John Cowane still keeps an eye on the almshouse that bears his name – his statue, known as Auld Staneybreaks, looks down on the courtyard from a niche in its tower.
Stirling’s most generous benefactor was born around 1570 in the family home at the foot of St Mary’s Wynd which is now known as John Cowane’s House. After attending the grammar school and doing his apprenticeship he went into partnership with his father.
As well as being a general merchant he was a money lender and ship owner. Stirling had a bustling harbour where goods were imported and exported overseas. Much of his time would have been spent doing deals with fellow guild brethren from his booth in Broad Street. He was hugely successful, rising to become Dean of Guild in 1624, a town councillor, a commissioner to the convention of royal burghs and a member of the Scots parliament.
Some say he also indulged in a little piracy.
Although John Cowane did not marry, the Kirk Session of the Holy Rude Kirk recorded that in 1611 he was fined £6 for fathering an illegitimate son. The mother was also fined and forced to do public penance – an indignity John bought himself out of. Little else is known of his personal life, except that he lived in the family home with his sister Agnes.
On his deathbed in 1633 John Cowane told his brother Alexander of his desire to use his wealth to build an almshouse in Stirling where 12 decayed guild brethren were to be entertained and sustained.
And there is a tradition that each New Year’s Eve the statue of John Cowane comes to life and he leaps down to dance merrily in the forecourt.