the open union

Teviot Row House, Edinburgh, pen drawing, c1888
Teviot Row House, Edinburgh, pen drawing, c1888.By Sydney Mitchell (Life time: 1930) [Public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Teviot Row house is celebrating its 125th birthday this year and alumni are being welcomed back to share stories.

It is the oldest purpose built student union building in the world and it is stunning. It was designed to be fit for purpose, politics, power and community: ‘And with a house furnished as our Union is, our fellow-students may rest assured that they have much in their power to promote their own welfare.’

If you have ever tried to navigate your way around inside Teviot you might wonder what the original architect* imagined would be going on in there, and there is something of Hogwarts about its staircases, turrets and towers**.

It is a slightly disconcerting space and it takes you a few tries to get where you are going.  But if you persist there are rich environments, private spaces and favourite nooks to be found.

My memories of Teviot stem from my time as a student here, but also from the many summers it served as the Fringe Club during the Edinburgh Festivals. In recent years I have been lucky to spend time in there again as a trustee on the EUSA Board.

25th Oct 1889 description of Teviot’s opening, The Student


To assist in helping Teviot to celebrate, Claire found this snippet in the archives of The Student newspaper from 1889 when the Union  first opened for all.

‘It remains with the students themselves to make the Union what it ought to be, and if they join it as they ought they will be the gainers from it. The want is now supplied, and we shall look with interest on the progress of the new factor in our University life.’

The funding for the building was generated through an early ‘crowdsourcing-initiative’ 1 from amongst the students themselves. It would be fascinating to see if there is any record of that in the archives.

There was a book written for the 100th anniversary, it’s probably in the Library, called No spirits and precious few women‘, a reference to the fact that neither spirits nor women were included in Teviot until the early 1970s, which makes it sound like a rather dull place to me.  Nowadays, however, it is lively and buzzing with student councils, ceilidhs and tasty snacks.


*The architect, Sydney Mitchell was an alumnus of Edinburgh too.

** The creator of Hogwarts, J.K Rowling, is an alumna of Edinburgh too.


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