By Rory Reynolds
A RARE stained glass panel that celebrates one of the nation’s most famous minds has been uncovered during the renovation of a historic Scots building.
They were discovered when the site – which dates back to the 1860s – was being transformed into the new luxury hotel development, Fraser Suites.
The central window, the existence of which was completely unknown to experts until now, bears Geddes’ motto, vivendo discimvs, Latin for ‘by living we learn’.
The Aberdeenshire-born innovator is one of Scotland’s most celebrated urban planners, who was responsible for designing modern university halls for students, arguing that their education would be improved by them sharing accommodation.The offices of the Edinburgh Courant, one of the UK’s first regional titles and edited by Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe, later served as student halls, enforcing the link between Geddes and the windows.
The item has now taken pride of place at Fraser Suites, situated on St Giles Street just off the capital’s Royal Mile.
The firm’s Scottish regional manager Heather Gilchrist said: “When we were creating Fraser Suites we wanted to ensure that we celebrated all aspects of the heritage of the building.
“It is such an amazing building so it was important that we preserved all the historical features.
“We were amazed at the various fixtures and features we found – not more so that the beautiful stained glass panels with the ‘vivendo discimvs’ wording. They had been hidden away for years. We’re not even sure if people knew they existed before.
“When we discovered the windows we wanted to make a feature of them – and the best place for them was to use them as the centerpiece in one of our exclusive suites.
“The windows are now on display in our Princes Suite, which has stunning views over Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument.
“It means that anyone staying in the room will know they are very much living and breathing an important part of Edinburgh’s history.”
John Lowrey, Senior Lecturer in Architectural History at the School of Arts, Culture & Environment at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The windows are definitely a Geddes connection if the stained glass bears the legend ‘vivendo discimvs’.
“This is the inscription Geddes put on the buildings he used as University halls of residences – it was even on the crockery in the dining rooms.
“The fact that the crest is similar to the University’s is a clincher because, of course, these were not actually university halls; they were simply part of Geddes’ attempt to create a collegiate enclave in the St Giles/Lawnmarket area.
“You can see the same inscription over the arch inside Riddles’ Court, which was also used as one of these halls.”
Working and teaching from the Camera Obscura Outlook Tower in Edinburgh, Geddes developed and played a large part in much of the renovation of the capital’s Royal Mile including the building of Ramsay Garden next to Edinburgh Castle.
He was also instrumental in the design of Edinburgh Zoo and created more natural environments for the animals, separating them from the public by moats rather than the usual cages typical of Victorian menageries.