Glasgow boasts a pretty long history dating back as to the 6th century with Saint Mungo as its first preacher. Clearly, the buildings of those distant times wouldn’t survive, especially in the climate like in Scotland. Nevertheless, the Cathedral originates from the early 1100s being the oldest religious structure of Glasgow. The Cathedral is one of the key places to visit in Glasgow, but just a few yards away there is another ancient structure.
In terms of the oldest civic architecture we encounter a house with a very peculiar name – Provand’s Lordship. Originally it was built in 1471 as a part of a hospital for poor people and was run by a priest. But after a while a laird (or Lord) of Provan took over a place and thus the house became known as Lordship of Provan or Provand’s Lordship.
In the Middle Ages certain lands within the regality of Glasgow were set up as prebends or benefices for the priests. It was prohibited to cut wood, hawk or hunt on these lands without a license. A cannon required a townhouse in Glasgow and a country residence on his estate. Glasgow's only surviving medieval house; Provand's Lordship is considered to have been the manse (a house provided for a minister).
Queen Mary allegedly stayed in Provand’s Lordship in 1567 to visit her husband Lord Darnley who was severely ill at that time. There she wrote a number of letters (also known as Casket Letters) to her lover Lord Bothwell that implicated her in the later murder of Darnley which in the end led to her own imprisonment and execution.
Later on Provand’s Lordship saw different tenants; from a hangman working nearby at square in front of the Cathedral, to a barber. In the 20th century the building was a candy shop and then a factory.
By that time the fabric of the building was in a poor condition. It was in 1906 when the Provand’s Lordship Society was formed, who raised money and transformed it into a museum. Soon Sir William Burrell, shipping merchant and philanthropist, donated a substantial sum to buy furniture thus the interior acquired the air of a medieval house.
In 1995 at the backyard of Provand’s Lordship a garden was opened. Specialising in medieval medical herbs it commemorates the connection with the 15th century St Nicholas Hospital and 17th century Glasgow College that used to occupy territory on the nearby High Street. There is also a sort of hidden gem – a set of 13 carved stone heads called Tontine faces (see the earlier blog about them).
Our Glasgow Must Sees Tour includes a visit to the garden and you can hear more stories about the Provand’s Lordship and Tontine Heads.