Transcript of Patrick Geddes papers video

Transcript of Senior Manuscript Curator Olive Geddes' filmed talk about the Patrick Geddes papers.

Hello I'm Olive Geddes. I'm a Senior Curator in the Manuscripts Collections division here in the National Library of Scotland. I want to talk to you today about the Patrick Geddes papers in the Library.

I should say first of all that it's pure coincidence that my name is Geddes. I have no relation [to him].

The Patrick Geddes papers have been given to the Library over a number of years by different members of his family. They consist of his correspondence and his working papers. These relate to many of the numerous projects that Geddes was involved in over his long lifetime.

Patrick Geddes is known more for his magnificent failures than his successes. He was disorganised [and] had difficulty in disciplining himself to write for publication. He seemed to be unable to complete tasks and to collaborate effectively. He flitted like a butterfly from one topic to another. And he must have been infuriating to work with. He was called 'a most unsettling person'.

We know him today principally as a town planner, but he was also a botanist, biologist, pioneer of the environmental movement.

Patrick Geddes was born in 1854 in Ballater, in Aberdeenshire. He soon moved to Perthshire, where he grew up. The Perthshire countryside and his father, Alexander Geddes, who was a native Gaelic speaker and former soldier, were huge influences on him. Particularly, they influenced his passion for seeing life whole.

I've got a letter here from Patrick Geddes to his father, to Alexander Geddes. It's written in 1898. In the letter he says:

'Dear Dad,

'It is a great thing for me to have your example to look and fall back upon. As I have told you before, I've been a pupil of many great naturalists. Each of whom knew far more than you ever dreamt of. But I have to thank you for my love of nature and of gardens.'

Patrick Geddes settled in Edinburgh in the 1880s and he worked at the University as an assistant in practical botany. He became involved in the renewal of the Old Town as he believed that people thrived in environments that best suited them.

Geddes got married to Anna Morton who was the daughter of a wealthy Liverpool merchant in the mid 1880s. First they lived in Princes Street but they very soon moved to the Old Town, to a flat in James Court which really was a slum dwelling in those days. It was a very brave move of them.

And this is one of Geddes' principles. He thought you shouldn't pronounce as to how people should improve their lot. You had to immerse yourself in the conditions first of all before you could decide what was the best way to move forward.

As part of his plan to regenerate the Old Town, Geddes drew up a scheme to create gardens. The plan was to create about 75 gardens and we think that 10 were actually built.

I've got a plan here that shows the open spaces in the Old Town of Edinburgh. This is drawn up in 1908. There's a label here saying the number of gardens made by the Outlook Tower Open Spaces Committee 1909 to 1910.

The Outlook Tower was on Castlehill, still is on Castlehill. This was purchased by Geddes and set up as his sociological laboratory. The Outlook Tower on Castlehill is now known as the Camera Obscura.

In 1903 Patrick Geddes submitted proposals for the redevelopment of Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline. This was an open competition. And it was his first major city design report. In this, Patrick Geddes brought together cultural and educational institutions, gardens, sport, recreational facilities. And you can see them all on this plan here. He's even got a zoo here. There are areas for tennis, bowls — there's a domestic garden, there's a laird's garden, a fernery, conservatory, a craft village at the far end here. And a nature palace and museum.

Geddes' plans were rejected but this proposal was hugely influential and from this he went on to develop his theories of town planning.

From 1914 to 1924 Geddes lived and worked as a town planner, largely in India. Again he was engaging in urban renewal. He also worked in Tel Aviv and was involved in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the mid-1920s he set up the Scots college in Montpelier, in the south of France. In 1931 he accepted a knighthood and he died in 1932. Today he's revered as the father of town planning but Patrick Geddes is so much more.

 

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