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Location: Glasgow Guide / Glasgow Images / Provand's Lordship & St Nicholas Gardens    

    Provand's Lordship and Gardens in Glasgow

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    The original function of Provand's Lordship is uncertain. However, this medieval building is a very rare example of 15th century Scottish domestic architecture. It has survived largely due to the efforts of the Provand's Lordship Society (founded in 1906) despite the extensive demolition and redevelopment programmes in the area over the past hundred years. The building, now administered by Glasgow City Council serves as an important link with Glasgow's medieval past when it became the religious and administrative centre of an extensive Diocese.

    The medieval cathedral girth
    The Diocese of Glasgow covered a huge area with over 200 parishes from Luss in the north to Gretna in the south. Around the cathedral 'girth' or precinct and along the Rottenrow was a range of ecclesiastical buildings. These were the town residences of the 32 Canons of the Cathedral Chapter, many of whom also administered parishes within the diocese. They Canons were supported by payments in kind from their parishes in the form of corn, barley, etc.

    In the late 19th century the building was identified as the manse of the Master or Preceptor of the Chapel and Hospital of St Nicholas which probably stood on the southside of the present building. This almshouse or hospice was built in 1456 or 1471 by Bishop Andrew Muirhead with endowments for the care of twelve old men. His Coat of Arms, much worn, can be seen on the eastern side of the south side gable of Provand's Lordship. In the late 19th century, with little evidence, the building also became identified as the manse of the prebend of Provan or Barlarnark. In contrast to the others, this Prebandary was supported not from a parish but from income derived from extensive lands three miles east of the medieval town. His wide ranging powers over these lands are reflected in early documents in his title as 'Lord of the Prebend of Barlanark'. Later this title was corrupted to 'Lord of Provan' hence the name by which the building is now known -'Provand's Lordship'. Provan Hall, his 16th century country residence, also survives and can be found in Auchinlea Park between Easterhouse and Garthamlock in the east of the city.

    A unique building
    Provand's Lordship is an outstanding example of 15th century Scottish domestic architecture. It was originally built as a sandstone tenement with three storeys, each with three separate chambers and fireplaces. It is most probable that the original front of the building faced west. Access to the first and second floors was by a central wooden stair with wooden balconies providing access to the upper north and south chambers. In 1670 these were removed when additional rear chambers and the present internal spiral staircase were added providing access to all rooms. This work was undertaken by the then occupant, William Bryson, a local wealthy tailor whose carved initials can be seen on the south gable facing the present Barony Halls. The crow-stepped gable on the north side (mirroring that on the south) disappeared in the mid-19th century when tenements were built adjoining the north wall on Castle Street.

    In 1560 the Protestant Reformation led by John Knox (1514-1572), swept away the Catholic church in Scotland replacing the hierarchy with a system of presbyteries or church courts of ministers and elders. Although the Cathedral itself escaped destruction, the surrounding buildings either passed into secular hands or simply fell into ruin. By the middle of the 17th century, the Hospital and Chapel of St Nicholas was in a ruinous state and were finally demolished at the beginning of the 19th century.

    Provand's Lordship enjoyed a happier fate. After the Reformation it was granted to a William Bailie and in 1642 passed to William Bryson who added the extension to the west front. In 1753 the house passed to Matthew Whitelaw, a maltman, in whose time the smalllean-to-building (later known as the Hangman's House because of a later occupant) was built against the south gable. This addition was later demolished by the Provand's Lordship Society. By the middle of 19th century the building was sub-divided among different tenants and tradesmen (part of which was occupied by an alehouse under the ownership of a Mrs A Dudgeon!).

    The Cathedral Precinct has changed completely since the Reformation. The Bishop's Castle which stood on the east side of the Provand's Lordship was reduced to a ruin by the middle of the 18th century and eventually demolished in 1792 to make way for the Royal Infirmary. Part of the site,-including Bishop Cameron's tower, is now occupied by the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art which openedin 1993. The manse of the prebend of Govan which lay to the north of the building was demolished by the 1870s and so Provand's Lordship alone remains of the medieval precinct.

    The Provand's Lordship Society
    Alarmed by the loss of so many medieval buildings around the Cathedral, the Provand's Lordship Society was formed in 1906 to preserve the structure of the building for future generations. At this time part of it was occupied by the Morton family who operated a sweet shop and aerated water business on the ground floor. The machinery they used for making sweets is now part of the museum collection. The Morton family gave up their premises after the First World War, although parts of the building had been open to the public since 1908. Due to lack of funds, the Provand's Lordship Society initially rented the building for an annual rent of £100 until it was finally purchased after a series of exhibitions and fund raising events.

    The unique collection of Scottish domestic furniture and fittings were acquired by the Society with the intention of re-creating the interior of the house as it might have been around 1700. In 1927 this was boosted by a financial gift from the collector and shipping magnate Sir William Burrell. His own private collection can be seen at The Burrell Collection in Pollok Park.

    The house today
    In 1978, faced with extensive repairs to the roof and fabric, the Society offered the property to the City of Glasgow District Council. With the assistance of the Glasgow builder Frank Lafferty the building was restored for the sum of one new penny and was re-opened to the public in June 1983. The building is a Grade A listed ancient monument, with all major repairs and conservation work subject to approval by Historic Scotland. In order to preserve the original 15th century oak floor beams; false floors were introduced on the upper floors which unfortunately altered the proportions of the rooms and fireplaces. More recent conservation and restoration work was carried out on the south west gable which was jn,da!,ger of collapse. This project funded by the city with support from Historic Scotland meant the closure of the building for over two and a half years. Happily it was re-opened in November 2000.

    The St Nicholas Garden
    As the name suggests, this cloistered garden behind Provand's Lordship, reflects the building's possible links with the Chapel and Hospital of St Nicholas. The garden designed by architects James Cunning, Young and Partners falls into two distinct parts. On the outer edge is a physic garden containing plants which were in common use for medical purposes in the 15th century, while at the centre is a knot parterre, based on a celtic design, illustrating the development of more formal gardens which occurred in the Renaissance period. The covered cloister area contains carved grotesque heads, dating from 1737, which originally formed the arch keystones of the Tontine Hotel piazza in the Trongate. The garden was officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal in 1995.

Glasgow Guide: Glasgow Images: Provands Lordship

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