Provand's Lordship is one of the two oldest houses in Glasgow and a sadly rare survivor of the many old buildings that once occupied the area around and beyond the top of Glasgow's High Street, some of which formed the precinct of Glasgow Cathedral. Today it looks across a very busy road to the superb castle-like building constructed in 1993 which houses the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art.
Provand's Lordship was built in 1471 by Andrew Muirhead, the Bishop of Glasgow, as part of St Nicholas's Hospital, which stood to the south of the house. The "front" of the house probably originally faced west, and the site now occupied by the St Mungo Museum formed part of the large and imposing Bishop's Castle, one of the most important buildings in medieval Glasgow.
Although it may originally have been built for the Master or Preceptor of the neighbouring hospital, the house is believed to have become part of the accommodation provided for the 32 canons of the Cathedral Chapter, each associated with one of the prebends (or areas) into which the Diocese of Glasgow was divided. In the 1800s the house was identified as having been occupied by a canon supported by income from the Prebend of Barlanark or Balernock.
Most prebends derived their income from churches, but Barlanark supported its canon with the income derived from a 5,000 acre estate about three miles east of the edge of medieval Glasgow which had been granted to the Church by David II in about 1120.
Over time, "Prebend" became corrupted to "Provan", or Barlanark simply came to be known as Provan: take your pick. Meanwhile the post, and its estate-generated income, was increasingly seen as a convenient parking place for the illegitimate sons of Stewart kings. By the early 1500s, when the post passed to the Baillie family, Provand's Lordship seems to have simply been the town house used by the occupant of Provan Hall, (which is probably even older) then the focus of the estate, and now found in the north eastern suburbs of Glasgow. Some question whether this link is genuine, but either way, the belief in it helped save Provand's Lordship from the demolition that lay in store for a number of comparable medieval buildings in the area around Glasgow Cathedral.
In 1906 the house was being occupied by the Morton family and used as a sweetshop (and sweet factory) when the Provand's Lordship Society formed with the aim of saving it. The Society initially leased the property for £100 per year, and the Mortons stayed in business here until the end of the First World War. Funds were eventually raised to purchase the house outright, and further fundraising was undertaken to try to restore it to its state in about 1700. This was greatly aided by a gift of money and furniture from Sir William Burrell in 1927.
By 1978 major repairs were needed, and the Provand's Lordship Society offered the property to the City of Glasgow, who oversaw its restoration. It was reopened to the public in June 1983. A further closure followed over the two years to 2000 to allow work to take place to prevent the collapse of part of the house.
Today, Provand's Lordship is operated as one of the City of Glasgow's many excellent museums, and admission is free. What you find inside is three storeys of accommodation comprising three main rooms each. They are connected together by means of a spiral staircase, though it seems likely that when the house was originally built, access would have been via wooden stairs leading to galleries on the outside of its western side.
The central room on the ground floor contains an interpretative display about the house and the medieval part of Glasgow that once surrounded it; while the equivalent room on the first floor recreates the Prebend's chamber (complete with a dummy Prebend). Other rooms house the house's remarkable collection of wooden furniture, while the upper floor is give over to a gallery.
In order to preserve the original oak floor beams, false floors have been put into the upper floors. These change the dimensions of the rooms and can give an odd appearance to the fireplaces: but this seems a price worth paying to ensure the future survival of the structure.