Finding the RSGS

In the 130 years since the very first meeting of members in the Hall of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce at 11 Melbourne Place, many rooms, buildings and cities have hosted the offices and meetings of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS).

In addition to the early establishment of local branches in Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow to accommodate the strong local interest and participation in the work of the organisation, the existence of designated headquarters for the RSGS has provided an important constant in the history of the Society, as a place from which the administrative affairs of the Society have been managed and the extensive collection of books, maps and historical artefacts have been stored and made available to the public.

December 1884   80A Princes Street, Edinburgh

“By the responsibility invested in me – by the power with which I am now delegated – I declare these rooms opened.” (Henry Morton Stanley)

rsgs-ourhistory-300x218The Scottish Geographical Society was originally head-quartered in Society Rooms at 80A Princes Street, Edinburgh.  The spacious rooms, secured for use by the Society for a “nominal rate” with the assistance of James Aitchison, were opened by Henry Morton Stanley on 4 December 1884.  A letter written at the time by the Honorary Treasurer, Alex L Bruce, makes reference to the special fund created to cover the “preliminary expenses in connection to the furnishing of the rooms and the providing of books and maps for the reference library”.

Through the availability of such funds, the new rooms at 80A Princes Street were well received by members of the Society and the national press.  A brief description was featured in an article in The Scotsman on 5 December 1884: “The chambers of the Geographical Society are on the first floor of the building.  The council-room is a spacious and cheerful apartment, the windows overlooking the Mound and the West Princes Street gardens.  It is very handsomely furnished, and is appropriately decorated with maps, globes, and portraits of geographers and explorers.  The library is on the same floor, but it is still incomplete.”

June 1890   National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street, Edinburgh

Image-1.2bAfter six years on Princes Street, in June 1890 the headquarters of the now Royal Scottish Geographical Society were moved to larger premises shared conjointly with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Museum of Antiquities on Queen Street, Edinburgh.  The new premises included a library and map room, lecture hall, and an office for use by the Secretary.

In order to maximise accessibility to the collections, the map room and library were open to the public between the hours of 10:00am and 5:00pm.  The collection comprised around 8,000 books (5,300 volumes) and numerous pamphlets, reports, journals and periodicals, including publications from geographical societies around the world.  In addition to a map collection of some 4,000 separate map-sheets, the Society was described at the time as holding “a small collection of interesting geographical relics”.
Image-1.2c-300x181As well as the map and reference libraries, a lending library provided a facility for members to borrow items from the collection – two books or three volumes for up to six weeks.  According to publications by the Society at that time, the receipt of new books was “acknowledged in the Scottish Geographical Magazine issued monthly to members, so that they may see, month by month, what additions have been made to the library”.

July 1908   Synod Hall, Castle Terrace, Edinburgh

Image-1.2DThe extension to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery meant the Society had to move elsewhere, to new premises on Castle Terrace, Edinburgh, in July 1908.  The benefits of the new rooms were summarised in a letter written by the Honorary Secretaries of the Society, Ralph Richardson and J G Bartholomew, on 2 March 1909: “The New Rooms are central in position, well lighted, free from noise, and admirably adapted for all branches of the work of the Society”.  The new location meant the Society was also now based in the same hall used for its public lectures.  Despite having been based on Queen Street for 18 years, the advantages of relocating to Synod Hall meant the move was “warmly approved by the members”.

Synod-Hall-The-Library-Referencing-Department-300x204In order to finance the move, a special fund was again created, as described in a letter to the Society: “The transfer has cost a capital expenditure of not less that £300, and the council are strongly of the option that this sum should not burden the ordinary finances of the Society, but should be met by subscription of a Special Fund.  It would be unfortunate and embarrassing if the Society were compelled to realise any of its Investments for the purpose.”

In order to continue to allow access to the collections and resources, members were granted access to the Society on Wednesday evenings, between 7:00pm and 9:00pm.  This provision only remained in place until March 1909, however, as too few people made use of the privilege.

January 1962   10 Randolph Crescent, Edinburgh

The proposed demolition of the Synod Hall required the Society to relocate once more, to new premises at 10 Randolph Crescent, Edinburgh.  This was the first premises to be fully owned by the Society.  The headquarters were officially opened on 27 January 1962 and remained the home of the Society for almost three decades, during which time it received many esteemed visitors – including a visit by the Patron of the Society, Her Majesty the Queen, on 3 July 1984 as part of the centenary celebrations.  Following the Society’s move to the University of Strathclyde, 10 Randolph Crescent was sold in 1996.

October 1993   University of Strathclyde, Graham Hills Building, 40 George Street, Glasgow
rsgs-strathclyeuniIn 1993, the RSGS relocated to rented rooms at the University of Strathclyde.  This was the first time in the history of the Society that its headquarters were based outwith Edinburgh, made possible by an extraordinary change to the constitution.  The move also allowed for the establishment of The Royal Scottish Geographical Society Library of the University of Strathclyde, in the Andersonian Library.  Formally opened by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, the RSGS Library housed the vast collection of maps, journals and artefacts acquired over the years.  Such was the success of the large library and reading room that the Society’s books (excepting polar books) and journals are still housed there today.  Access to the RSGS Library is free to RSGS members…Read More

September 2008   Lord John Murray House, 15-19 North Port, Perth
Image-1.2iToday the Society is based in Lord John Murray House in Perth.  The decision to relocate to Perth reflected a desire to establish the headquarters of the RSGS in the geographical heart of Scotland, and to occupy a more expansive and accessible premises that could better accommodate future growth.  The move to Perth involved three years of planning and fundraising, and the support of Perth & Kinross Council, the Society’s members, and several charitable trusts.  The opportunity to restore and revitalise the first of two local historic buildings (the second being the adjoining Fair Maid’s House) enabled the RSGS to support the cultural revival of its adopted city and provided a valuable opportunity to restore the public face of the Society.

Image-1.2jThe RSGS’s administrative headquarters are now based over three floors at Lord John Murray House, and include a meeting room which can be rented out to local and national organisations for their own use.  The room was named in honour of the polar explorer and former RSGS secretary, Ernest Shackleton, and features an impressive bust of the great man, as well as the RSGS’s polar book collection.


July 2011   Fair Maid’s House, 21-23 North Port, Perth

Image-1.2kThe RSGS has now grown to include a new public visitor and education centre in the historic Fair Maid’s House, the renovation of which was the largest project undertaken by the Society.  Ideally located in the heart of Scotland, the centre serves as an invaluable resource to further inform and inspire people to learn more about our world.  The centre has already been used by thousands of visitors and its continued success is considered one of the most significant accomplishments in the recent history of the Society.  You can find out more about the centre, and about the project undertaken to transform this historic treasure into a functional and modern educational space, here…Read More