Auld Staney Breeks and John Cowane's Hospital

Master John Cowane. Merchant. Dean of Guild. Parliamentarian. Friend to Kings and Princes of many lands. A bold and handsome chap, whose statue adorns the entrance to Cowane’s Hospital – the almshouse built with money left in dear Johnny’s Will, to offer care and comfort to members of the Merchants’ Guild who’d fallen face-first into the steaming cowpat of Misfortune.

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A charitable man was Master Cowane! And, in phantom form anyway, one of our stranger citizens.

Where politicians talk of Virtue you can bet that Vice is never far behind. It is said he financed his more speculative schemes by engaging privateers to pluck and plunder treasure from foreign ships. ‘Hostile takeovers’ are nothing new, after all! And twice this naughty boy he was forced to sit in shame upon the Penance Stool before the doors of the Holy Rude church. His sin? Seduction of two servant girls.

The girls, their bellies swollen with child, were quickly banished from the town - on pain of death, no less - for their pernicious part in the corruption of so fine, upstanding and honourable a man.

Politicians don’t change much over the years, do they?

Some say that each New Year, as the Tolbooth clock rings out the first chimes of midnight, Cowane’s statue is possessed by the merchant’s restless spirit - that he leaps and lurches from his plinth...dancing his wayward way through the wynds and vennels of the Old Town - intent, no doubt, on fondly fondling the female flesh he was so partial to in life.

The effigy is known to locals as ‘Auld Staney Breeks’.

Local worthies will have you believe that that is on account of the dirty weather-worn paintwork on his great stone britches. Others might argue that it’s a warning to other like-minded gentlemen that if they are not careful of what they do in this life, they may still be washing their dirty laundry in the next.

More Information

Stirling is justly famous for it’s spectacular Hogmanay celebrations, so it’s no surprise that the Royal Burgh’s original ‘Party Spirit’ wants to get in on the act. You can, too, by visiting

John Cowane's House is currently closed to the public.

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