Cowane’s Hospital has survived since the middle of the 17th century to provide us with a remarkable portal to the past. Historic Environment Scotland, the country’s heritage body, regards it as so important that it is A-listed to ensure it is conserved for future generations.
It was built thanks to a deathbed bequest of 40,000 merks by local merchant John Cowane. On 13th February 1637 his brother Alexander along with the provost, magistrates and councillors and the first minister of Stirling constituted a deed of foundation. This ordered the building of an almshouse “to be known at all times as Cowane’s Hospital” to care for members of the Stirling Guildry who had fallen on hard times.
The demolition of existing buildings on the site began in May 1637 however construction was not completed until 1643, possibly because civil wars led to a shortage of materials and labour. Most of the stone was quarried locally but some was taken from the ruined abbey at Cambuskenneth.
The three-storeyed hospital had seven twin bedrooms for residents but they may have remained empty until at least 1661 when the Master of Cowane’s was ordered to carry out repairs. The busiest period of use as an almshouse was 1671-1700 and residents were supposed to follow strict rules – read them here in Scots or in translation.
By 1720 people were becoming reluctant to move into Cowane’s and the Patrons’ charity began giving pensions so they could remain with their families in their own homes. In 1869 Cowane’s had 142 pensioners on its books. In 1724 partitions were removed from the upper floors and ever since then it has been a meeting place for the Guildry – and is often called the Guildhall.
A cholera epidemic in 1832, which reputedly claimed one third of Stirling residents, saw Cowane’s pressed into service as an isolation unit. Then in 1852 the original ceiling was removed and the main body of the building was turned into the large hall visitors see today.