Countdown to completion of restoration at Riddle’s Court

A piper leads children to mark the milestone for the project. Picture: Ian Georgeson
A piper leads children to mark the milestone for the project. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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IT’S 162 years since he was born and 12 months to go until the opening of a learning centre named after him in one of Edinburgh’s most historic buildings.

Sir Patrick Geddes’ birthday was marked yesterday with a special ceremony which saw a time capsule buried at 16th century Riddle’s Court, off the Royal Mile, which is being restored to its former glory.

Geddes (1854-1932), famous pioneering town planner and philanthropist, founded one of the first university halls of residence in Riddle’s Court in the late 1800s and ran summer schools there.

Now work is under way on the final phase of a £6 million project to create the Patrick Geddes Centre for Learning and Conservation, which will provide a wide range of courses and give space to other organisations to do the same.

Children from the nearby Cowgate Under-Fives nursery, who have been doing projects about Geddes, joined Countess Deirdre Rosebery - who starred in performances alongside Downton Abbey actress Dame Maggie Smith at Riddle’s Court when it was Fringe venue in the 1950s - to bury the time capsule in the base of the liftshaft.

The capsule - described as a celebration of the past and of the future - includes architect’s drawings; a booklet created by the Cowgate children; postcards featuring memories of the building; photographs donated by Lady Rosebery of the building as it was in the 1950s; a 2016 Fringe programme; and even a mobile phone.

Riddle’s Court dates back to 1578 and is the oldest merchant house in the Capital.

In 1598 King James VI hosted a royal banquet in the building and in 1751 philosopher David Hume moved into an apartment there.

It features many beautiful decorated ceilings and interiors.

In its new guise, as well as a centre for lifelong learning, Riddle’s Court will also have rooms available to hire for weddings, conferences, exhibitions and workshops.

Una Richards, director of the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust, which is behind the restoration, said: “We are celebrating a stage in the project where we have secured the money we need to restore Riddle’s Court.

“This is one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile and we are giving in a new life for the next 100 years which is what Patrick Geddes did when he acquired parts of the Old Town.

“We are following in his footsteps in finding a new use for an old building as a centre for learning.

“In the 1890s everyone had moved out of the Old Town which was becoming derelict and he started acquiring buildings - including this one - and restoring them. We have taken our inspiration from him.”

john.connell@edinburghnews.com