Council buys Custom House for Leith Museum

A Leith Museum is to be created at Custom House. Pic: Scott Taylor
A Leith Museum is to be created at Custom House. Pic: Scott Taylor
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A LONG-running bid to establish a Leith museum has taken a giant leap forward after the council snapped up the prime venue.

In a landmark deal, city chiefs will fork out £650,000 for the National Museums of Scotland-owned Custom House.

The move brings an end to years of campaigning by heritage groups and paves the way to transform the A-listed building into a vault dedicated to celebrating the area’s proud history.

Culture chiefs agreed yesterday to meet the asking price from the Common Good Fund after stepping in at the 11th hour as a two-week deadline for supporters to raise the cash ­approached.

Fraser Parkinson, from the Spirit of Leithers website, said: “We are over the moon regarding the success of our campaign and we want to thank everyone who got behind it. Now the real works starts to raise the funds for the project.

“It is vital that as many people as possible get directly involved to ensure that museum of Leith represents the ambitions of all who have supported this campaign, and that it is representative of the whole community.” The next step will be to set up a Leith Museum Trust that can oversee the redevelopment of the venue, and campaigners are now in talks with the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust about the best way to achieve their dream.

Culture leader Councillor Richard Lewis said: “Our offer should secure the future of the building for public use, as a hub for the local community.

“Now the council’s bid has been accepted by National Museums Scotland, we are determined to take the project forward and identify how and when we can help open the doors to a heritage centre.”

Although the recent campaign for a museum was launched six years ago, Leithers have been fighting for something similar for several decades. It is understood that Rev Dr James Scott Marshall, minister of the Kirkgate Church between 1947 and 1973, had been among the first to moot the idea of using Custom House about 40 years ago.

John Arthur, who runs the History of Leith website, believes a museum will become a tourist destination and encourage more visitors.

He said: “The old Custom House is the best place for it. It will take some reorganisation and it will be an expensive ­business, but it has the space.

“I would like to see a museum that portrays an honest version of Leith’s history. It should present what Leith is, was and can be in the future.”

An NMS spokesman confirmed a deal had been reached.