EINSTEIN is said to have taken great pride in standing on the staircase former professors Adam Smith and Joseph Lister had ascended every day when he was gifted an honorary degree.

In its grounds on Gilmorehill is the former home of world renowned physicist Lord Kelvin, which was the first house in Scotland that had electric cables running through it.

The 278ft tower was originally designed to have a clock face before the son of architect Gilbert Scott – who died before it was completed – realised it was a little too high.

Just some of the intriguing facts visitors learn on a tour of the fourth oldest English speaking university, led by final year student Alex Ewing, one of 10 paid guides.

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The 20-year-old says the tours attract a mix of tourists, former students (like me) and people who live in Glasgow who are intrigued to learn a bit more about the history of one of the city’s most striking buildings. With a few Harry Potter fans thrown in, lured by the building’s resemblance to Hogwarts.

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Alex said: “It’s such a weird mix. We get quite a lot of Americans and Canadians. The  majority are not UK nationals.

“But we also get a lot of people from Glasgow who have never been on campus which is really nice.”

The tour focuses on the old buildings and begins next to a full model of the university where Alex explains the university’s earliest beginnings.

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King James II (1430-1460) used his influence and Royal favour to assist Bishop William Turnbull in founding the university in 1451, referring to it as, “our most beloved daughter.”

Alex said: “It was so small that the entire university fitted inside one room at Glasgow Cathedral and there was just 24 students.

“It then moved to High Street to a building gifted by Queen Victoria and stayed there for many years until the mid 19th century.

“As the shipbuilding industries took off a great many workers were being drawn to live and work in Glasgow and the city centre became overcrowded.”

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The university moved from High Street to the existing Gilmorehill site in 1870. The Gilbert Scott Building (the University’s striking main building) is named after its designer Sir George Gilbert Scott, a leading figure in the Gothic Revival movement who designed many of the University’s buildings in the late 19th century.

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Above the main central doorway, a plaque carries the University`s badge and motto Via, Veritas, Vita (the way, the truth, the life).

Sir George died before the building was finished, but his son John Oldrid Scott, a famous architect in his own right, completed the building in 1891. This included the University’s iconic tower, which stands 278 feet high.

Alex said: “Gilbert Scott was a controversial choice at the time because he was English.However, he had designed other buildings including St Mary’s Cathedral on Great Western Road so there was a link.

It was originally blonde sandstone but over time has taken on a darker, distinctive colour, which would never be cleaned according to Alex.

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The tour moves from the John Macintyre building which was the original site of the women’s student union to the square which now houses law (and includes a mock court room) staff offices and the university chapel.

However, it was once better known as 'Professors' Square' because  lecturers were gifted free homes. The most famous resident was Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) who enrolled at the university as its youngest ever student at just ten.

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He went on to become one of the most important physicists of the 19th century playing key roles in everything from thermodynamics and electric lighting to the age of the Sun and his name is embedded in the city’s West End.

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Alex said: “Entering university would have been a incredibly different experience to what it is today. Students would have been enrolling in the professor’s living room.

“You would apply to study at Glasgow University. You didn’t choose a specific subject and lecturers were paid at the door. There are good stories in the archives of lecturers running home to their houses with wallets full of the day’s takings.

“Lord Kelvin lived at number 11 and it’s said that tudents walked out during his lectures because they didn’t understand what he was saying and apparently he wasn’t very good at explaining things.

“His house was the first in Scotland to be laid with electric cables.”

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Tour guides face a week of intensive schooling before they are ready to take groups. And while guides use a script, Alex is more than happy to take questions and there isn’t much she can’t answer.

She said: “The training is intensive. It was nine to five every day for a week.

“We had to learn the full script and practise the full tour every day and you have to get 90 percent in the exam.”

We turn towards the memorial chapel, built in 1929, which is now a popular wedding venue but only accessible for former students and staff. The staircase on the far right was taken from the original High Street building but now turns to the left into the chapel instead of originally veering right.

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Alex then takes the group to the back of the old buildings to what was once the ‘front door’ of the university, which affords spectacular views of the city including Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Above the main door is the crest of Bishop Turnbull, one of the university’s original benefactors, who was given a bull turning its head owing to his modest family background.

There are just a few more stops on the tour, which runs for just over an hour but is jam-packed with interesting details.

We pause at the statue of Adam Smith, the pioneer of political economics at the foot of the staircase leading to Bute Hall, which is off limits to students unless they are sitting exams.

As well as gaining his university matriculation card at just ten and lecturing he was also university rector and had responsibility for the institution’s accounts.

Alex said: “His name pops up everywhere in the uni. He never married or had any children and lived with his mother.” 

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She points out that on his statue, one button of his waistcoat is left undone and we are left to ponder the reason why.

There is a brief stop in the Cloisters, the university’s most photographed area, which was built in the 1900s and is directly below the magnificent Bute Hall, which was completed by Charles Randolph, who was given a smaller hall in his name.

We are encouraged to visit the free Hunterian museum, built in honour of the ‘father of anatomy’ William Hunter, before the tour ends at the main gates, where the names of more recent, 20th century graduates including Scotland’s former First Minister Donald Dewar are engraved in gold leaf.

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Tours are priced £10 for adults with concessions available and depart from the University gift shop at 11am and 2pm from Tuesday to Sunday. To book go to www.uofghistoricaltours.co.uk or call 0414 330 5360.