Campaigners eye dedicated museum for Leith

Leith has a rich history. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Leith has a rich history. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A group of local history buffs are hoping to provide, for the first time, a centre to celebrate the changing tides of Leith.

The Spirit of Leithers – a team dedicated to the area’s past, present and future – has rolled out a petition calling for the Customs House on Commercial Street to become a treasure trove of artefacts.

A spokesman for the group said: “The town of Leith has for decades needed its own dedicated museum. There is a rich history to the Port of Leith stretching back hundreds of years. There are many exhibits stored in dark rooms never seeing the light of day. We need to ­celebrate this history through a museum for Leith.”

The museum would honour the achievements of famous Leithers such as The Proclaimers and writer Irvine Welsh.

It would also celebrate landmark occasions over the years, including the visit of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1561, the attempted attack by the American navy during the War of Independence in 1779, the Siege of Leith from 1559 to 1560 and Leith’s controversial merger with Edinburgh in 1920. Already, the petition has been signed by 220 people.

The idea of using the Custom House as a museum, which is supported by Sir Tom Farmer, is backed by Leith History 
Society.

Society chairman Jim Tweedie said: “There’s a huge maritime history in Leith and we would like to see this celebrated. It’s a matter of looking for premises, and the one we’re interested in is the Custom House, but we have to wait for National Museums Scotland – who are using it for storage – to move out. A previous estimate of the cost of establishing the attraction was £10 million.

A facility for Leith’s maritime past already exists – Trinity House – but access is by appointment only. The new museum would be open to the public and about the whole area.

Edinburgh North MP Mark Lazarowicz, chairman of the Leith Museum Company, a body formed to complete the plan, said: “I welcome the interest shown by those who have signed the ­petition. We hope the museum will get some government support because the Custom House is ultimately owned by the government.

“The aim is to have a museum with a focus on ­maritime history but also Leith through the centuries.

“I’m certain there’s an audience – every time the issue is raised people are very interested in the possibility.”

National Museums Scotland is drawing up plans for a new storage facility in Granton.

A spokeswoman said: “In the past we have met with a number of local representatives keen to establish a Leith Museum. For many years it has been our long-term aim to bring all our stored collections on to a single site at the National Museums Collection Centre at Granton.”

A wealth of artefacts for exhibition

WHAT would you put in a Leith museum? Here’s some of our ideas.

The Proclaimers’ glasses: the signature look of Leith’s famous musical duo.

The first Kwik-Fit sign: Sir Tom Farmer opened the first branch of the car servicing company in McDonald Road in 1971.

A medal or shirt won or worn by one of the Famous Five: the Hibs quintet led the Easter Road side to three league championships between 1948 and 1952.

The first rules of golf: first recorded rules of the game were created by the golfers playing at Leith Links in 1744.

A whale’s narwhal: representing the whaling industry.

First edition of Trainspotting: the modern classic by Leith-born Irvine Welsh.