SIR WILLIAM JOHNSTON, Knight, of Gilford, County Down, married Nichola, daughter of Sir Nicholas Acheson Bt (ancestor of Lord Gosford), by whom he had four sons and a daughter.
In 1700, he inherited the Gilford estates of his uncle, Sir John Magill Bt, the estate having been founded by Captain John Magill in the 1660s, when he was given leases for the creation of a small village beside an important ford in the River Bann.This gentleman was invested as a knight in 1714; High Sheriff of County Down, 1717; High Sheriff of County Armagh, 1721.
He died in 1722 and was succeeded by his eldest son,
RICHARD JOHNSTON (1710-58), High Sheriff of County Armagh, 1733, and of County Down, 1735, and of County Monaghan, 1738, who wedded, in 1737, Catherine, daughter of the Rev John Gill, and had issue,
RICHARD, of whom we treat;
RICHARD JOHNSTON (1743-95), of Gilford, High Sheriff of County Down, 1765, and of County Armagh, 1771, MP for Blessington, 1783-95, espoused, in 1764, Anne, daughter of William Alexander, and had issue,
WILLIAM, of whom presently;Mr Johnston was created a baronet in 1772.
Mary Anne, m J Henry Burges, of Woodpark, Co Armagh;
Catherine, m Joseph Mason Ormsby.
He was succeeded by his son,
SIR WILLIAM JOHNSTON (1765-1841), 2nd Baronet, High Sheriff of County Down, 1788.
Sir William died at 32 Bryonston Square, London, unmarried.
He was buried at St Marylebone Church, London.
On his death, the baronetcy became extinct.
The entrance front has tall bay windows with balustrades; while the north front has a projecting gable wing with a side turret.
A slimmer projecting gable with window projection is on the ground floor.
An open stone porch with ball finials with balcony is over the doorway.
The brick outbuildings on the east front form part of a courtyard behind which there is a stone-faced, three-storey tower and stone arch into a courtyard.
The main house has five bedrooms, two bathrooms and four reception rooms, a large hallway and two kitchens.
The north wing has a further five bedrooms, two bathrooms and two reception rooms; while a smaller wing has two bedrooms, one bathroom and two reception rooms.
The house was built for Benjamin Dickson, a partner in the local linen thread company of Dunbar McMaster.
It replaced a much earlier castle built by a descendant of Gilford’s earliest proprietor.
However, the current house was seldom inhabited until the ancestors of the present owners acquired the property in the early 20th century.
"Gilford Castle" is first shown, captioned, on a map of 1901-2, situated at the heart of extensive, partially wooded grounds, captioned Gilford Castle Demesne.
Earlier maps show a much smaller building, "Gilford Castle", at the edge of the demesne where it adjoined the town at Castle Street.
The first castle at Gilford is thought to have been built by William Johnston, a captain in the Royal Irish Dragoons, who inherited part of the Gilford estates from the grandson of Captain John Magill, a soldier in Cromwell’s army who was the early proprietor of Gilford and from whom the name of the town derives.
The first castle was probably built in the early 1700s by Sir William.
After his death in 1722 the castle and estates passed to his son Richard, and his grandson, also Richard, but following the death of Richard Johnston’s son William in 1841, the baronetcy became extinct.
The original castle and demesne were sold by William’s younger sister Catherine to Benjamin Dickson, who built the present castle.
The old castle fell into decay and was demolished in the 1860s prior to the completion of the new building.
The old castle stood on the south side of the present Castle Street, close to the road and on the edge of the demesne.
The present Gilford Castle, in the Scottish-Baronial style, was begun in the mid-1860s and completed ca 1870.
The designer is said to have been William Spence, a Scottish architect from Glasgow who also designed a house, Elmfield, for Dickson’s brother James.
Benjamin and James Dickson were partners in the Dunbar McMaster linen thread company on which the growth and prosperity of Gilford town was largely founded.
The new castle was considerably more centrally placed within the demesne and surrounding countryside and afforded a grand drive entrance.
Benjamin Dickson, however, does not appear to have ever inhabited Gilford Castle.
The castle was vacant until 1887, when it became the home of Percy Jocelyn McMaster, the younger brother of Hugh Dunbar McMaster, proprietor of Gilford Mill, who was resident at nearby Dunbarton House.
The house was let from Benjamin Dickson.
Nevertheless, McMaster’s tenancy was brief and by 1891 the house was again vacant.
A tenant named Purcell inhabited the castle for some time around 1896.
The 1901 census records the only occupant as being the gardener/caretaker, James Emerson, who occupied three rooms with his wife and six children, his 14-year-old daughter working as a seamstress.
In 1904 the house and demesne was purchased by Katherine Carleton for £15,000 (about £1.6 million today), the valuer noting that the cost of the building to Benjamin Dickson had been about £42,000 (c£4.5 million today) and that the price paid by Carleton was ‘the value of the land alone, the castle being given for nothing’.
In Katherine Carleton, the castle found a long-term resident for the first time since it had been built.
The 1911 census indicated that the 54-year-old spinster inhabited the castle with a female companion and two domestic servants, a cook and a parlourmaid.
In 1914, the house was purchased by James F Wright, whose descendants continue to live in the castle today.
In 1934 the accommodation comprised two reception rooms, a billiards room, library, study, two kitchens, two pantries, a scullery, larder and dairy.
On the first floor were six bedrooms, two dressing rooms, two bathrooms, a nursery, a sewing room and three maids’ rooms.
The second floor comprised two attic rooms.
During the 2nd World War most of Northern Ireland was a training ground for allied troops and there was a large concentration of army personnel based in Gilford, which with its woods, lakes and rivers and proximity to major transport routes was ideally suited to military training purposes.
The army made use of Nissen Huts erected for the purpose in Gilford Castle demesne, and in 1943 the demesne housed a squadron of US troops together with their medical detachment who built a temporary hospital to the rear of the castle.
Documents show that 35 acres of land were requisitioned by the War Department in October, 1940, and a further 1 rood and 15 perches in July, 1941.
The castle is currently a family home, and the owner, Christine Wright, is a well-known local artist, and Gilford Castle has been home to the Wright family since it was bought in 1914 by James F Wright, the grandfather of Christine's late husband, Michael.
Gilford Castle is not open to the public.
First published in January, 2011.