City Connections: Mumbai and Edinburgh

I turned 24 in January and till now I’ve visited 24+ major cities and towns across the world, but no place blew me away the way Edinburgh did. I visited this magical city (appropriately magical because part of the Harry Potter franchise was written in the Elephant House Cafe overlooking Edinburgh Castle) in the summer of 2018, knowing nothing about it, not even the correct way to pronounce its name (Edn-bruh). It quickly became my favorite city, competing with my hometown Mumbai. Thus, I decided to research and write about connections between these two, may it be architectural or related to people, companies or objects. I’ll keep updating this post over the years as I discover more.

Bright sunny day on the Royal Mile
Same day, just gloomier
Same day, bright and sunny after 30 minutes

Lets start with some context. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, a ‘home nation’ of United Kingdom. It’s a port city, just like Mumbai; it lies on the Firth of Forth’s (estuary of many Scottish rivers, meets the North Sea) southern shore. It has a population just touching 500,000 people, which is probably the population of Dadar Station in Mumbai at any given time between 9am – 7pm. The name ‘Edinburgh’ was speculated to have come from ‘Edwin’s Fort’– Edwin was the King of Northumbria in the 7th century, and ‘burgh’ means ‘Fort’– but modern day scholars agree that the name preceded King Edwin (there is no evidence that King Edwin ever visited Edinburgh!). A more accepted theory proposes that the term was coined in the 6th century, in a poem titled ‘Y Goddodin’, where ‘Din Eidyn’ is the capitol of the Goddodin people (Celtic speaking Brittonic tribe) of the region. The number ‘7’ is significant in formation of both cities: Mumbai comes from reclamation around seven islands (Colaba, Old Woman’s Island, Bombay, Mazgaon, Parel, Worli and Mahim) while Edinburgh is often said to be built on seven hills (Calton Hill, Corstorphine Hill, Craiglockhart Hill, Braid Hill, Blackford Hill, Arthur’s Seat and Castle Rock).

Seven Hills vs Seven Islands (Images via and TIFR Archive)

1.4% of Edinburgh’s population is comprised of Indians and I’m sure there are some Scottish people residing in Mumbai too. Edinburgh has a bunch of restaurants related to Mumbai: Dishoom (of its London fame; serving cuisine local to Mumbai), Bombay Bicycle Club, Cutting Chai, Bombay Lounge, Bombay Spice, Bombay Restaurant, Bombay Feast etc and I’m pretty sure I saw one related to Mumbai’s street food as well. While food is a common connection between any two cities, I wanted to explore something deeper. Not exactly knowing where to start, I relied on my own knowledge of Sir Patrick Geddes’ connection to Mumbai University (you can read my blog post “In Appreciation of Mumbai University’s Architecture” here) and further decided to start with the relationship between Mumbai University and University of Edinburgh. A few quick searches with the right keywords and this guide to Google’s search machine led to quite a few interesting results. University of Edinburgh began in 1532, making it the 6th oldest University in the English speaking world. Ranked as one of the top universities worldwide, it has the third largest endowment in the UK, only after Oxbridge. Some noted alumni include Charles Darwin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Graham Bell, David Hume etc. Additionally, many officers of the Imperial Civil Service and Imperial Forest Service of India were educated at University of Edinburgh.

Dr John Wilson. Source: “engraved by Joseph Brown from a photography by Moffatt.” – Life of John Wilson, D.D., F.R.S., for Fifty Years Philanthropist and Scholar in the East, by George Smith
Sir Patrick Geddes. Source: by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), half-plate nitrate negative, 30 December 1931 (

University of Mumbai & University of Edinburgh

Rev Dr John Wilson

A polyglot fluent in Gujarati, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Marathi, Zend (an Old Iranian language, used to write Zoroastrian religious texts), John Wilson was a graduate of University of Edinburgh, where he studied linguistics. Supported by the Church of Scotland, Wilson and his wife decided to dedicate their life to supporting Indians in getting an education and moved to the country in 1829. He is the founder of one of Mumbai’s oldest colleges– Wilson College on Gigaum Chowpatty. Another Scot from University of Edinburgh who joined him to teach chemistry at Wilson was Alexander Normand. Designed in the Gothic style (as was common in those days), Wilson College started as an English school and was later affiliated to Mumbai University. John Wilson and his wife went on to open numerous other educational institutes– from the first school for females (St Columbia High School) to language schools for students in Marathi and Hebrew (for the Bene Israel community in the Konkan region of Maharashtra). He was passionate about conserving India’s historic buildings and thus lobbied for the establishment of the Archaeological Society of India; he was later made the Honorary President of Asiatic Society in Mumbai. His writings include topics such as the culture of the Bene Isreal community in Maharashtra, buildings of Bombay, Zoroastrianism etc.

Sir Patrick Geddes

One of my favorite people to write about in this entry, Patrick Geddes is regarded as one of the world’s best urbanists. Never having finished a degree, Geddes was born in Aberdeen and taught Zoology in Edinburgh for 8 years. Although he was a biologist and sociologist, his theories influenced British town planning and he was a major part of the beginning of ‘Bioregionalism’. In fact, he introduced the concept of ‘region’ to architecture; he coined terms such as ‘conurbation’ and ‘agglomeration’ which led to classification of urban areas and allowed for strategic interventions based on ecological and sociological planning methods. Geddes was a big influence in many countries, but especially in the US and India (Lewis Mumford, the American urbanist, was influenced by Geddes, who was also his mentor). He opened the Sociology department in Mumbai University in 1919 after being invited by Lord Pentland to solve certain urban issues. He would send his sociology students on excursions in the city, as a crucial method of studying. He wrote extensive suggestions for opening up Bombay to Salsette Island (Bandra) and for the development of Thane. These suggestions were based on enthographic, cultural and spatial studies of how natives lived in Mumbai; quite unlike the approach that the British took. Such theories are being applied to town planning now, almost 100 years after Geddes started. Patrick Geddes believed that cities should be designed with the spirit of their people. Interestingly, while he was in Mumbai, he frequented Irani cafes and enjoyed Parsi theatre (I found this information by reading about Dishoom, the popular London restaurant, modeled on Bombay). If you’d like to learn more about him and his work, I’d suggest checking out the ‘Evergreen Project‘ by University of Edinburgh and University of Strathclyde.

Sir Alexander Grant

Sir Alexander Grant, 10th Baronet, a historian and educator, served as the Principal of University of Edinburgh from 1868-84, and later as Vice Chancellor of Bombay University. Born in New York City, educated in Balliol College at Oxford University, Grant moved to India in 1859. He was also appointed Director of Public Instruction for Bombay in 1965 and three years later, became a Member of Bombay Legislative Council. He is remembered through the Grant House and Grant Institute at University of Edinburgh. “Baronetcy” is a title awarded by the British Crown and is hereditary; a Baronet is addressed as ‘sir’. Grant’s title was passed on to him by his father, 9th Baronet of Dalvey. Grant taught history and political economy in India. Additionally, he wrote a book called ‘The Story of the University of Edinburgh During its First Three Hundred Years’.

St John the Evaneglist Church (Edinburgh and Mumbai)
Via Mapio and The Hindu
Sacred Heart Church (Edinburgh and Mumbai)
Via JustDial and Wikipedia
St Andrews Church (Edinburgh and Mumbai)
Via Wikipedia and Hindustam Times


While trying to find a connection in architecture, I came across three churches that have the same name. St John the Evangelist Church: a Scottish Episcopal church located at the end of Princes Street; Afghan Church (formally named St John the Evangelist Church), located in Colaba. Both Churches belong to different denominations and don’t seem to have any connect beyond their names and being dedicated to John the Apostle who is venerated in Anglican Churches. The Sacred Heart Churches come next (Mumbai seems to have three- in Worli, Santacruz and Andheri, while the one in Edinburgh is located in the city center) and are Roman Catholic Churches built in the Gothic style (or neo-Gothic, for the ones built later). The third name is ‘St Andrews Church’. St Andrews Church in Leith, Edinburgh, is one of the few Greek Ukranian Catholic parish churches in Scotland, designed in the Gothic Revival style. St Andrews Church in Bandra, Mumbai, is a Roman Catholic Church built in 1575 by Portuguese Jesuits. Bandra is part of the Salsette Island and was under Portuguese rule till 1775, when the British took over. There is a statue in one of the altars, a statue of Mother Mary holding Jesus. Famously known as Our Lady of Navigators, this statue was found by Koli fishermen in the sea (most likely it was lost while being transported from Mahim to Salsette). This information comes from a Jesuit letter written in 1669.

General Post Office, Mumbai, designed by John Begg
(Via Mah Gov)
Gateway of India designed by George Wittet
(Via Wikipedia)
Flora Fountain at Hutatma Chowk, by Richard Norman Shaw
(Via Wikipedia)

Three Scottish Architects in Mumbai

John Begg & George Wittet

It was in 1563 when the word ‘Architect’ first appeared in the Oxford Dictionary, but it was only in the late 18th century that the title ‘architect’ was recognized. It was much later that one required to be formally trained in architecture to practice, before the 1900s, artisans, engineers, mathematicians etc were also considered architects. John Begg was a formally trained architect, having studied from Edinburgh Academy in 1879, arriving in 1901 in Bombay as a Consulting Architect to Bombay after working in South Africa. His assistant, George Wittet, had studied Architecture under Mr Heiton of Perth and had worked in Edinburgh and York. Together, they evolved and popularized the iconic ‘Indo-Saracenic’ style seen in so many Colonial Bombay buildings. Favouring local craftsmanship, they combined the Gothic/Victorian architecture from their previous experience in United Kingdom with expertise of Indian builders and artisans. The common characteristics seen in Mumbai’s Indo-Saracenic architecture include onion domes, chajjas, chattris, jaalis, towers/minarets, pinnacles and ornamentation based on Mughal, Turkic, Moorish etc influences. John Begg is known for building the General Post Office and Customs House, while Wittet is known for the Gateway of India, Prince of Wales Museum, King Edward Memorial Hospital and many buildings at Ballard Estate. Begg also designed a draughtsmanship course for JJ School of Architecture, which Wittet formalized into a four year course to train architects in 1908. These two Scottish architects were instrumental is designing the cityscape of British Bombay. Unfortunately, Wittet died at a young age in 1926 in Bombay, while Begg returned to Scotland in 1921 to start his private practice. This was due to an incident in which his suggestion to not invite British architects to design New Delhi was ignored, after which he leaked the plans to the UK Press. This resulted in him almost losing his job as Consultant Architect. Back in Scotland, he received few commissions and took up the post of Head of Architecture at Edinburgh College of Art, where he remained till 1933.

Richard Norman Shaw

Although he was born in Edinburgh, Richard Norman Shaw practiced mostly in England, especially in London, Surrey and Kent. The one structure he made outside of the UK is Flora Fountain at Hutatma Chowk in Mumbai, dedicated to the Roman Goddess Flora, in 1864. When Sir Bartle Frere decided to demolish Fort due to increasing population and to improve civic amenities and services, the ‘gate’ to Fort, ‘Churchgate’ was pulled down. It stood where the Fountain is now. Made in Portland Stone, the structure depicts the Goddess Flora standing tall, four mythological creatures on its corners, 20 lion heads, local flora and is 38 feet high. An iconic landmark of Mumbai, it was initially meant to be kept in the Byculla Gardens, but later it was decided to be installed at its current location to create a plaza for the pedestrians with tram lines on each side (the tram tracks can still be seen at the plaza). Shaw designed the Fountain without having visited India before; thus, his European influences with local flora seem to be a mish-mash but nevertheless lend to a rather regal structure for an important urban plaza.

Domion Theatre
Southside Garage
Lothian House

Art Deco in Edinburgh and Mumbai

Art Deco was perhaps the last of the decorative styles before the architectural revolution that took place during the first world war. While the world was slowly moving towards modernism in the beginning of the 20th century, opulent interiors, stylish facades and ornamentation were immensely popular. Art Deco is an interesting style; it mixes rich craftsmanship with techniques of industrialization that make a rather modern type of architecture representing exuberance and glamour. It was thriving in the 20s but came to a stop by the end of World War II, after which functionality was preferred over aesthetics. Mumbai is well-known for it’s Deco buildings, sprinkled all the way from Fort to Mahim. Charcaterised by bright colours, rounded corners, geometric patterns (influenced mainly by Greek and Aztec art) painted a different color to stand out, and simplistic appliqués unlike previous styles of Art Nouveau, Baroque and Beaux Arts, Art Deco was popular in Europe and America and brought to India by the British. While Deco features prominently in Mumbai’s architectural identity, it is rather subdued in Edinburgh. There are few Deco buildings in Edinburgh, with similar characteristics as Deco in Mumbai, but from what I can tell, the facade/construction material in Scotland was kept to be of the same Georgian/Medieval stone type as the rest of the city’s architecture.

I tried to take examples of similar buildings in Edinburgh and Mumbai. The Dominion Theatre pictured above was designed by T Bowhill Gibson in the late 30s. In that period, film-watching was a popular activity and cinema fronts were meant to convey luxury. The cinema hall is still active, while the large auditorium inside has been split into smaller halls. The second picture shows the Southside Garage, designed by Sir Basil Spence. The third picture shows Lothian House, a beautiful structure that combines traditional materials with Art Deco style. At first glance, I wouldn’t have classified this as Deco; it looks pretty much like other Edinburgh buildings, but on close inspection it does have Deco features.

Regal Cinema
Karfule Petrol Pump
(Via Mumbai Mirror)
Shiv Shanti Bhuvan
(Via NYTImes)

Perhaps the most popular Deco structure in Mumbai is Regal cinema, designed by Charles Stevens in 1933. It’s still quite a popular cinema hall to go to in that area and is fairly priced. The second picture is of Karfule Petrol Pump in Ballard Estate. It is difficult to notice its Deco features; the shape of the roof, the tall structure above it (probably meant as an icon) and typography there are in the Deco style. Its name comes from ‘Car Fuel’ and it is about 80 years old– the Goan Sequeira family that owns it have made available the documentation and architectural drawings of the petrol pump, adding to the conservation effort by Art Deco Mumbai. The last structure is Shiv Shanti Bhavan which is located in the Art Deco residential district of Oval Maidan. One of the most expensive areas in Mumbai, Oval Maidan is known for its beautiful Deco buildings. This building overlooks the Maidan, the University and High Court and has the most prominent of Bombay Deco features.

Pictured above is a typical Full Scottish Breakfast (the English Breakfast is one of my favorite meals in the world) that I had in a cafe called Ensign Ewart (I think) on the Royal Mile. My trip to Edinburgh was truly memorable and I really enjoyed doing research and writing this blog entry about the connections between my two favorite cities. There are obviously more connections; Edith Pechey, part of the ‘Edinburgh Seven’ (first female undergraduates at any UK university) who went on to work at Cama Hospital in Mumbai, along with being on the committee for Bombay Natural History Society and Royal Asiatic Society; James Mill, who wrote ‘History of British India’, and several others. I hope you enjoyed the entry, the first of my ‘City Connections’ series. If you have any additions, please do comment or message me! Cheers.

Published by Simran Arora

An architect exploring cities, cultures and histories.

4 thoughts on “City Connections: Mumbai and Edinburgh

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