IN MEDIEVAL Glasgow, the bishops had responsibility for not just for the church, but also for the poor and the sick.

The diocese and township existed before the burgh, and when it was founded it was a Bishop’s and not a Royal Burgh. The church exercised powers in both the civil and ecclesiastical sphere until the Reformation in 1560.

The work of the medieval church meant they had extensive control of alms houses and hospitals.

The disease of leprosy prevailed across Europe from the 10th to the 16th century. Jocelyn of Furness wrote in the 12th century that St Kentigern cleansed lepers in the city of Glasgow and that at his tomb, lepers were likewise healed.

Glasgow Times: Provand's LordshipProvand's Lordship (Image: Newsquest)

It seems that from the earliest time the bishops exercised due supervision and care over leprosy sufferers. Once Glasgow became a burgh, this was a legal obligation.

One of the early hospitals founded by the bishops was St Ninian’s leper hospital, which was located outside the city’s limits in Gorbals, on the south side of the river Clyde.

Its position outside the town’s gates complied with the law without the need for isolation from the town.

Its date is unclear, with some suggestion that it was founded about 1350. There is some thought that it was a 15th century institution, as one of the earliest references to male and female lepers in the hospital and poor lepers dwelling there was in 1485.

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It was probably built soon after the completion of the bridge over the Clyde and stood a few yards  beyond the abutment of the bridge.  In 1491, a leper’s chapel was built 100 yards further south.

The lepers were permitted to come to purchase food for their colony, as long as they carried clappers to warn of their presence and stood down-wind of the healthy. A cemetery was attached to the colony where those with leprosy were buried.

St Nicholas Hospital was founded some time before 1464. It owed its existence to Dr Andrew Muirhead, Bishop of Glasgow. It lay close to the Cathedral, near the Stablegreen Port. It was not a large institution.

Glasgow Times: Provand's LordshipProvand's Lordship (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

In 1471, Muirhead added what we now know as Provand's Lordship to the north of the chapel, which survives on Castle Street today.

The original purpose of the hospital was defined by the following terms: “By the foundation it was to consist of twelve old men, who were provided by all the necessaries for their support and sustenance, and also a priest to celebrate divine service, that they might be free from worldly avocations in the decline of their old age.”

By 1567, “twelve old men” were housed in the front of the hospital  and four at the back. There was also a chapel associated with the hospital.

Each of the men got “ane new whyte claith goune” every third year. The inmates were supplied with coals for the fire and candles at evening and the houses were to be slated, repaired and kept wind and water tight. The chapel and hospital were removed in 1808 to make way for St Nicholas Street.

Glasgow Times: Stablegreen mapStablegreen map (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

In 1605, under an agreement between the Trades House and Glasgow Council, it became the Trades Hospital. The building was deserted as a residence in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and the site was sold in 1759.             

Around 1524, a hospital was founded by Robert Blacadder, nephew of Archbishop Blacadder. The hospital was situated outside the North Port of the city, where Dobbies Loan joined the main northern thoroughfare, and it was adapted for the reception of wayfarers.

It was described as a “house of the poor and indigent casually coming thereto.”  The chaplain had his chamber in the house and took charge of bed clothing for the poor.

By the 16th century, plague victims would petition at the chapel of St Roche, locally known as St Rollox, the saint who protected those with plague.

It was an important landmark, just to the north of the town beyond Stablegreen Port, in an isolated site, where plague victims were buried.

Occasionally in Glasgow’s history, excavations and building works have unexpectedly uncovered remnants of long-forgotten graveyards.

However, other than Provand’s Lordship, there is now no physical sign of the presence of these great medieval hospitals and institutions.