Built in 1639 ‘for the entertainment of decayed Gild Brethren’, Stirling's Cowane's Hospital had deteriorated rapidly in recent years and was closed to the public due to lack of funds. The Cowane’s Hospital Maintenance Trust has now secured pledges for much of the £3million required to repair the almshouse and gardens and create a national visitor attraction and community resource.
The striking house was built as an almshouse by virtue of a legacy left by John Cowane who died in 1633 and whose statue adorns the main doorway. Built in the splendid Scottish Renaissance style, it contained seven twin bedrooms together with a garden and bowling green for recreation and a sundial to mark the passing of the hours.
There was, however, a marked reluctance to enter the hospital and this has been attributed to its strict regulations, transgression of which could lead to fines or even eviction for faults such as Sabbath breaking, drunkenness, swearing and fornication. To read the full list of hospital rules in Scots click here .
In the 19th century, Cowane’s had 142 pensioners some of whom were in receipt of ‘outdoor relief’ and it was found of use as an isolation ward during the cholera epidemic of 1832 which killed one third of Stirling’s population.
But its time had come and the original ceiling was removed in 1852 together with the upper flooring and bed partitions to convert it into the large hall we see today. This, with its dreary portraits of long dead guild members, presents a rather solemn appearance and it is to be hoped that the hospital in its new life will revert to the original layout and reflect the good work of its noble founder, John Cowane.
Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle.