Thursday, 22 December 2016

Kropotkin in Edinburgh

Notes from website.

A political refugee in Great Britain, On 30 June 1876 he escaped and went to Edinburgh. and made known to Reclus the urban renewal work Geddes was undertaking there.

He lived briefly in Edinburgh, and earned a living writing for The Times and the journal Nature, but it would be another ten years before he settled in London. 

If you have read his "Memoirs," you will remember that on escaping from Russia he went direct to Granton, one of the two ports of Edinburgh, and that he lived in Edinburgh then for some time. But it could not have been on that occasion when I saw him ; much later. Probably he explained then what he was doing, but if he did I have forgotten. I put two and two together however : Stepnick appeared two are three years later (I found the Hall for him in which he made his first address to an English audience. And much later came Tcherkesoff. Now I remember what Tcherkesoff came for. Edinburgh is a garrison town with a regiment of infantry in the Castle and a regiment of cavalry in one of the outskirts; and among the officers there were always some studying Russian. These were paid a handsome premium when they succeeded. That is what brought Tcherkesoff. I have forgotten whether he was tutoring or examining. Probably all three of them came for that purpose. Former Officers of the Czar's Army would do them no harm if they were known as Prince Kropotkin and Prince Tcherkesoff.

However, in 1892 the museum was bought by Patrick Geddes: a protégée of “Darwin’s bulldog” T. H. Huxley and the professor of botany at the University of Dundee. Although Geddes had begun his career in the late 1870s as an experimental biologist he was also renowned outside the scientific community for his efforts to use he what he had learned in Huxley’s laboratory to improve conditions in Edinburgh’s slums. Inspired by the belief that evolutionary ideas could be the basis for social progress, Geddes and his wife, Anna, had moved into James’ Court – a tenement block close to Short’s Museum – during the early 1880s and set about rejuvenating the area by repairing dilapidated buildings and establishing communal gardens. Such was the success of this programme that scientific thinkers and social activists, including the infamous Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin, visited the Geddeses at James’ Court to see what they had achieved.

By way of Kropotkin, contacts were established and the brothers Élie and Élisée Reclus attended the Edinburgh Summer Meetings in 1893 and 1895 (Meller 1990, 104), of which the Outlook Tower was considered as a continuation. Geddes also viewed his “geographical museum” as an extension of the Summer Meetings, stating that, in 1898, they were “now permanent in the Outlook Tower” (Geddes 1898, 531)

 Before trying to reconstruct a visit to the Outlook Tower, we must first meet one Georges Guyou, the pseudonym adopted by Paul Reclus (1858-1941) in 1894 when he sought refuge in Scotland. He was sheltered there by Geddes (Dunbar and Rapacka 1995) in his flight from the French police, who believed that he was involved in the dynamite attacks carried out that year by the so-called “anarchistindividualists” (Bantman 2013; Maitron 1964). Trained in Zurich as an engineer, Paul, the future biographer of his famous father, Élie, and uncle, Élisée (Paul Reclus 1966), was very close to the latter. A letter he received from his uncle while he was in Edinburgh displays the sense of irony these scientists and militants possessed: Élisée Reclus (who signed with the pseudonym Jacob Jacobsen) wrote quite tickled to Guyou that the police were looking for him between Brussels and Anvers.4 According to Siân Reynolds, Paul Reclus was “one of Geddes’s right-hand men at the Outlook Tower”

Geddes’s aim was to overstep the paternalistic limits of that initiative, making University Extension the centre of a movement which stimulated in the lower classes a critical consciousness and a consequent civic engagement. In this vein, the Edinburgh Summer Schools experiment began in 1885, the main objectives of which were “the synthesis of human knowledge and the promotion of a holistic, interactive and distinctly noncompetitive approach to education”

“Situated knowledge and visual education: Patrick Geddes and Reclus’s geography (1886-1932)”, Journal of Geography, 116 (1), 2017, p. 3-19

Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) is widely acknowledged as a pioneer of regional planning (Chabard 2008a; Meller 1990; Mowson Sullivan 2012; Mumford 1995; Welter, 2002). Some scholars have pointed out and discussed his activities as a geographer and an educator (Mather 1999; Matless 1992 and 2000; Stevenson 1978): my aim is to delve deeper into this last subject, as I argue that there is still some work to be done on this topic. In fact, Geddes, 2016, “Situated knowledge and visual education: Patrick Geddes and Reclus’s geography (1886-1932)”, Journal of Geography, doi 10.1080/00221341.2016.1204347 [early view] Page 2 a polymath who believed in mobilising all scientific disciplines to improve his programme of social reformation, could undoubtedly be defined as a geographer, notably one who worked with both the network of anarchist geographers close to Élisée Reclus (1830-1905) and Pyotr Kropotkin (1842-1921) (Boardman 1944; Ferretti 2012 and 2015a), and the French exponents of the Vidal de la Blache school like Jules Sion (Clout and Stevenson 2004). Several authors have stated that the Outlook Tower, the geographical museum that Geddes opened at the top of Edinburgh’s High Street, was directly inspired by the Great Globe project proposed by Élisée Reclus for the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition

This paper draws on primary sources I was able to consult in the Geddes’s, Reclus’s and Kropotkin’s archives in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Paris, Geneva and Moscow.


Kropotkin lived in Bromley and chesham street Kemptown, Brighton.

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