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Castle Levan B&B

Stirling Drive, Gourock, Inverclyde, PA19 1AH , United Kingdom
Self Assessed

Castle Levan History

The castle, which is grade B listed by Historic Scotland, is one of historical significance occupying a dominant and defensive position on the edge of the steep ravine of the Levan Burn with extensive views overlooking the Firth of Clyde. The castle is a fortified Scots tower house configured in an unusal L-shaped plan. The castle consists of two towers joined at one corner dating from two different periods. The castle was originally constructed in approximately 1457 on the site which is believed to have archaeological links to an earlier possible Roman site. Constructed by the Morton family, the second tower was added approximately 50 years later. On the north side of the site is a rectangular tower thought to date to the late 14th century. Measuring approximately 10.6m north-north-west to south-south-east by approximately 7.9m across it has walls some 1.5m thick and rises to a height of three storeys plus a garret within a corbelled parapet walk with roundels. The original entrance was at first floor level in the south wall and would have been reached by an external stair, however it was later converted into a window. High above the entrance, at second floor level, was a carved niche for an armorial panel. Immediately below the original entrance is a later opening at ground floor level which leads into a narrow corridor within the thickness of the wall. On the ground floor are two vaulted basement chambers. A straight, narrow intramural staircase leads up from the west end of the corridor to the first floor. A service stair in the north wall leads up from the eastern cellar. The first floor contains the great hall with stone seats within recessed windows. A spiral staircase leads up from the south-west corner of the great hall to the westernmost of two bedrooms above on a wooden floor supported by corbels. Originally a barmkin extended from the south side of the tower, with an inside width of 13.7m, enclosing a courtyard area. In the 19th century a vaulted chamber was still visible to the south of the castle and probably represents the basement of a building attached to the barmkin.

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Early in the 16th century a second three story tower was built on the site of the barmkin’s east wall, the north-west corner of the new wing being joined to the south-east corner of the original tower. Within the adjoining corners is a turnpike stair leading up from the ground floor to the first floor. The new wing is also rectangular in plan and measures approximately 8.0m west-north-west by 6.3m east-south-east. Like its neighbour it features 1.5m thick walls, but has only one vaulted basement cellar above which is a kitchen with large fireplace on the first floor and a bedroom on the second floor. It has been speculated that the building of the wing was commenced before the main tower was completed as the chequered corbelling and parapet walks with roundels match perfectly. However, it is more likely that when the new wing was added the top of the earlier tower was remodelled to incorporate it into that of the new one.

Adam Morton of Levane, a cadet of the Mortons of Walkinshaw, sold the castle to William Sempill, 2nd Lord Sempill, before 1539. Other sources state that Morton may have alienated the lands to Lord Sempill in 1547, the year he died, and that Sempill absorbed them into his own barony of Semple that year. Adam’s son, James Morton, took legal action but eventually lost. Legend has it that Castle Levan is haunted by a ghost known as the White Lady and said to be William Semple’s third wife Mariota or Marion Montgomery, daughter of John Montgomerie of Hessilhead. The story goes that she tortured and killed “tenants” of the castle. Mary of Guise sentenced her to death, a punishment later commuted to imprisonment in the castle. When Lady Montgomery’s husband returned from military duty he was supposedly so disgusted by her behaviour that he imprisoned her in castle and she starved to death. Some have suggested, however, that the story of the White Lady was concocted by the young Semple-Stewart (weary of the idea of living in a stuffy old fashioned castle) as a means for persuading his father to stump-up the cash needed to build him a fashionable new house!

The New Statistical Account, published between 1834 and 1845, refers to Leven being the seat of a Mr Crooks. In “Days at the Coast”, published in 1878, Macdonald mentions that the castle was covered in ivy and access was allowed by the owner Mrs Crooks. In 1879 Castle Levan was seemingly owned by John Polson, the cofounder of Brown & Polson corn merchants. The early 20th century history of Castle Levan is poorly documented however it seems to have been kept as a picturesque folly within the grounds of the new mansion. Excavations in 1966 and 1970 to 1972 revealed evidence of the original barmkin and a kitchen midden was discovered on the east side of the castle’s south tower. It was found to contain around 5000 pieces of bone and seashells inlcuding oysters, along with mid-15th to early 16th century green-glazed pottery and a mid-17th century spurred clay pipe bowl. The foundations of what was interpreted as a possible gatehouse were found in the courtyard area. A programme of reconstruction began in 1980, with a full refurbishment being carried out between 1984 and 1987 by Edinburgh architect Ian Begg who had been commissioned by the then owners advertising executive and art collector David Pearson and his wife Sheila. The Pearsons made the castle their family home until their retirement in 1995. The refurbisment won an award in 1989 as the best domsetic resortation in Inverclyde. Since that time the castle has been both a family home and also run as a Bed & Breakfast. Castle Levan was featured alongside Glemis Castle (family home of Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) in the Scottish Television series, 'Castles of Scotland'. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=i0Zb66MJ67c#t=55 Castle Levan has featured in several newspaper and magazine articles including the Greenock Telegraph, The Scottish Field and County Living magazine.

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