The University in the High Street: The Hamilton Charter – by Meghan Rathbun

The University of Glasgow, as Scotland’s second oldest institution of higher education, has a unique history spanning two locations in the city. Prior to the move to Gilmorehill in the nineteenth century, the University continuously occupied a location on the High Street from its medieval foundation. Little is known about the original buildings associated with the University, but with the careful study of documents in the University Archives some insights into the creation of the High Street campus can be gained.

Hamilton Charter p.1 (ref: GUA 26614 p.102)

Hamilton Charter p.1 (ref: GUA 26614 p.102)

It is worth a brief glance at the circumstances surrounding the early University. In 1451 the Bishop of Glasgow, William Turnbull, oversaw the foundation of the University of Glasgow, formally established by a papal bull from Nicholas V. The fledgling University faced several problems such as attracting students and staff, acquiring funds, and securing appropriate facilities. For the most part, the University turned to the Church for aid in these areas. Staff and students in the middle ages were often members of the Church in some capacity, allowing for church monies to be spent on the education of those within its ranks. The University also turned to the Church to provide the buildings it needed to house students and staff and to conduct meetings and classes. In fact, the first meeting of the general chapter in 1451 was held in the chapter house of the Black Friars Monastery on the High Street. For roughly the first decade the University used the Black Friars buildings as well as the nearby Cathedral for various functions. In addition, the University rented several buildings, including one listed in a sixteenth century inventory as the ‘Auld Pedagogy’, to provide a location suitable to house students and staff as well as to provide dining and study facilities.

Hamilton Charter p.2 (ref: GUA 26614 p.103)

Hamilton Charter p.2 (ref: GUA 26614 p.103)

Tucked away in a sixteenth century volume of records known as the Dean’s Book (or Annales Collegii Facultatis Artium in Universitate Glasguens) lies a copy of a fifteenth century charter that is directly linked to these early buildings inhabited by the University. (As is the case for most of the documents from the first century of the University’s existence, nothing of the original survives). Known as the Hamilton Charter, this two-page entry is all that remains of what was then the largest gift by a lay magnate to a Scottish University.

Dated 6th of January 1460, the charter outlines the gift of a tenement house, on the High Street, between the lands of Thomas Arthurlie and the Convent of the Friars Preachers, and four acres of land lying next to the Molendinar Burn. The modern location of the old campus is situated on the High Street between Duke Street and Blackfriars Road. (The City of Glasgow has created a useful walking tour of medieval Glasgow, which includes the original site of the University and other important sites).

Durkan & Kirk, The University of Glasgow 1451-1577, p.32

Durkan & Kirk, The University of Glasgow 1451-1577, p.32

Like any good gift from a wealthy benefactor, the Hamilton building came with strings attached. The Charter states the requirement that twice daily the student and regents of the University should pray for the souls of Lord Hamilton and his wife, as well as their ancestors, heirs, and successors. All told, this was a small price to pay for a building that would become absolutely central to the University’s High Street properties.

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1 reply

  1. Great post! Was really useful to see the layout of the old campus too!

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