Guide to the University of Glasgow Blackhouse Charters, 1304 to 1717

Instrument of sasine of a tenement of land containing two roods and pertinents in the Drygate disponed by Sir Malcom Durance rector of Kirkgunich to David de Letherick burgess of Glasgow and his wife Geills for an annual rent, 30 August 1474 (GUAS Ref: BL 121).The Blackhouse charters date back to 1304, making them the oldest records held by the University of Glasgow.  Of national and international significance, they recount the expansion and relocation of the University over the centuries through acts of transfer of property, settlements of court, donations, and royal grants.

The main group of charters, and also the oldest, relate to the properties of pre-Reformation religious orders of the city of Glasgow, the most important of which being the Dominican friars or ‘Black Friars’. They possessed many lands and buildings in the city, and like every ecclesiastical institution they carefully kept their deeds and charters to prove their rights to their lands and their privileges. The vicars of the choir also have an important place in the collection, as the histories of the Cathedral of Glasgow and of the University were originally closely linked with each other.

These ecclesiastical documents came into the possession of the University when, in 1563 and 1573, the property of the Black friars was made over to the declining University in one of the earliest and most significant Crown grants of ecclesiastical land made in sixteenth century Scotland. Additionally, the masters of the University were designated as the heirs of the Vicar Choral in another charter dated 1595.

Following these gifts, the University was able to expand and flourish during the 17th century. The rest of the collection is mostly composed of more acts of transfer of land or revenue, this time in the name of the University itself, and of donations by important people such as Oliver Cromwell and Archbishop Leighton.

Having been originally numbered and catalogued in 1712 by Robert Alexander of Blackhouse, they have since been known as the ‘Blackhouse Charters’ but occasionally also as the ‘Blackfriars Charters’. As well as a source for the history of the University, the collection gives a great insight into Glasgow’s medieval past as it contains some of the earliest references to named plots and identifiable houses within Glasgow as well as some of the earliest references to named people in the west of Scotland.

They are continuously numbered from 1 to 497 within 21 categories:

  1. BL 1-311, Rights belonging to religious orders before the Reformation, with the University's title to them, 1304-1640. Almost all the properties involved are in Glasgow, but exceptions include the earliest item, which concerns the burgh of Dumbarton. The main sources of the University's titles were the Dominican Friars in Glasgow and the Vicars Choral of the Cathedral, but the former properties of chaplainries are also included.
  2. BL 312-314, Rights to Blackfriars Yards, 1578.
  3. BL 315-325, Colmonell teinds, 1552-1685, and the houses and land purchased from William Laing, 1520/1-1706.
  4. BL 326-375, The 'Grassum Lands' (the 5s land of Dowanhill), 1556-1717.
  5. BL 376-393, The Principal's house, 1557-1639.
  6. BL 394-395, Rights in Avondale and Queen Mary's foundation of bursaries for five poor children.
  7. BL 396-402, Part of Dowanhill purchased from John Bryson, 1620-1717.
  8. BL 403-406, Chaplainry of St Mungo, 1578-1634.
  9. BL 407-415, Jordanhill's Mortification and the teinds belonging to Stewart of Balshagrie in the parish of Govan, 1576-1655.
  10. BL 416-436, The remainder of the teinds of Govan parish and the customs of Glasgow, 1577-1654.
  11. BL 437-444, Renfrew and East Kilbride teinds, 1593-1651.
  12. BL 445-446, Michael Wilson's mortification, 1617, 1640.
  13. BL 447-448, Annuity payable by the magistrates of Rutherglen, 1618, 1636.
  14. BL 449-461, The Sub-deanery of Glasgow and the teinds of Cadder and Monkland, 1624-1670.
  15. BL 462-466, Lands of Ballagan and Garscube, 1577-1655.
  16. BL 467-471, Mortifications to the University of Glasgow, 1627-1652.
  17. BL 472-473, Bishopric of Galloway, 1641-1642.
  18. BL 473 (2)-480, Mortifications to the University of Glasgow, 1652-1697.
  19. BL 481, Part of Blackfriars church and churchyard, 1699.
  20. BL 482-484, King William's mortifications and Queen Anne's donation, 1695-1708.
  21. BL 485-497, Miscellanea (copies of early writs and general ratifications, etc.), [1451]-1654.

Accessing these records

The charters and the 1712 Blackhouse inventory (Ref GUA 26674 Clerk's Press 60) are available for consultation in our searchroom. Photocopying is not possible as this would cause excessive damage. Photography is allowed.

The Blackhouse Charters catalogue (38 pages, 759kb, pdf) can be downloaded in pdf format.

A new, more complete catalogue is now available online.  You can explore it here.  There is also a new Flickr set available.

Related resources

Charter of donation and mortification by King Robert Bruce in favour of the Friars Preachers of Glasgow of twenty merks sterling, 28 April 1316. (GUAS Ref: GUA12357. Copyright reserved.)

Printed texts of about one-third of the documents have been traced and are in four books available in the Searchroom or in the University Library: