Riddle’s Court, a Discovery

With our this project currently in progress, our eyes and ears are particularly attuned to Patrick Geddes material elsewhere in our collections.  It was a delight recently to stumble across a volume entitled Records relating to the Mechanics’ Library and University Hall, Riddle’s Court.  We have been working very closely with the Education Officer at the Patrick Geddes Centre, Riddle’s Court, so this is an extra special find at this time.

In the late 1880s, Patrick Geddes acquired Riddle’s Court for the purpose of creating University Hall.  Prior to this, it had been in the possession of the Mechanics Library, who had been based there since the mid 1850s.

A volume in our collection contains extracts of records relating to the building’s time as the Mechanics Subscription Library, including the earlier history of the buildings, as well as records of its time as University Hall.  As well as text, the volume is peppered liberally with illustrations.

The first residents moved in for the Winter Session of 1889-90.  There were only three of them – William Speirs Bruce, Riccardo Stephens and William Grant Burn-Murdoch.  All three had a strong connection to Geddes.

Illustration by Louis G Irvine

Bruce, William Speirs (1867-1921) ,

A naturalist, polar scientist and oceanographer, Bruce organised and led the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition.  He first matriculated to study medicine at the University in 1887/8, but did not graduate.  However, he studied under Patrick Geddes at the Scottish Marine Station at Granton.

Stephens, Riccardo (1860-1923)

A medic and author, Stephens is perhaps best remembered for his gothic novels The Mummy and Cruxiform Mark, the latter set in University Hall.  Born in Croydon, though described as a Cornishman in Lyra Celtica, he relocated to Edinburgh and practised as a physician.

Burn-Murdoch, William Gordon (1862-1931)

An artist, travel writer and explorer, he originally studied law at the University before going on to study art in Antwerp and Paris.  It was at University Hall that he first met Speirs Bruce; he later accompanied Bruce on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, capturing this in his illustrated book From Edinburgh to the Antarctic. He also collaborated with Geddes, perhaps most noticeably on unrealised plans to create a mural around Castlehill Water Reservoir.

Irvine, Louis Godfrey (1868-1946) [Obituary]

Louis G. Irvine by WG Burn Murdoch

Irvine was born in Arbroath in 1867 to Walter Forbes Irvine and Eliza Mary Jane Fearnside.  He was educated at Arbroath High School, George Watson’s College (Edinburgh).

He first matriculated in Arts in 1884, aged 16. He then matriculated to study Medicine in 1888/89, graduating both MA and MB, CM in 1892.  He later gained a BSc (Public Health) in 1894 and MD in 1901.

Irvine emigrated to South Africa in the mid 1890s and spent the rest of his career there.  He was particularly active in relation to the health and safety of mine workers.  He was a member of the Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa, becoming an Honorary Life member in 1905. In 1929 he served as joint vice-president of Section I (Physiology) of the British Association for the Advancement of Science when its annual meeting was held in South Africa.

The volume has now been catalogued and digitised.



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