Renovators uncover stained glass linked to Sir Patrick Geddes

Share this article

RENOVATING old buildings can often throw up some unpleasant surprises.

But the developers of a new hotel in the heart of the Capital got a more welcome surprise when they uncovered three beautiful stained glass window panels, featuring doves and roses arranged around a central Saltire.

And a Latin legend across the bottom of the central window has led experts to agree the panels are almost certainly linked to the work of one of Edinburgh's most famous citizens, Sir Patrick Geddes.

The building on St Giles' Street, which has been transformed into the Fraser Suites Hotel, was formerly used by the city council, although large parts of the building had been empty for years.

The three stained glass windows are thought to have been obscured for decades and only came to light when they were discovered partly boarded up and almost completely covered by dirt.

The central window of the trio bears the inscription "Vivendo Discimus", Latin for "by living we learn". This was the motto used by Sir Patrick Geddes, who was celebrated across the world for his innovative thinking in the fields of urban planning and education.

The building dates back to the 1860s where it was the location for the Edinburgh Courant – one of the UK's first regional newspapers.

Part of the building was also St Giles' House, which was later used as student accommodation, providing the clearest link to Geddes and his work in Edinburgh as Geddes pioneered the first residential accommodation for university students in Scotland.

John Lowrey, senior lecturer in architectural history at the School of Arts, Culture and Environment at the University of Edinburgh, said the find was "historically very important".

"The windows are definitely a Geddes connection if the stained glass bears the legend 'vivendo discimus'," he said.

The developers of the new hotel have ensured the

Geddes panels are a key feature in one of the hotel's top suites.

Fraser Suites Scottish regional manager Heather Gilchrist said: "

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 centrepiece in one of our exclusive suites.

"It means that anyone staying in the room will know they are very much living and breathing an important part of Edinburgh's history."


BORN in Ballater in 1854, Patrick Geddes was brought up in Perth. He started his career in banking but went on to study botany and by 24 was a biologist of great promise.

He was sent on a research mission to Mexico, but fell ill there and ended up working at Edinburgh University. His wide interests – including town planning, politics, social thinking and literature – led him into a number of innovative urban renewal projects.

In Edinburgh, he protected more than 70 sites, including Lady Stair's Close, plus many other Royal Mile closes.

He also 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, creating more natural environments for the animals, separating them from the public by moats rather than the usual cages typical of Victorian menageries.