Today this magnificent, spacious room looking over Victoria Street from its large south facing windows is used for lectures and conferences and is the perfect setting for a wedding reception. It’s had many uses previously that we know about. A quick cross section gives us a picture of the changing fortunes and functions of Riddle’s Court. The biggest change is that the outer wall is not the original. The south end of Riddle’s Court went through a major facelift in the 1830s when a new thoroughfare was built to connect the new George IV Bridge to the Grassmarket and Cowgate to ease congestion. The result was Victoria Street and Terrace.
From McMorran’s day up until then this room would have looked over the house’s gardens. They were extensive and quite unique for this part of Edinburgh. Old maps show them, along with a close for public access running through the building and connecting the Lawnmarket to the Cowgate.
The room was originally two and we’re not sure what they were used for. We’re clearer about their use from the time after the wealthy had decamped to the New Town. From 1854-1893 the room housed the Mechanic’s Subscription Library whose purpose it was to broaden the education of working men. In Geddes’ period the room was split into five students’ bedrooms for his University Hall. Then from the 1950s it was used by Oxford and Cambridge University students, then other groups, for Fringe performances. Maggie Smith, and Stephen Fry both trod the boards here.
Interestingly, theatrical performances had taken place previously at Riddle’s Court in the mid-19th Century and the innovative youth club Fet-Lor was based here. Fet-Lor was set up by Fettes and Loretto schools in 1924 to provide an educational focus for the children of working men who had fought and fallen alongside their alumni in WWI. In sympathetic vein to both this and the Subscription library, The Workers’ Educational Association was based here till very recently. So, there’s long been a theme at Riddle’s Court for education and self-improvement.