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.

Photograph: Allan Warren
Photograph: Allan Warren

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.

John Brown
MA Economics 1955

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.

Margaret Wyllie
English Language & Literature 1974


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!

Vivian Clement
LLB 1972

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.

David Smith
MA 1965, LLB 1967 Dr(hc) 2000


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.

Morag Garden
BSc Environmental Chemistry 1995


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.

Margaret Allen
MBChB 1971


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.”

Tracy Eglin
MA Arts 1986

Comments on “Landmark: McEwan Hall”

    Donald HM Fraser, BVM&S, MPhil, PhD, MRCVS says:
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    At the risk of being open to accusation of trying to cap Tracy Eglin’s excellent story, may I add that when I entered the McEwan Hall in December 1965 for my first examination I had an overwhelming feeling of deja vue. I instantly recalled being somewhere high up in the gallery, aged three, at my father’s 1951 graduation and my mother getting me to sit up when the actual moment of ‘capping’ arrived. Many years later, when telling the story to the senior partner of the vet practice I had just joined, himself a graduand on the day, he said, “Yes, I remember that, and especially a small voice bringing the house down with the cry ‘that’s my daddy!'” Happily, or perhaps otherwise, no repeat performance at my own graduation in 1971, or that of my son Edmund in 2013.

    Elspeth Paterson says:
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    Another family memory of the McEwan Hall:
    My grandmother Dr Edith Paterson (nee Irvine-Jones) told me she draped her hands over the edge of the gallery of the McEwan Hall in 1909 at the age of 8 when her father, Dr Henry Irvine-Jones, received his MD; she hoped he would see her new white gloves of which she was very proud. She herself graduated in medicine from Edinburgh in, I think, 1923. She attended the McEwan Hall again in 1993 when I graduated MBChB.

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