darnley dossed around Houston Castle for a while during its existence. In the vast annals of history, it is somewhat anonymous despite its longevity of population. The village achieved an unprecedented notoriety earlier this year as being the home for the rather amateurish terrorist cell which attempted an attack on Glasgow Airport as part of the summer attacks around Great Britain. A great number of elderly ladies undoubted had a field day discussing this in the Post Office.

It is amply furnished with some four public houses and its own independent Real Ale microbrewery situated within my local, the Fox and Hounds (pictured, top) – a positively ideal place to consume all manner of beverages. This contrasts rather wildly with its distinct lack of anything else. Perhaps a link exists, I am unsure.

North Street. 17th century buildings comfortably sit beside those of the late 20th century.

Something it traditionally has in abundance is a fine complement of respectable if largely understated architecture. The old village was designated a conservation area in 1968, where newly built properties sit side-by-side with those of greater vintage than the United States of America – in most cases, extraordinarily tastefully. This process seems set to continue, as the old village expands down Main Street. The old village is somewhat unusual in Britain in actually being planned – a uniform structure based around the Houston Burn, tributary to the River Gryffe, providing access thereto for all the inhabitants.

Craigends House, date unknown

There are somewhat grander achievements to list amongst the village. Houston House, incorporating the few remains of Houston Castle is amongst them. A fine stately house of Scots Baronial style, now somewhat unfortunately divided into a handful of flats. This pales into insignificance when contrasted with what has found itself razed to rubble. Craigends House, seat of the Cunninghame family and a triumph of its style is first among these. The last occupants died in the early sixties, and decline was virtually immediate – it was finally demolished in for the usual public safety reasons on the 19th of May, 1980 and disappeared, like so many great British buildings, into the mists of time.

The Cunningham arms, all that remains of Craigends House

It does contain some rather interesting ecclesiastica. The Houston and Kilellan Kirk, the parish church for the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, is relatively recent and its predecessor at Kilellan still stands on the old high road to Kilmacolm albeit without a roof. The hardy Houston congregation however still make an annual pilgrimage, meeting and singing hymns of the time for one evening every summer.

Houston and Kilellan Kirk

Perhaps more notably, but less familiarly, lies the Roman Catholic chapel dedicated to St Fillan (as the previous Kilellan parish church was) at Abbotsford (now more commonly known simply as 'St Fillans'). It remains apparently the oldest place of worship in Renfrewshire still in continuing use.

St Fillan's Church

To my eye, it takes on a rather unusual Spanish colonial presence and is connected to a very pleasant parochial house set in large grounds. Also adjacent is the c.1950s St Fillan's (State Roman Catholic) Primary School, housed in a rather dull yet imposing grey concrete structure. I seem to recall pilfering some Union Jack bunting from their railings (there was plenty, it was not missed) during the Queen's Golden Jubilee. However my youthful peccadilloes in Houston could likely fill several volumes, so I shall leave it there.

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