This section is intended to be a little introduction to the history of the building and its purchase for all those who are interested, and for the many who put in so much heart-felt effort towards its purchase. More research will be required for this in the future.
The Edinburgh Baha'i Centre is a large Georgian House situated right in the heart of the City of Edinburgh. Georgian Architecture covers the period of 1720-1840. When Abdu'l-Baha visited the Edinburgh in 1913, He also stayed in a similar building fairly near by.
The building was designed in about 1801 by William Sibbald. William Sibbald (elder) was a Scots architect and builder, and Superintendent of Public Works in Edinburgh from 1790 until his death in 1809. He worked with Robert Reid on the layout of the first extension to the New Town, designed Lady Yester's Church in Edinburgh (1803), whilst his son, William Sibbald (junior), built the Bank of Scotland on the Mound, Edinburgh (1802–6), to designs by Reid and Richard Crichton (c.1771–1817) and died in 1823. Further work needs to clarify which of these two William Sibbalds, father or son, was the designer.
An outline history of the building can be built up by searching the archives of the Scotsman newspaper, which extend back to 1817. The very first reference to the building is at Ridvan of 1831, and is mentioned in a great many notices throughout the years, until its final reference in 1935.
The building appears to change hands every decade or two, with public auctions of its contents followed by new people appearing as its owners. A great many of them subscribed and donated a fair amount of money to good causes, such as the Royal Infirmary, the Hospital for Sick Children, the National Relief Fund (£10 being subscribed in 1914), assistance to Serbia in combating Typhus, and the Welsh Mine Disaster.
The Milne family resided in the building from about 1850-1870. John Milne was on the Board of Examination for Schools, and there are birth notices in the Scotsman for three sons. It is most likely one of these children who engraved his own name and date in old, curly handwriting upon a window of the upper floor (see photo below):
Extraordinary as this may seem, we therefore have etched on the upper floor window the most pivotal moment in Baha'i History; for it was on this date, 2nd May 1863, as the River receded, that everyone crossed over en masse for a final farewell to Baha'u'llah as He set off from the Ridvan Garden on 3rd May in triumphant departure into exile, embarking upon His public proclamation.
Windows have always been expensive, and presumeably only a teenager would have scratched his name on a window in such a manner. From the dates of the three births, it is likely that James Milne was likely the child born in 1852, just a couple of months before Baha'u'llah was sent down into the Siyah-Chal, where the Faith was born. There may however have been other births before their arrival in the building, which genealogical records would, in time, clarify.
The period of 1910-1935 sees the building in the hands of the Spens family, of which some information can easily be discovered. William George Spens was a Glaswegian, and Secretary of the Scottish Amicable Life Assurance Company managed by his father William Spens, of whom it is said, 'Those who remember Mr. Spens cannot forget the charm and geniality of his manner, which was characterized by simplicity and gentleness very seldom met with. All his thoughts and feelings were influenced by a high sense of honour - "He bore without abuse the grand old name of gentleman."', William George was married to the Honourable Mary Catherine Borthwick, who was daughter of Lord Archibald Borthwick, de Jure fifteenth Baron Borthwick. After William's passing, Mary continued to uphold the household, losing children in the War, the building passing onto her daughter Janet Ariana ("Netta") and her husband, the Reverend Dr Arthur H Power.
Those who find coincidences a source of interest, will be intrigued to learn that the building, itself number '44, was acquired at midday of 23 May, with the old Centre selling, remarkably, the very day before the final bidding date, thus ensuring Funds were to hand for its purchase.
This is the remarkable window etching on the top floor. Much more is visible to the human eye as you move your head to catch the light through the etching at different angles, than can be successfully caught by an ordinary camera.