The lands of Burntshields once formed a barony belonging to the Bruntchells of that ilk, and it is reasonable to suppose that they may have had a castle of some kind to protect it.
I first came across a reference to this property in sales particulars which described the present Burntshields House as having “origins dating back to the mid 16th century or earlier”. Whether or not Burntshields House is built on the site of an earlier building or incorporated parts of it is unclear, but a house of that date connected to a barony is likely to have been fortified.
The house occupies a position on rising ground just below the crest of a hill, and the surrounding area is bounded by numerous streams which may have meant marshy ground in the past.
The spelling of the name seems to have varied a fair amount throughout history, partly it seems due to mistakes in the writing of it. The second Statistical Account of Scotland refers to an early 16th century chaplain of Castle Semple Collegiate Church receiving “40 shillings, as a yearly pension from the lands of Bryntschellis.” The lands were referred to as Brouneschelis in 1526, and in 1533 a John Bryntschele was beheaded for his part in the murder of William the Laird of Craganis, or Craigends, and his servant.
The lands were resigned by John Bruntchels, the last of his line, in favour of William, 2nd Lord Sempill, in 1547. They passed from William to his son Robert, 3rd Lord Sempill, who married Isobel Hamilton, daughter of Sir William Hamilton of Sanquhar. Robert gave the lands of Bruntchells to his son Andrew in 1560. Andrew married Margaret Stirling, daughter of the Laird of Craigbarnet and they had two sons, William and James. The family of Semple of Bruntshells descended from William while the family of Semple of Milbank descended from James.
Not long after this Pont published his map of Renfrewshire which recorded the property as Brunshil (the same spelling being used on Blaeu’s later maps based on those of Pont).
In 1606 William Semple of Bruntscheilis was accused of not taking communion, while Andrew Sempill of Burntshiels is on record in 1611. When the Semple of Bruntshells line failed the lands were split and divided between several parties. In the Poll Tax Role of 1695 “The Lands of Burntsheills” are referred to as belonging to the Earl of Dundonald.
Later Nether Burntshiels is recorded as belonging to a John Speir in 1782, while his brother had earlier owned Upper Burntshiels. Robert, the son of Archibald, sold Upper Burntshiels to James Couper of Formakine in 1770 who in turn sold it to James Graham, a surgeon in Paisley. The property appears in Thomson’s Atlas of Scotland as Burntshiels in 1832. In the 19th century Burntshields is referred to as being owned by a William Graham, and that is the spelling of the name currently used.
The house was extended and modified over time and in the early 20th century a Glasgow Style interior was designed and installed by Wylie and Lochhead. It was extended with the addition of an east wing in 1913.