Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Renovation Stirs Spirits at Edinburgh Landmark

deadlinescotland - Staff at a top boutique hotel believe they may be accommodating some extra guests after hearing strange noises coming from the basement.

They also said they felt a “strange chill” while fetching linen from an underground cellar in the basement of Fraser Suites in Edinburgh.

The apartment-hotel, situated in the city’s Old Town, lies just yards away from the notorious Mary King’s Close network of subterranean tunnels, where it is rumoured that plague victims were buried alive.

Paranormal experts now believe the spooky site could be another example of Edinburgh’s chequered past – famous for being riddled with death and mystery.

The site was once the offices of the Edinburgh Courant, one of the UK’s first regional newspapers, and latterly serving as a council building until 2007.Fraser Suites Edinburgh assistant manager Laura Richardson said: “We have been using a basement storage room for linen and sheets.


“That space is fine, but there is a door in the room that leads into something that may once have been an underground coal cellar.

“Some of the housekeeping staff have reported hearing strange thumps coming from behind the door a couple of times – and when you go into the old cellar there is a strange chill at a certain spot in the room.”

The 75-bedroom apart-hotel, which opened in November, only recently opened its underground cellar during the renovation.

It has old red brick walls and a narrow stone chute from the street above, which was once used by draymen to deliver coals to the building.

Mark Turner, paranormal investigator for Ghost Finders Scotland, said: “There is a huge amount of history and tales of human suffering linked to old Edinburgh. Spirits are tied to this life because of suffering or unfinished business, so this is perhaps why the city has had so many reports of ghosts.


“Mary King’s Close and the vaults are very close to St. Giles Street and there have been several paranormal occurrences recorded in these sites.

“Our investigations have uncovered phenomena such as people feeling invisible hands pushing them in one particular vaults room nearby, or people hearing footsteps when there is nobody there.

“Considering there is quite a high amount of paranormal activity in the area, it is quite feasible that there might be something at the Fraser Suites Edinburgh hotel.”

Laura added: “It was very hot at times this summer but whenever anyone went down to the old cellar there was always a spot where it was icy cold.

“It is very odd because the rest of the hotel always had an even temperature – and there have never been any other strange goings on in the rest of the building.

“It is a little bit spooky to think we may have a couple of extra, unpaying guests.

“But the door is kept locked and we don’t use the space, so will be looking ensure they very much stay in the basement.”


Sir Patrick Geddes

The boutique hotel, which held its official opening in November, is also just a few minutes walk from the Heart of Midlothian. The heart-shaped design of the cobble stones near St Giles Cathedral marks where the entrance to the Tolbooth was once located - and is a must-visit site for young lovers wandering down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.

The Fraser Suites Edinburgh building dates back to the 1860s when it housed the Edinburgh Courant - one of the first regional newspapers in the UK and whose editors included Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe.

Acclaimed architects Holmes restored the historic building from a derelict shell to a luxury boutique-style hotel

Renovating old buildings can often throw up some unpleasant surprises.

But the developers of a new hotel in the heart of the Capital got a more welcome surprise when they uncovered three beautiful stained glass window panels, featuring doves and roses arranged around a central Saltire.

And a Latin legend across the bottom of the central window has led experts to agree the panels are almost certainly linked to the work of one of Edinburgh's most famous citizens, Sir Patrick Geddes.

The building on St Giles' Street, which has been transformed into the Fraser Suites Hotel, was formerly used by the city council, although large parts of the building had been empty for years.

The three stained glass windows are thought to have been obscured for decades and only came to light when they were discovered partly boarded up and almost completely covered by dirt.

The central window of the trio bears the inscription "Vivendo Discimus", Latin for "by living we learn". This was the motto used by Sir Patrick Geddes, who was celebrated across the world for his innovative thinking in the fields of urban planning and education.

Part of the building was also St Giles' House, which was later used as student accommodation, providing the clearest link to Geddes and his work in Edinburgh as Geddes pioneered the first residential accommodation for university students in Scotland.

John Lowrey, senior lecturer in architectural history at the School of Arts, Culture and Environment at the University of Edinburgh, said the find was "historically very important".

"The windows are definitely a Geddes connection if the stained glass bears the legend 'vivendo discimus'," he said.

The developers of the new hotel have ensured the

Geddes panels are a key feature in one of the hotel's top suites.

Fraser Suites Scottish regional manager Heather Gilchrist said: "

When we discovered the windows we wanted to make a feature of them – and the best place for them was to use them as the centrepiece in one of our exclusive suites.

"It means that anyone staying in the room will know they are very much living and breathing an important part of Edinburgh's history."


Born in Ballater in 1854, Patrick Geddes was brought up in Perth. He started his career in banking but went on to study botany and by 24 was a biologist of great promise.

He was sent on a research mission to Mexico, but fell ill there and ended up working at Edinburgh University. His wide interests – including town planning, politics, social thinking and literature – led him into a number of innovative urban renewal projects.

In Edinburgh, he protected more than 70 sites, including Lady Stair's Close, plus many other Royal Mile closes.

He also developed and played a large part in much of the renovation of the Capital's Royal Mile including the building of Ramsay Garden next to Edinburgh Castle.

He was also instrumental in the design of Edinburgh Zoo, creating more natural environments for the animals, separating them from the public by moats rather than the usual cages typical of Victorian menageries.


The hotel, which officially opened its doors last November, is located in the heart of the city’s Old Town – just a few hundred yards away from the ancestral home of Scotland’s kings and queens, the site of the city’s most notorious underground prison and the hunting grounds of some of Edinburgh’s nefarious criminals.

The Victorian-era building also sits directly above one of the city’s most haunted hidden streets, Mary King’s Close – a former plague-ridden thoroughfare in Edinburgh’s Old Town which has been the focus of numerous paranormal investigations and historical surveys in recent years.

Heather Gilchrist, Regional General Manager Frasers Hospitality Scotland, said: “There aren’t many venues in Scotland – let alone Edinburgh – that can boast as much history as our new hotel. It’s location in the heart of the oldest part of the city makes it the ideal place for visitors interested in Edinburgh’s heritage to come and stay.

“The building that Fraser Suites Edinburgh is actually located in was originally the home of some of the city’s major newspapers, and the street we are located on - St Giles Street - was often referred to as the Fleet Street of Scotland. It’s an area brimming with historical interest and that has graced many famous figures from throughout the ages.

“For those who like to explore things a little spookier, we’ve also got one of the city’s most haunted streets just a few yards away and our very own cellar could be harbouring a resident ghost or two. Some of our housekeeping staff have reported hearing strange thumps coming from behind the door a couple of times – and when you go into the old cellar there is a definitely strange chill at a certain spot in the room.

“I’m certain that anyone looking to explore the historical heart of Scotland’s capital city will not find a better place to stay than Fraser Suites Edinburgh.”

St Giles Street was initially created during the construction and subsequent remodelling of the Bank of Scotland Headquarters by renowned Scottish architect David Bryce in the 1860s.

The 12-18 St. Giles Street part of the hotel was designed by Bryce in 1871 as the head office for the Edinburgh Courant newspaper - one of the earliest regional newspapers in Britain which counted Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe as one of its editors. Fraser Suites Edinburgh has now secured a rare early copy of a Courant which is to be put on display.

From the late 19th century until the middle of the 20th century, St. Giles Street was the ‘Fleet Street of Scotland’, hosting (over the years) the offices of not only the Edinburgh Courant and Edinburgh Daily Review, but also the Glasgow News, Glasgow Herald, Glasgow Evening Citizen, the Edinburgh Daily Mail and the Mercat Press.

During the refurbishment - in which much work was done to retain the original features, including restoring high ceilings and ornate cornicing – a number of long-forgotten features were discovered. These included a set of stained glass panels celebrating one of Scotland’s most famous sons, Sir Patrick Geddes, who was celebrated across the world for his innovative thinking in the fields of urban planning and education.



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