Leith landmark Custom House to open within months

Customs House in Leith. Picture: Scott Taylor
Customs House in Leith. Picture: Scott Taylor
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THE landmark Custom House building is set to be opened to the public before the summer as plans continue to create a Leith Museum on the site.

The announcement follows news that the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) has agreed in principle to lease Custom House from new owners the city council and transform it into a “community hub”, with a museum alongside possible offices, workshops and public rooms for events.

The warren of rooms that makes up the oldest custom house in Scotland was used by previous owners the National Museums of Scotland for storage and was out of bounds.

While the doors of Custom House have been thrown open occasionally for private organised visits and for heritage open days, it is understood that the general public have not been allowed inside for more than a decade.

But a council spokesman said the building could be opened up by “spring or summer” after repairs and cleaning work. Its rooms will be available for use while SHBT develop the project from feasibility study through to completion.

Museum campaigner ­Fraser Parkinson, of the Spirit of Leithers website, described the development as a “huge step forward”.

He added: “We are very pleased with the progress that has been made. A lot of behind-the-scenes work has gone on.

“It will be important to see how the consultation with Leithers pans out under the watchful eye of the SHBT. But this is the right thing to do and will access funding for the long-term project.”

John Campbell, Chair of SHBT Board of Trustees, has confirmed that the site will present “selected artefacts” and “interpretation displays” to highlight the historic importance of Leith as the “gateway to Edinburgh and Scotland”.

A museum on the site was the focus of the original long-running community campaign but it has not been revealed how much space will be given over this.

Campaigner Frank Ferri, 79, said he remained “apprehensive” that the original vision would be lost as commercial interests took over, and that it would be “premature” to welcome SHBT’s involvement until more was known about the final plans.

He added: “We want to see the biggest proportion of the building used for the purposes of a museum, and that the leases handed out aren’t for too long. We don’t want to be handing out leases to commercial and artistic ventures and for them to say, ‘Oops, we forgot about the museum part’. I will be monitoring the situation very closely because I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But Jim Tweedie, chairman of Leith History Society, welcomed news SHBT had agreed to be the main lease-holder. “It’s excellent news. They were the preferred organisation and will help take things forward.”

The new tenants are due to take up their lease from April 7, with the agreement going to the Finance and Resources Committee in May.