Polymath or ' man o' many pairts ', he was a biologist by training. In his early 20s Patrick left the security of family and home in Perthshire for University College London to study with his chosen teacher, the eminent biologist and evolutionist T.H.Huxley. The evolution of man as a social being underpins the Geddes Philosophy and led Patrick into Sociology, Economics, Town Planning but in all his endeavours, he was first and foremost an educator. In his own words, " Nothing inspires me more to write long letters than enquiries for advice about education."
Why isn't Patrick Geddes better known? Some say he was a great mind born out of his time. The world wasn't ready for his ideas. P.G. was a Holist. He saw education as a coming together of experiences and ideas to create an integrated system much greater than its parts. He explained this as starting with Sympathy or understanding of ones fellow man and the environment, followed by the coalescing( Synergy ) of disciplines of learning and finally a building up ( Synthesis) into a connected whole. He symbolised the three Ss as three Doves, the recognised symbols of Peace but his ideas fell on deaf ears. Narrow specialisation , which he abhorred, was the route to academic recognition. He did not conform to the mores of academia and to his contemporaries his thinking was undisciplined, eccentric and unworthy of their respect.
Undaunted, P.G., a powerhouse of intellect and energy, blazed his course from project to project at home and abroad for half a century. Just as, in almost every branch of learning, Scotland has made her influence felt far outside her boundaries, so also did Patrick Geddes.
Before considering the legacy of P.G. what of the man?
His life long love and respect for the world of nature and the importance of beauty in human lives was nurtured by his father as they worked together in the garden of their cottage home and roamed the Perthshire hills giving splendid views over the Tay valley. In years to come the concept of "nature starvation" producing "stunted adults" became part of his philosophy. He believed that if education was to "civilise" men to peaceful coexistence it must include direct contact with the natural world .
Being a student of T.H. Huxley opened doors for him to study in Paris and Britanny in the late 1870s. From then on and for the rest of his life, he was an ardent Francophile enjoying an empathy with France and French intellectual ideas which greatly influenced his thinking.
The title of one of the biographies of Patrick Geddes is " A most unsettling person ", an apt description of this driven human being but he was also a loving and loveable man.
He married Anna Morton in 1886 when he was 32 years old. Anna was a constant support and solace in his turbulent life. Patrick and Anna had three children, first a daughter Norah then two sons Alasdair and Arthur. The Geddes home life was happy though never serene.
Patrick was mentor to many loyal friends who tried to keep his feet on the ground but so often, with recognition within his grasp he would fly off into a new project. In modern parlance, he lacked marketing skills for himself and his ideas. John Ross, a good friend of P.G. writes in a letter, " Each new scheme instead of bringing you help and credit tends to harass and discredit your energy. With you at all times the brain is too far ahead of the hands. You require colleagues who can utilise this tendency." He never found them in his lifetime.
The legacy of Patrick Geddes is diffuse. His archive in the University of Strathclyde comprises some 45 metres of manuscripts, pamphlets, books and 3,500 maps, plans, photographs, prints, drawings. His projects took him to Europe, Middle East, India and westwards to America.
Throughout his life, he was much sought after as a lecturer and as early as 1885 was tackling questions of social injustice and travelling from Edinburgh to share London platforms with the designer William Morris and the great British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, men twenty and thirty years his senior and of established reputation.
Back home in Edinburgh as well as teaching at the university he pioneered the first residential accommodation for University students in Scotland. He believed it was an essential part of education for students to live together and talk together. His motto was ' Vivendo Discimus', by living we learn.
The residential project involved regenerating old properties in the High street and later, he commissioned the building of Ramsay Garden complex next to the castle, where he and Anna had a flat with an inspiring view. He acquired Edinburgh's Outlook Tower with its Camera Obscura and mounted his Civic Survey of Edinburgh exhibition in the three galleries of the tower. P.G. was a committed believer in the exhibition as a vehicle of education.
a Town and Gown association which, with improved residential accommodation,
flourished over a period of 10 years ( 1887-1897 ) and incorporated
an international summer school in August attended mainly by teachers
from America, France and Germany. He was never happier than when he
had " a sizeable flock under his wing and the means by which to
house and educate them."
In the same year, P.G. was invited by the French botanist Charles Flahault, with whom he had worked in Britanny in his student days, to visit the Botanical Institute in Montpellier which Flahault had founded. This was to be a very significant visit for Patrick. He fell in love with the the old university city , its architecture, its maritime history, complimented by a gentle climate and aromatic vegetation. His belief in the value of international co-operation was reinforced and in 1895 he founded a Franco Scottish Society in Edinburgh which thrives to this day as does the Association France-Ecosse in Montpellier. It's President today is an energetic Scot , Viviano Rossi, in some respects in the mould of P.G.
In Jan.1897 when life seemed to be in a ' settled ' phase, Patrick responded to a call for help. He and Anna left their children in the care of a trusted friend in Edinburgh and headed for Cypress to help refugee Armenian farmers, victims of Turkish persecution. They worked for three months before returning home, greatly affected by the experience. To see an area in an impoverished condition provoked P.G. to act.
Possibly his Armenian projects, as well as being a humanitarian response, sowed the seeds which germinated into Survey and Town Planning as a vehicle of education. From then on, he collaborated with others and can justifiably claim his part in what became the Town and City Planning Act of 1909. It empowered local authorities for the first time to prepare Town Plans.
Andrew Carnegie gifted the Pittencrieff estate to the people of Dunfermline,
where he was born. The trustees invited P.G., and others to submit proposals
as to how the gift should be developed to benefit the people. Patrick
Patrick was often asked to design gardens and advise on planting. The designers of the Garden Cities in England in the early 1900s acknowledged this and the influence of Geddes' theory of survey in Town Planning . In 1910, The Town Planning Conference, sponsored by the Royal Institute of British Architects, was held in Burlington House, London. A gallery was set aside for Patrick Geddes to demonstrate his method of city survey. He felt his Cities and Town Planning exhibition was a 'culmination point' in his work and he was "gratified to be contributing to an important practical development like the new planning movement." At this time he was offered a knighthood which he refused, Such honour did not rest comfortably with him.
dark days of 1914 P.G. received a request which completely changed the
course of his life and took Anna and he far from their family and home
Anna became ill in 1917 and went to stay with friends in Calcutta, while P.G. travelled to Amritsar and Islamabad educating town planners. On one of his travels he received the news that Alasdaire had been killed in action. On his return to Calcutta, Anna was frail and he kept the news from her. She died on the 8th.June 1917.
P.G. returned to Scotland in the Spring of 1919., in his 65th. year, a broken man . He had lost two people whom he loved dearly and he felt as alienated as ever from mainstream educational thinking in Britain. His valedictory lecture at Dundee was ill attended.
low point in his life, he writes to his lifelong friend and colleague,
Richard Branford about why their ideas did not take root.
saved from depression by an invitation to plan the new university and
environs in Jersulam, claimed by many to be his greatest commission
and to have produced his finest work. He was in Jerusalem by mid September
1919, reinvigorated and inspired. The same year, he met the young American
writer and critic, Lewis Mumford who had contacted Outlook Tower in
1916, about the summer school but didn't meet P.G. until he returned
from India. Lewis, then 24 years old describes his first meeting with
to be P.G.'s biographer but he soon realised that P.G. wanted more.Mumford
continues, "He was desperate to find someone to transform the accumulated
seekings and findings of a lifetime into an orderly readable form."
Patrick made a final visit to India with his son Arthur who writes about
seeing him onto the boat for his return on 13th. March 1924.
After a period of convalescence in a Swiss sanatorium he was recovered enough to attend a Town Planning Conference in Amsterdam in July 1924. He went on to lecture in London at a Conference of Living Religions. Doctors advised against a cold northern winter, so in the Autumn of 1924, in his 70th. year he moved to Montpellier where he and Anna had always found comfort and affection.
P.G. bought land on a hill giving a superb view over the city and built a house which indulged his love of small scale castellation and incorporated an Outlook Tower. The walls bear symbolic shields decorated with the thistle, fleur de lys, three doves and the motto ' Vivendo Discimus '. The house became the Scots College (College Ecossais). Patrick Geddes lived and taught there until his death in 1932. Many international students at Montpellier University studied with P.G. Others came to stay awhile as part of their wider education and helped to create the symbolic garden.
Patrick Geddes returned to London to receive the Knighthood that he had once refused. He died ,shortly after his return to Montpellier, on the 17th.April 1932.
the College Ecossais is aptly incorporated into the Department of Education
of Montpellier University . It shares campus with the Department of
Architecture of the University. Sadly the Outlook Tower has become offices
instead of housing a Patrick Geddes Exhibition and the symbolic terrace
garden is in need of restoration.
In this troubled world at the beginning of the 21st. Century, the life work of this remarkable Scot has much to teach us. On this, his150th birthday let due tribute be paid.