The Upper Hall of the University Library

The Tercentenary of the birth of James Gregory (1638-1675), Professor of Mathematics in the University of St Andrews (1668-1674) was celebrated in St Andrews in July 1938. The celebrations took place on Tuesday, 5th July 1938, at St Andrews, in the Upper Hall of the (old) University Library in which Gregory conducted many of his experiments.

We give here details of this Upper Hall. The text was prepared by Turnbull for the occasion of the Tercentenary:-

The Upper Hall of the University Library

The Library was founded in 1612 by James VI and I, but when the royal founder visited St Andrews in 1617 the building was still roofless. In 1642 Alexander Henderson gave £1,000 Scots "for the perfecting of the house appointed for the Library, and for the public school destinat for the solemn meetings of the University." The building, completed in the following year, consisted of an upper and a lower hall connected at the west end by a stairway. For upwards of two centuries it was the only common University building, as distinct from college buildings. The lower hall, in which the Scottish Parliament sat in 1645-46, has long been known as Parliament Hall. The Upper Hall was at first a long low room, lit by two almost square mullioned windows on the north, and by two or perhaps three similar windows on the south. There was also a small square window at the east end of the Hall, slightly to the south of the present fireplace. The floor was of plain unstained boards. A double-door at the west end provided the only means of access to the Hall. The Hall had no fireplace in Gregory's day. Probably heat was obtained by means of a large flat circular brazier such as was then commonly used in colleges and schools. Bookcases lined the walls between the windows. It was a typical example of the long and usually rather dark gallery so common for several centuries in Britain, and during the first century of its existence it was known as the 'Long Gallery.'

The only article of furniture now remaining in the Hall which is known to have been there in Gregory's day is his astronomical timepiece, and even this has been altered from a bracket wall timepiece to a pedestal clock of the grandmother type.

One other seventeenth century object still remains, the adjustable wall bracket which supported Gregory's telescopes [see the end of this article]; but this can hardly be described as furniture. This bracket is secured to the east side of the second window from the west in the south wall. It may reasonably be inferred from the position of this bracket, a position which seems to have remained unchanged since Gregory's day, in spite of alterations to the windows, that his timepiece was originally fixed to the wall of the same window. Further corroborative evidence that this was the window at which Gregory worked-and therefore the most likely position for his clock-is obtained from the fact that the meridian line which he scratched across the floor of the Hall starts from the base of the window, immediately to the north of the bracket.

From the University Minutes of 1700 we learn that the University took action to have a "ruinous" house adjacent to the Library in West Burn Lane removed, since it was endangering the east wall of Parliament Hall and the Upper Hall. The removal of this house permitted additional windows to be added later at the east end of the south wall of both Halls.

Between 1765 and 1767 the character of the Upper Hall was completely changed. The height of the walls was then increased and a gallery was carried along the north side and the east and west ends. At the same time the windows on the south side were heightened and arched, and two or three windows were added, and also the stonework of the frontage towards South Street, bearing niches and coats-of-arms. The great improvement in lighting from the south made it possible to dispense with the small window in the east wall and the two mullioned windows on the north side. The east window was filled in completely, but the north windows, though cloaked by bookcases, were wisely allowed to remain untouched, as constituting a characteristic feature of the original building.

At first the new gallery was not provided with windows, but early in the nineteenth century two small square windows were opened over South Street, which are now completely concealed by bookcases.

[Added Note by EFR in February 2006: In a recent refurbishment of the Upper Hall workmen removed Gregory's bracket from the wall and threw it into a skip. Fortunately someone spotted it there and it was rescued and restored to its former position.]

For other items relating to the celebrations for the Tercentenary of the birth of James Gregory on Tuesday 5th July 1938 see:

Turnbull's address
Gregory's clock

Last Updated March 2006