Cowane's Hospital and its garden are situated in the heart of the old core of the city of Stirling, known as 'Top o' the Town'. The garden is a compact designed landscape, occupying an area of 0.28 hectares. The grounds of Cowane's Hospital currently consist of a bowling green, parterre, an area of planting north-east of the bowling green and flower beds adjacent to the lower and upper terraces. Although there have been some changes through time, the layout that was established in the early-18th century remains evident.
Type of Site
This is an example of the garden of a civic charitable institution, well documented continuously over a period of 350 years. The composition of the design comprises Cowane's Hospital, built as a charitable Christian institution, with adjoining terraces, parterre and bowling green.
Location and Setting
Cowane's Hospital and its garden are situated in the heart of the old core of the city of Stirling, known as 'Top o' the Town'. The Hospital is located 0.38km south-south-west of Stirling Castle and occupies an elevated position at the south-west side of Stirling Castle Crag. From the centre of Stirling, King Street winds steeply uphill to the north-west, to Spittal Street and on to St John Street. A wide paved walk leads west from the top of St John Street, uphill to the main entrance of the Church of the Holy Rude (listed category A, HB 41083) to the north and, directly opposite to the south, the paved forecourt of Cowane's Hospital. The balustraded stone terraces, wide bowling green lawn, elaborate parterre and sundial, flower gardens and mature specimen trees associated with Cowane's Hospital and its garden provide an enclave of distinctive character within the Stirling Town Conservation Area.
The garden is a compact designed landscape, occupying an area of 0.28 ha. It is bounded immediately to the north-west by the east gable and forecourt of the Hospital building. The north-east boundary is defined by the black railings and low parapet wall on the south side of the paved approach walk, railings which terminate at the stone built north elevation of 41 St John Street, listed category A. The south-east boundary is formed in a short length by the 1.8m high back-garden fence of 41 St John Street and, then for the remaining length, the 3.65m high boundary wall of Stirling Old Town Jail (formerly Military Prison), listed category A, standing to the south-east. The south-east façade of Cowane's Hospital, the rising ground of the churchyard to the north, the south elevation of the Church of the Holy Rude and the high boundary wall of the Old Town Jail, combine to create visual enclosure on three sides of the Hospital garden, with an open prospect on the south-west side and vistas to the south-west, west and north-west.
A free standing wall, 1.6m high, forms the full length of the south-west boundary of the garden except at the upper terrace, immediately adjacent to the Hospital building, where the wall steps up to meet the height difference. An intermediate ledge, 0.5m high, has been introduced into the boundary wall here and this provides a seat from which to enjoy views across the garden and a raised vantage point from which to take in views across the distant landscape. The south-west boundary wall is formed by a portion of Town Wall which was rebuilt on the foundation of the original Town Wall. Here the Hospital building forms a bastion within the wall and both building façade and wall descend abruptly to the Back Walk below and further to the steep wooded slope of the Castle Rock, descending finally to the low flat floodplain of the River Forth. From the garden, the upper terrace particularly, panoramic views, now partially obscured by mature trees, extend west across the plunging descent of the wooded slopes below, leading the eye to the south-west to the Campsie Fells and Gargunnock Hills and north-west to the mountain peaks of Ben Lomond, Ben Venue and Ben Ledi.
Cowane's Hospital and its garden sit comfortably within a close-knit network of public open spaces and designed landscapes, of widely varying date and style, the character and fabric of which enrich the old core of Stirling on and around the Castle Rock, and remain a collective possibly unrivalled in Scotland. Included in this group are: the King's Park, the former royal medieval hunting park; the King's Knot (GDL 241), dating from the early 1500s and part of James IV's plans for the palace gardens; Back Walk, also known as 'Edmonstone's Walk', a picturesque walk begun in 1723 by William Edmonstone of Cambuswallace and completed by the Town Council at the end of the 18th century; and the Old Town Cemeteries (listed category A, HB 41126) extending north to the Castle esplanade, west to Back Walk and east to Castle Wynd and incorporating: Valley Cemetery; Drummond Pleasure Ground, named after William Drummond whose family of nurserymen and seedsmen had an extensive nursery to the south of the King's Park in the 19th century; Ladies' Rock; and Snowdon Cemetery (C. Dingwall, 13 March 2000 and J. Harrison, 2010).
Cowane's Hospital is a civic institution built in Scots burgh style with Renaissance detail, between 1639 and 1650, to the design of John Mylne, architect and royal master mason, executed by James Rynd master mason. The simple E-plan is two-storey and basement with a four-storey central tower with an ogival-headed roof and below a niche with a statue of John Cowane, by William Ayton and John Mylne, sculptors, from a preliminary draft by John Service. The arched belfry windows are all pedimented and the main elevations are whitewashed rubble and dormer heads with ball finials. In 1852 the interior was much altered by F & W Mackison, Stirling, but the exterior survives largely intact.
The building that stands in the north-east corner of the bowling green was originally a bowling pavilion, built in the 20th century in cottage ornee style, now used by the Trustees as the offices of the Master and Factor. Lower and upper terraces, paved in sandstone flagstones, adjoin the south-east elevation of the hospital. Sandstone steps give access from the north-east to the lower terrace and, also to the south-west, from the lower terrace to the upper terrace. In each case the steps have an unusual recessed riser detail and, at the edges, the original balusters, topped by a coping, although altered, survive. The balusters on the north half of the lower terrace are oddly inverted relative to those on the other half, following alterations thought to have been carried out after 1857 (Benjamin Tindall Architects, 2011, p39). A third more substantial arrangement of double steps, without balusters, gives access from the lower terrace to a wide sandstone landing with steps leading to north-east and to south-west to the lower level of the bowling green and gardens. The steps have an unusual recessed riser detail. Two Crimean cannons stand on the lower terrace, placed there in 1858.
A sundial stands in the parterre, the stepped octagonal base possibly a surviving element of the original 17th century sundial designed by John Buchanan. The shaft appears to be later but the brass dial dates from the 18th century, designed by Andrew Dickie, in the form of a table of equations.
Paths and Walks
Access to Cowane's Hospital forecourt is gained from a wide paved walk that leads west from the top of St John Street. The south side of this walk is defined by railings surmounting a low parapet wall and there is a gated access within the railings leading to a ramped access to the bowling green. North of and beyond the forecourt, a narrow path leads west, hugging the north gable of the Hospital, with the high retaining wall of the churchyard to the north. This path takes a sharp turn to the north to follow the tight gap between the corner of the building and the churchyard retaining wall, which is at this point constricted by large rock outcrops, the path then descending to connect with the Back Walk. Although the Mercier map of 1760 shows a wall to the north of the bowling green enclosing the grounds and a wall enclosing the forecourt of the Hospital, illustrated also on a print by Lizar c1790, there appears to be no evidence of the path north of the building. The path appears first on the large scale Stirling Town Plan, dated 1858, with what appears to be a gated entrance adjacent to the Hospital. By the end of the 18th century, the provision of a connecting link from the front of the Hospital to Back Walk, also known as 'Edmonstone's Walk', a picturesque walk begun in 1723, echoes the fashion of the times for taking a wider vision, with promenading and enjoying panoramic and dramatic views as keynotes. It also reflects the further development of key designed landscapes in the vicinity, such as the Valley Cemetery, and heralds a more public interest in and use of the grounds in this locality for recreation and relaxation.
Within the grounds of the Hospital, a simple system of perimeter paths has given access to the areas around the bowling green. The measured plan of 1902 by H Inigo Triggs indicates this arrangement and the path widths. Although this has altered in the interim, the enlargement of the bowling green in 1986 substantially narrowing the path adjacent to the parterre, the current layout retains the arrangement of perimeter access.
The grounds of Cowane's Hospital currently consist of a bowling green, parterre, an area of planting north-east of the bowling green and flower beds adjacent to the lower and upper terraces. Although there have been some changes through time, the layout that was established in the early 18th century remains evident.
The bowling green has been the centrepiece of the Hospital grounds since 1713. The exact dimensions of the original green are unknown, the 1740 and Campbell 1746 maps indicating a large square green. The first more measured representation appears on the Stirling Town Map of 1858 which indicates an irregular trapezoidal arrangement, the north-west boundary of which aligns with the full length of the lower terrace. In 1902, H Inigo Triggs provides a measured drawing which shows the green extending further to the south-west. In 1986 the green was extended to bring it to regulation standard and this was achieved by a slight extension of a few feet to the south-west and additional c.15 feet to the north-east. In 1997 the bowling green fell into disuse and is currently maintained by the Trustees of Cowane's Hospital.
The parterre occupies a triangular area to the south-west of the garden. The original pattern of Harlaw's parterre is uncertain but has generally been known and referred to as the Dutch parterre. The Dutch style of parterre, more fluid and freeform than the formal symmetrical French approach, adapted itself well to awkward spaces. The present box hedges probably date from the 19th century, seen as young hedges on a contemporary photograph, and it is uncertain whether the pattern replicates that of the original. Within the box framework early plantings consisted of medicinal herbs such as hyssop, chamomile, rue, sage and lavender and garden flowers such as marigolds, gilly flowers, hellebores and anemone blanda. Topiary would have added height and interest to the composition with species such as holly or yew, a mature yew specimen at the south end of the parterre a possible survivor from the early topiary which is now gone. In the 19th century bedding plants and roses were used, the former costly to maintain and the latter unsuited to the lack of air created by the enclosing low hedges. The present Master and Factor is encouraging local schools to plant the box enclosures with species to encourage wildlife (2011).
North-east of the bowling green the planting area is open with a well maintained grass area immediately adjacent to the bowling green, changing to bare earth on the north-facing slope adjacent to the wide paved approach walk. A number of mature specimen trees stand in this area, including cedar and sequoia, and there are also short lengths of well established hedges at the northern perimeter of this area. Historically this area has been termed the Minister's garden and has been not only an important buffer zone between the main thoroughfare and the Hospital grounds but an area where planting for shelter has been important. For example, thorn hedges planted here in the 18th century were established to provide shelter and also to protect the area of garden to the north and, at some time later, a high wall was built to protect the garden on its 'vulnerable side', the wall now gone.
There are linear flower beds, adjacent to the lower terrace on the level of the bowling green, lining paths. A few various species now grow here but these beds are remnants of wall plantings that formerly extended to various parts of the garden including the north-east facing boundary on the line of the Town Wall and the high wall that is the boundary with the Old Town Jail. On the south gable of the Hospital a well established surviving fig tree offers a glimpse of that former character which, in the 18th century, would have seen apricots, peaches and almonds growing on the warm sheltered walls of the garden.
- Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts
Telephone0131 668 8600
Access contact details
The hall is open throughout the year, but with limited days and hours in the winter months.
The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:
Reason for Inclusion
Cowane's Hospital designed landscape is the garden of an early 17th century civic charitable institution which is an important part of the social and cultural development of the burgh of Stirling. Of rare survival and interest, the garden is an example of the work of Thomas Harlaw, Gardener to the 6th Earl of Mar, and the original layout of terraces, Dutch parterre and bowling green remains evident. Surviving detailed minutes and accounts of Cowane's Hospital and other supporting documentary evidence provide significant historical value.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
1661-1702, 1713-1740, with 19th and 20th century modifications.
The historical development of the garden is well documented through the Minutes and Accounts of Cowane's Hospital, recorded from 1637 to 1980. Throughout a period of almost 350 years, the garden was adapted to meet the changing needs of the Hospital brethren: created first as a walking green, subsistence and domestic physic garden in the mid 17th century; laid out as a fashionable designed landscape with bowling green and parterre in the early 18th century; modified as a civic public space for recreation and promenading in the 19th century; and becoming the main focus for the activities of the Guildhall Bowling Club in the 20th century. The present design reflects the original intention of the mid 17th century layout, embellished by fashionable design in the early 1700s, with alterations in the 19th century and 20th century.
John Cowane was born in 1570, the third generation of a wealthy family of merchants based in Stirling since 1520. His grandfather had traded with Dutch suppliers and supplied honey, prunes, saffron and spices to the Court of James V. At this time the Dutch were importing large quantities of Scottish goods including fish, coal, salt, wool and hides, goods coming and going via small vessels navigating to Stirling bridge on the Forth or from East coast ports. In the seventeenth century Stirling was thriving, Royal Burgh status bringing lucrative foreign trade and travel opportunities to the merchants of the town. Successful and influential, John Cowane became a wealthy Protestant burgher who took full advantage of the social and economic circumstances of the time, as a merchant and trader, money lender and local farmer. He was highly influential and trusted, negotiating on behalf of the Convention of Royal Burghs regarding oversees trade, and as a Dean of Guild and Member of Parliament. He died a bachelor, in 1633, having amassed huge sums of money. He left small sums to needy local causes, such as five hundred merks to the Church of the Holy Rood, and, in contrast, forty thousand merks for the provision of a 'hospital', charitable Christian housing where 'twelve decayed guild brethren' could live rent-free in a community with familiar and common values.
The site chosen for the Hospital was prestigious, adjacent to the Church of the Holy Rude and near the mansions of rich merchants and nobility. The land was transferred to the Council via John Cowane's brother and executor, Alexander Cowane, and included a house (Auchmitie's) and two tenements, positioned on a close or path, and a well. The typical arrangement of tofts, strips of land running back from the main street, allowed rich burgesses to acquire and combine adjacent tofts creating large plots for redevelopment. The site was a challenge to building, with many constraints to resolve including difficult geology and topography with the alternation of rocky outcrops and hollows, a tapering constrained footprint on the edge of a steep escarpment and the presence of the closely contiguous Town Wall, already part of the Burgh's defences for 90 years in 1637.
At a time of great uncertainty and gathering conflict, it seems likely that the Hospital was conceived as part of these existing defences, the building forming one of a number of regular bastions within the Wall. The Trustees employed the royal master mason, John Mylne, to draw up plans for the house and plot. Early in 1637, the old buildings were demolished and the master mason, John Rynd, used a technique of burning peat and coal to fracture the solid rock to prepare the site for building. By May 1637 the site was cleared and stone and timber from the old house was put in store for re-use and John Rynd began excavating the foundations.
The building, completed in 1660, was a fitting outcome for John Cowane's aspirations to support Guild brethren for posterity as well as a celebration of his life and times. In scale and size it was typical of contemporary civic buildings and in style and details reflected the wealth of the Scottish mercantile class. It incorporated many features typical of burgh architecture and of the influence of trade links, through, for example, the Dutch inspired crow-stepped gables and embellishment with inscribed panels of biblical quotations, typical of Scottish and Dutch custom. The centrepiece of Mylne's building was a classically detailed bell tower with a pedimented niche occupied by a carved memorial to John Cowane, declaring its high status to the Royal Burgh of Stirling. The simple E-shaped plan provided an adaptable template to accommodate different functions at different levels.
The grounds of the Hospital were first levelled in 1661, when the Masters caus level the yaird of the said hospital, plant it about with plain trees, make walking green, pavement the closse and oute walk with hewin stones (Burgh & Cowane's Minutes 1659-80, 18 April 1661). This arrangement provided for the basic needs of the guild brethren - a place to walk and an area to grow vegetables, fruit and flowers with probably an informal 'physic' garden for the growing of herbs. 20th century aerial photographs suggest that the garden may have been laid out at that time in a regular series of strip beds. The garden was enclosed on the exposed east and north side by a hedge of '300 thornes', evident on the John Laye map of 1725, and a sundial, carved in stone by the local mason John Buchanan, was set up in 1673 and provided a focal point. The recorded entry, in 1701, of 'ballisters' erected on the high walk suggests that by that time an arrangement of terraces had already been established. The terraces and garden would have offered a commanding and airy position from which panoramic views of the surrounding landscape could be enjoyed. Thus, in 1707, Sir Robert Sibbald describes Cowane's Hospital with a very fine garden adjoining it'from whence'there is a very pleasant prospect to the King's Park, as also to the country east, south and west (Sibbald, 1707). An account of trees and flowers imported from Holland, ordered by William Stevenson, who was the first recorded gardener at the Hospital and appointed in 1667, included: 2 apricot trees; 2 peach trees; 2 double yellow roses; 2 Amigdalas pumila (dwarf almond); Amigdalas pumila flore plena (double flowering dwarf almond); Jasminum luteum (the 'Yellow Jessamy' or yellow jasmine); and 'July' flowers or gilly flowers ' pinks for the borders.
By the early 1700s, as an inducement to encourage more Guild brothers to take up residence in the Hospital, a decision was made to improve the gardens according to contemporary taste and fashion. In 1712, on the advice of one of the Hospital gardeners, the Masters commissioned Thomas Harlaw, gardener to the 6th Earl of Mar, to prepare plans for the Hospital Yairds. Harlaw, a practical and knowledgeable man and favourite of the Earl, was part of the prestigious team that included Alexander Edward, James Gibbs, Alexander McGill and William Boutcher (head gardener), who had collectively executed an elaborate layout in the Earl's gardens at Alloa. The design at Alloa, captured on the Sturt and Lens map of the garden dated 1710, displays a fusion of French and Dutch influence, with vistas and avenues, parterres, wilderness and statuary and includes a small enclave close to the house incorporating a fine terras and Bowling Green adorned with the largest evergreens you can see anywhere (Macky, 1723). This part of the ornamental layout incorporated a bowling green and terrace walk and was enclosed on three sides by box hedging.
The arrangement at Alloa may have influenced Harlaw's approach at Cowane's Hospital although there is no documentary evidence to confirm this. The Minutes state that a bowling green was laid out and new borders created, incorporating a fashionable parterre, in the Dutch style, with winding paths and box-edged enclosures, furnished with medicinal herbs such as thyme and hyssop and seasonal flowers such as marigolds, hellebores, pansies and stocks. The Dutch influence found in the details of the architecture of the building, had now found its way into the gardens. The bowling green was an innovative element and, laid out in this formal way, was possibly the first of its kind in Stirling. As a new feature it would have attracted Guild brethren as well as interest from the wider community.
During the creation of the bowling green, completed 31 August 1713, John Buchanan's sundial was dismantled and reassembled as a focal point within the Dutch parterre. In 1727 the carved stone face of the sundial was chiselled off and replaced by a circular engraved bronze dial, the design of Andrew Dickie, a tradesman in Stirling, specialising in making watches, clocks and sundials. The dial showed a table of equations, taking account of the discrepancy between solar time and clock time, and bore the inscription A Table of Equations, Andr. Dickie Stirling, 1727.
The John Laye map of 1725 shows the forecourt of the Hospital surrounded by an enclosing wall, the north boundary defined by a wall, the south boundary wall on the line of the Town Wall and the east boundary as hedge. In 1724 Cowane's Hospital is referred to as the Guildhall and through the following decades the Minutes record not only the gardeners involved and subsequent improvements and alterations but they also provide a unique insight into the typical issues that had to be addressed and even detailed notes on the equipment used for maintenance. For example, in 1726 there may have been some work to the terraces, as the stone flags had subsided in places. In 1737 a timber rail was erected, with lock and key in the middle, to protect the holly hedge and flowers on the north side of the grounds as they had planed a great variety of fine flowers therein (Minutes & Accounts, 7 May 1737 & Lizar, c1790). The bowling green remained a focus of interest and care, with seating provided, bowls bought on a regular basis and, in 1739, banks created around the green and 'salt turf' laid. More urgent repairs included work in 1754 to the 'dyke' or wall next to the back walk, which was in danger of falling down, and necessary repairs to the balustrades recorded in 1784. In 1791 the Back Walk was extended to the 'Barras Gate', signifying the expansion of cultural and recreational activities in the area, and around this time a connecting path was created leading from the Hospital forecourt to the north gable of the building, descending down to the Back Walk below.
In 1840 a high wall was established on the south-east boundary of the garden in anticipation of the building of the Town Jail beyond, a striking building with crenellated parapets and round tower, completed in 1847. Although previous open views to the east and south-east were now obscured, the wall added to enclosure and shelter, enhancing a pleasant enclave that in succeeding decades would become the focus for public enjoyment and civic pride in promenading, quiet games of bowls, listening to military bands and Highland Society dancing festivals. Throughout this time the garden, with stone terraces on two levels, embankments surrounding the bowling green and seating on perimeter walks, continued to provide a flexible and popular platform for public use. At this time various embellishments were made to the garden, including the introduction of two Crimean cannons on the terrace in 1858, a fountain (later removed) sited on the north-east side of the bowling green in 1862 and a flagpole erected in 1894 to attract tourists. A summerhouse, later removed, was erected against the high wall to the south-east.
News of the garden was reaching a wider audience, its importance recorded in 1897 by the writer J J Joass, who listed Cowane's hospital garden with Barncluith, Balkaskie, Edzell, Crathes and Fordel, as six old surviving formal gardens unrivalled in Scotland. Cowane's Hospital garden also features in H Inigo Triggs book, 'Formal gardens in England and Scotland' dated 1902. Triggs provides a written description and accurate measured drawings that can be usefully compared with the OS large scale town plan of Stirling of 1858 to detect any changes to layout in the interim. Further detailed comparison with a sketch provided in J J Joass dated 1893 suggests that between 1893 and 1902 the bowling green was extended to the south-west. This is substantiated by minutes recording that in 1898 electric light cables were laid under the green with a subsequent relaying of 30 yards of turf and then a further 200 yards of turf being laid. Comparison of the extent of the parterre on the H Inigo Triggs measured drawing with what remains of it today bears close relationship, confirming that it was between 1893 and 1902 that there was a significant encroachment on the parterre.
In 1903 the Guildhall Bowling Club leased the green for exclusive use by the club and Guild members. The Club agreed to put the green in order, adopted its maintenance and agreed to employ a greenkeeper on condition that the bowling green, 'Bowl house' and adjoining gardens would all be for the private use of Club and Guild members. In 1911 it was recorded that the Bowl House would be better placed at the NE corner of the bowling green. Between 1912 and 1946 the minutes of Cowane's Hospital either ceased to be kept or were lost.
Following proposals, originally tabled in 1946, to enlarge the bowling green in accordance with the Scottish Bowling Club rules, a proposal that would affect the fabric and character of the building and garden, Cowane's Hospital, the terrace, Dutch Garden and Bowling Green and a portion of the old town wall were given Scheduled Monument status in December 1948, in recognition of their national importance. Throughout the coming decades, proposals to extend the bowling green to meet regulation size were resisted. From 1955 the Town Council Parks Department maintained the bowling green and garden and, at various times, carried out planting improvements in the surrounding flower beds and 'Dutch' garden. In 1965, Cowane's Hospital including the adjoining terrace to the bowling green and Cowane's Hospital sundial were listed category A and category B respectively. In 1986 consent was granted for an extension to the clubhouse and an extension to the bowling green. The bowling green was extended slightly to the south-west, with no intervention into the parterre but a reduction in path width, and extended to the north-east by c15 feet, as confirmed by comparison between the Triggs plan, later OS maps and evidence on the ground.
By 1997 the bowling green had fallen into disuse and, in 1999, the Old Guildhall or Cowane's Hospital and grounds were descheduled. As a recent initiative, the present Master and Factor has involved local schools in planting part of the surviving parterre and compost bins have been installed in the south corner of the garden.
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Key Information
Open to the public