Landmark: McEwan Hall
Studying in the unique city of Edinburgh is an unforgettable experience. In each edition we share your memories of an iconic campus or city landmark and its role in your student days.
The McEwan Hall was completed in 1897 after what remains the biggest single gift to the University, from the brewer Sir William McEwan. Today the building is undergoing major restoration and improvement works, embracing its original purpose as one of Edinburgh’s great venues. For alumni, the hall evokes strong and sometimes surprising memories.
In Charities Week I was Convenor of the Dances. The dance in McEwan Hall was in full swing when I was called to the main entrance and a voice said “we have kidnapped Noel Coward from the Kings Theatre – can we come in?”. After the roll of drums the assembled gathering cried out “song, song, song”. Noel turned to the student band and asked, “Can you play I’ll see you again?” Amid wild cheers, a very nervous pianist struck up and Noel Coward burst into the song with his characteristic pauses, which prompted showers of pennies and ha’pennies being thrown in good humour towards the stage. He closed to thunderous applause after which he was allowed to return to his hotel.
We were sitting among the throng waiting for the graduation ceremony to begin. One of our class was on an army scholarship and was in ceremonial uniform. Suddenly there was a gasp of dismay: one friend had lost a contact lens. We all got on our hands and knees to search, including Tim – until she hissed at him to get up before he impaled us all on his spurs. He sat anxiously whilst we all crawled around him. We found the missing lens just as the dignitaries processed in.
At my graduation, a very dear but unkind friend tied my gown to the back of my seat which promptly lifted with me as I stood up to proceed to the podium for “capping”. Loud, embarrassing clunks and collapsing all round!
As an undergraduate in the early sixties I took British History and attended the hall for the June exam. I looked at the paper, which seemed even more meaningless than I had expected, and in horror I spotted the heading to the paper – Ancient History. I was in the wrong exam, the difficulty being that you could not leave an exam before half an hour had elapsed, and you could not enter an exam hall after half an hour. I realised that my correct venue was Adam House in Chambers Street and decided to make a run for it. I rushed from the hall, brushing past the servitors muttering sudden illness, made it out amid protests and, just in time arrived at Adam House, took the exam and passed. I think of that incident with a shudder, which does not diminish with the years.
Standing in the hall with headphones on and singing along to some great tunes with my friends and the rest of the silent disco crowd.
In the 1960s Tuberculosis remained a common disease in Scotland throughout all social classes. To matriculate one had to have proof of an X-ray, and the McEwan Hall was where the screening was done. Each October queues miles long snaked around the corridors with penurious students anxious to reach the head of the queue and ensure the process of obtaining their student grant could start. Many lifelong friendships and no doubt marriages started in that queue. It was one of the major social networking sites of the era.
In 1968, just after my fourth birthday I attended my father’s graduation at Aberdeen University. At the moment he received his degree, a small voice was heard to shout, “That’s my daddy”. That appeared in the Press and Journal. In 1986, this time in Edinburgh at the McEwan Hall, it was my turn to receive my degree. I had spotted my parents and like to fancy that, as I went to collect my degree, a voice from their direction was heard to say, “That’s my daughter.”