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Stirling, 47-49 St John Street, Cowane's Hospital

Almshouse (17th Century)

Site Name Stirling, 47-49 St John Street, Cowane's Hospital

Classification Almshouse (17th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Old Guildhall; Stirling Guildhall; Cowan's Hospital

Canmore ID 46196

Site Number NS79SE 20

NGR NS 79173 93674

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Stirling
  • Parish Stirling
  • Former Region Central
  • Former District Stirling
  • Former County Stirlingshire

Archaeology Notes

NS79SE 20.00 79173 93674

NS79SE 20.01 79196 93644 Sundial

(NS 7916 9367) Cowane's Hospital (NR)

OS 6" map (1958)

Cowane's Hospital was built as an almshouse in virtue of a legacy left by John Cowane, who died in 1633. The accounts, still preserved, show that work started in 1637, was almost completed by 1643, and details were added c.1648. An older house on the site was demolished to make

way for it. In the early 18th century, probably shortly before 1724,

the main block was divided into two halls, and from that date the name "Gildhall" was used. Other alterations were made in 1852, giving the Guild Hall its present appearance internally.

The E side of the hospital is flanked by a flagged terrace, beyond which lies a bowling green and garden. The bowling green dates from 1712, before which the site may have been in use as a walking-green; a garden is mentioned in 1707. Some carved details from the Holy Rude Church (NS79SE 39) are preserved on the lower terrace.

In the garden is a sundial dated 1727. The shaft is comparatively modern, but stands on an older octagonal base which may have formed part of an earlier sundial, perhaps that acquired in 1673.

RCAHMS 1963, visited 1954

Cowane's Hospital is as described. Its is now in use as Stirling Guildhall. It is maintained by the Cowane Trust and is in excellent condition. A plaque on the buildings bears the following inscription: 'This hospital was erected and largely provided by John Cowane Deane of Gild for the entertainment of decayed Gild breithr. 1639'.

Visited by OS (FDC) 24 June 1950 and (JP) 8 January 1974

Architecture Notes

Non-Guardianship Sites Plan Collection, DC23240, 1948.


Publication Account (1978)

Cowane's hospital was built largely as a result of a legacy left by John Cowane in 1633 for the support of twelve 'decayed guildbreither' of the burgh (Cant, 1948, 13). It was constructed on an 'E-shaped' plan, facing north towards the parish church. Crowning the building, now used as the Guildhall, is a 'grotesque figure of the donor standing with hat in hand in the niche of the spire' (Randall, 1812, 144).

Information from Scottish Burgh Survey, ‘Historic Stirling: The Archaeological Implications of Development’, (1978).

Publication Account (1985)

John Cowane was a wealthy merchant who, on his death in 1633, left a sum of 40.000 merks for the construction of an almshouse or hospital to house 'tuelf(twelve) decayed guidbroder, burgessis and induellors' of the burgh of Stirling. The building is still in public use, although no longer as an almshouse, and consequently it is not possible to view the interior.

The hospital is E-shaped on plan with a projecting belltower at the centre of the principal facade, an unusual form for Scotland at this period. Work was begun in May 1637 but not finally completed until 1648 when the statue of John Cowane was placed over the entrance. We know rather more about the construction of this building than most others of the period, as the building accounts still survive. It was designed by no less a person than the Master Mason to the Crown, John Mylne, and the work was quarried out under the supervision ofJames Rynd, a Stirling mason. Some of the stone was newly quarried and brought from Plean and Dunmore, a little to the east of the town, while other loads were robbed from the ruins of Cambuskenneth Abbey (see no. 53) on the opposite shore of the Forth.

Most of the original internal fittings were removed in 1852 when the building was converted for use as a guildhall, but parts of the garden remain with a small flagged terrace on the east leading to a bowling-green. The Hospital is not Stirling's only reminder ofJohn Cowane, as his house still survives in the town and its facade can be seen at the bottom ofSt Mary's Wynd.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Clyde Estuary and Central Region’, (1985).

Watching Brief (10 November 2015 - 8 December 2015)

NS 79165 93670 A watching brief was carried out, 10 November – 8 December 2015, during consolidation work on a 36m section of the footpath at Back Walk, Stirling. The consolidation works consisted of the removal of the existing retaining wall to reveal the deposits and stratigraphy behind, before cement foundations were poured and the wall rebuilt. No features or earlier structures were uncovered.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: Stirling Council

Kenneth Green – GUARD Archaeology Ltd

(Source: DES, Volume 17)

Project (November 2016 - April 2017)

A programme of archaeological work was undertaken, November 2016 – April 2017. This included a ground penetrating radar survey over the courtyard which identified numerous anomalies indicative of buried services and possible former layouts of the area; a standing building survey and a historic archive assessment which identified a surprising amount of detail on the maintenance of the hospital.

The research highlighted how much the exterior of the hospital has changed across time and demonstrated that both stone and wood were recycled across the hospital properties.

Two test pits were hand excavated in the basement and one side of an existing brick-lined pit was exposed by the removal of the bricks. The excavations demonstrated that no earlier surfaces survive beneath the modern floor.

Archive: NRHE (intended). Report: Stirling Council Archaeology Unit

Funder: Benjamin Tindall Architects on behalf of the Cowane’s Hospital Maintenance Trust

(Source: DES, Volume 18)

Information from CFA Archaeology Ltd (M Kirby and M Cressey) 2018

OASIS ID: cfaarcha1-298101


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