Teviot Row House

(Teviot Row Union)

A student union located on Teviot Place, opposite the McEwan Hall, Teviot Row House gives the impression of a building of considerable antiquity having been built in the Scots-Renaissance style exemplified by Falkland Palace, with drum-towers and crow-stepped gables. The building actually dates from 1888 and was the work of the architectural practice of Sydney Mitchell & Wilson. The students had run a long fundraising campaign but this still fell short as the building neared completion, resulting in the opening being delayed until October 1889. The Chancellor of the University John Inglis, Lord Glencorse (1810-91), presided and a speech was given by Schomberg Kerr (1833 - 1900), the Marquess of Lothian. The Union's constitution banned the selling of spirits on the premises. The building was extended to the west by the same architects 1902-05, with a grand opening by the new Chancellor Arthur Balfour (1848 - 1930) and Richard Haldane (1856 - 1928) as Rector. A further extension to the south was added in 1962.

The building comprises four storeys, with an attic and basement. It benefits from large Gothic traceried windows, contrasting with the earlier style of the exterior, but the interior has many Scots-Gothic features including tunnel-vaulting and turnpike stairs within the towers to upper floors. On the uppermost floor is a debating hall, with a fine hammerbeam roof, now more usually used for dancing and other functions. The building also contains various dining rooms, committee rooms and no less than seven bars. Members were able to buy spirits for the first time in 1970, but it was not until the following year that women were admitted. In recent years the union has been used during the summer as a venue for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

A very traditional study-library, built over two floors with a central void, was converted into the chic Library Bar in 2008. The library had lent 27,838 books in its first year of opening but, by the 1990s, use had declined to become a less-than-ideal study space.

A Student's Representative Council had been formed in Edinburgh in 1884, the initiative of Robert Fitzroy Bell, who had visited Germany and used their system as a model. Within five years, the Universities (Scotland) Act required similar representation across the other Scottish universities, but Edinburgh was the first. It was the SRC that organised the building of the Teviot Row Union, the first of what by the 1980s was a total of seven at the University of Edinburgh, although Chambers Street House (once the Women's Union), and the Postgraduate Union and Overseas Student Union in Buccleuch Street have subsequently closed. Although the union buildings transferred to university ownership in the 1960s, they remain student-run by the Edinburgh University Students Association which has an annual turnover of £8.3 million (2009). Teviot Row House remains the only Scottish University Union still occupying its original building, which has been B-listed since 1970.

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