Running up the Cowgate area of Edinburgh where lanes wind in and out of tall buildings one August I stumble upon the old India Buildings where in every nook and cranny a story is being dramatised. The building give me inspiration, power and permission to write stage plays.
Stone pieces are cut into shapes where fabrics were shredded to create a building that has known a number of past lives, such as a Linen Bank and Registry Office. Wedged between a trio of Jacobean buildings at the top of the steep Victoria Street this ashlar stone work has found a new purpose during the Fringe Theatre Festival, namely protecting the stories being told inside.
After a steep climb up Grassmarket it feels automatic to stumble into the timber panelled Registry Bar. This is my first taste of the historic India Buildings which tell the story of the future and carve out intriguing site specific spaces for theatre makers. Built to store items ready for shipment to India by David Cousins in 1866, the architect chisels his initials under a third floor window.
Gateshead’s Victorian Playwright Githa Sowerby’s life story is being told here in a room containing intricate plasterwork. The room is found by holding on to decorative cast-iron balustrades as audiences are lead through round arches that branch off circular balconies all the way up to the top.
The principal entrance has the inscription above it reading ‘Dominus Providebit’ or God will provide. With a bay window curving onto the street and grey slate shining in the sun, passing the building makes the spine snap straight and the eyes point upwards. Inside there is an irresistible hunt for what is new and the source of fresh concepts seems endless. The abstract leafy pattern on the stones outside let the exciting ideas on the inside breathe.
With the gateway at the base of the stairs originally intended for wooden carts it is clear that what goes into the creation of a new building is as important as what comes out. In a place where items bound for India were once stored, in a tiny room downstairs the fantasy of a shelf stacked with toys is built. Everything housed inside the India Buildings is still precious cargo.
I never mind trekking up steps now. Who knows what new horizon will be waiting at the top to be enjoyed?
More reflections on inspiration gained ffo
gardens can be found here