A Portal to Edinburgh’s Past

A group of young people from Edinburgh College are bringing the city’s World Heritage Site to life, using their digital, musical, dancing, design and cookery skills to open up a portal to Edinburgh’s past.

The collaborative project with Historic Environment Scotland is inspired by the Year of Young People, and involves over 100 students from the College’s computing, dance, music, costume design, and professional cookery courses. The idea is to produce new creative work inspired by the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site.

The results will be showcased in an interactive exhibition in the historic setting of Riddle’s Court, a sixteenth century house recently restored and opened as the Patrick Geddes Learning Centre.

Delving into history

The students are working from material based on two historical periods, a royal banquet held at Riddles Court in 1598 for King James VI, and a handling kit revealing the everyday lives of people in Georgian Edinburgh.

There are several surviving relics that help to tell the story of the banquet at Riddle’s Court. A painted ceiling of the period still survives in the building, probably decorated specifically for the event. A recent find has been the location of the kitchens used for the royal feast, now incorporated into a disabled toilet. Edinburgh City Archives also hold the shopping list for the event, an entry from the burgh treasurer’s accounts that shows the expenses involved in hosting the king.

The ‘Auld Reekie Through the Keyhole’ kit looks at eighteenth century Edinburgh through the lives of eight different characters. They are drawn from a cross-section of society, from nobility, to middle class shopkeepers and the humble caddie. The objects and resources in the kit are designed to reveal their lifestyles, and the growing contrast between the Old and New Towns in the late Georgian period. 

Meet the students

Johanna Padron is an artist in residence at Edinburgh College, specialising in dance, and for her the historic setting is most inspiring. She said: “I am particularly fascinated with the venue. Riddle’s Court is rich in history, and the character of the place makes it unique. As a dance artist, I find site-specific works really stimulating.”

“As a recent graduate I am hoping to gain a real-world experience. Site-specific work has a kind of flexibility, more than performing onstage, and inviting the audience to join us in a dance excites me a lot.” 

Marcello di Candida is studying Theatrical Costume Design, and for him the project offers a chance for personal development. He said: “The project is interesting because it allows students to challenge our creative skills, engage with a social environment, and improve our research and team-work skills.”

Marcello is also intrigued by the opportunity to use the past as inspiration for new designs: “I think the project has great potential because it allows us to explore two different historic periods, and recreate costumes belonging to different social classes.

“It will be good to use historic references influenced by modern elements. For example, the costumes’ style could be inspired by the fashion of its period, with modern materials and fabrics, reflecting a more contemporary feel.”

Take a trip through the portal

The final interactive exhibition showcasing all the students work will be held at Riddle’s Court on 29 May 2019. Performances, digital storytelling, augmented reality, and hands-on activities will all offer a contemporary take on the city’s World Heritage Site.

The exhibition is a part of the College’s Glow Festival, a two-month creative festival taking place at some of the most iconic venues across Edinburgh which runs until 1 July, featuring a variety of performances and exhibitions by Creative Industries students. Find out more: www.edinburghcollege.ac.uk/glow