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Your David Hume Tower memories

In the lead up to the DHT abseil on 18 September, we asked for your anecdotes of studying, working and visiting this 1960s modernist building.

DHT vintage
Architect's visual of new buildings in George Square in the 1960s.

Designed by Sir Robert Matthew and named after the Scottish philosopher, David Hume Tower was built in in the 1960s as a home for the University's Arts Faculty. For over 50 years it has divided opinion whilst serving generations of students who, largely speaking, love the views and dislike the building's unsettling sway.

For some, DHT was like a second home, while others only ventured inside its slate-clad walls on rare occasions. Many thanks to all who contributed, below are a selection of your stories.

Camaraderie

DHT in the 1970s was the setting for many a German-themed social event, highlighting the importance of getting to know a culture while studying languages.

Stephen McMahon, MA 1978, President of the German Society 1977-78

I have many, many stories and extremely fond memories of my time as a student [from] organising a typical Christmas "Kaffeekränzchen" for Honours students and staff (tablecloths and all) in the Gibson, holding a fancy-dress "Faschingsparty" there at the least appropriate time in an Honours years, and nipping down to the Servitor's desk to light up a cigarette on his one-bar electric fire and take the smoking cigarette back up (in the lift!) to the library to "enlighten" fellow smokers (it was 'permitted' to smoke in the Gibson, believe it or not - no alarms!).

As one of the tutors/lecturers at the time said: "You weren't exactly the most memorable bunch academically, but you knew how to bring to the Department the spirit of Germany and being students in the German spirit of study as opposed to vocational further education."

Knowledge exchange

University is a place for discourse, whether it takes its form in tutorial group debates, cosy cafes chats, or scribbled notes between students.

Madeleine Lefebvre (Huck), MA 1972

I was in Classics from 1969-1972, and spent a lot of my time in the DHT, particularly in the Classics Dept. reading room. I have many memories from that time. I was a member of the Edinburgh University Classical Society (ClassSoc). In the reading room we had a comment book where comments would mysteriously appear every day. Those of us who wrote in it regularly were at great pains to do so unseen. There were discussion 'threads', jokes, comments, questions, announcements, cartoons and - occasionally - rebukes. When I think back it was basically a precursor of social media.

Another memory was of working alone in the reading room, 'punishing' myself for not having a date for the May Ball that evening by ploughing through some boring (to me) Cicero. The doors opened (I can still hear that distinctive squeak of the door hinges) and in walked the object of my yearning at the time. He sat down beside me and helped me translate the Cicero (his favourite author) for a couple of hours, after which we repaired to Deacon Brodie's Tavern. With the unexpected turn of events I felt like Cinderella that night!

Jane Bachner King
Jane Bachner King met her husband in DHT in 1974. They returned to visit 40 years later.

Romantic chapter

An everyday interaction on campus can lead to a lifelong friendship. For Jane Bachner King, BA 1974, it was an American history class in DHT in 1974 that led to meeting her future husband. 40 years later, the pair returned to Edinburgh and took the occasion to visit the DHT lecture theatre (see photo).

Study fuel

The DHT basement café and specifically its coffee cropped up in your memories too.

Moira Calderwood, MA 1972

It seemed that every waking hour was spent in the English library on the 8th floor - especially in final honours year (1971-72). We always sat in the same place next to the same people. We had to go all the way down to the basement for our coffee, probably the only exercise we ever got!  Rumour had it that they locked the upper floor windows close to exam time but I've no idea if that was true or not! 

Liz Potter, MA 1978

Although the years I spent studying for my degree in Italian in the 1970s were some of the happiest of my life, and the Italian library on the 12th floor became a home from home, I never really warmed to the building or appreciated its architectural merits. The basement canteen in particular was a grim space selling appalling coffee, only frequented for reasons of convenience.

It's true that the views from the top were magnificent, but I always envied the students whose departments were housed in the few remaining elegant townhouses in George Square.

Election fever

While DHT has mostly accommodated students of arts subjects since its construction, we also heard from alumni who had other purposes for visiting the building.

Adam Ramsay MA (Hons) 2008, Student President 2008-09

In student elections, you have a limited poster budget. Every DHT floor is a lot but cleaners take them daily and bin them.  I worked out when, so would run up ahead of them, taking mine down, then go down putting them back up when they'd finished. Opponents were always baffled why they lost endless posters in DHT, but mine remained :)

Nigel Thomas, BSc (Hons) 1990

I'm a Physics graduate and spent my first year in the Appleton Tower but I did sit one of my Astronomy 1 exams in the DHT...it was foggy and I couldn't see the ground below (maybe it was better that way - less to distract me while sitting the exam)...and I'm sure I felt the building sway.

Beautiful from the inside

Finally, it would perhaps be remiss to end on a memory that does not allude to one of the building’s finest features – the views.

Barbara Badger (Mason), MA (Hons) 1972

 Whether in the French or German department, I have an abiding memory of watching the mid-morning sun rise behind Arthur’s Seat during tutorials on higher floors of DHT in the winters of the notorious double summer time experiment.

Big Leap abseil

Scores of staff, students and alumni will abseil down the 141 ft tall building on Sunday 18 September to raise money for a range of causes at the University. There are still a limited number of places remaining.

To register, please visit the Big Leap DHT Abseil page or contact Kerry Mackay on 0131 650 9221 or Kerry.Mackay@ed.ac.uk. Alternately, come along to George Square on 18 September and join the crowds to watch this unprecedented event take place.

Related links

The Big Leap DHT Abseil

Organise a reunion for your class group