Leith museum plan wins backing

Until recently Custom House on Commercial Street has been used by the National Museum for storage. Picture: Scott Taylor.
Until recently Custom House on Commercial Street has been used by the National Museum for storage. Picture: Scott Taylor.
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a CAMPAIGN to turn one of Leith’s most historic buildings into a museum has won crucial backing ahead of “make or break” talks.

The Custom House on Commercial Street would be an “ideal location” and would be a massive draw for visitors, according to John R Hume of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).

The A-listed building dates from the early 19th century and is the most impressive custom house of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The commissioner’s comments, which have given fresh hope to campaigners, follow a devastating announcement from the National Museums of Scotland that it intends to quit the building it uses for storage and sell it.

Professor Hume said: “In my view the Custom House is ideally placed to become a focal point both for Leithers and for visitors.

“It could help to draw visitors to see the place’s remarkable interlinked collection of buildings worth seeing and visiting, such as Trinity House, South Leith Parish Church, Lamb’s House and the old Leith Town Hall.

“It could also be a place in which to celebrate the 
cultural diversity and richness of Leith. And perhaps most of all it could become a beautiful, much-loved place for people to meet and enjoy – at the moment there is no such place in central Leith.”

Plans to acquire and develop the building on Commercial Street as a museum have been mooted many times over the years, but they have been given a renewed urgency now that the current occupiers plan to move out by April next year.

Alex Wilson, chairman of the Leith Business Association, believes the high-profile support could prove to be a crucial turning point for the campaign.

He said: “Prof Hume sums up what everybody is saying. There is an almost universal view that this is the right place – Leith needs this.

“Agencies and marketing groups have all concentrated on the Old and New Towns and I regard it as an affront that Leith has been sidelined.”

Campaigners want a Leith Museum to chart the history of the area, as well as honour the achievements of famous modern personalities associated with Leith.

It would also celebrate landmark occasions in Leith, 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.

Mark Lazarowicz MP, chairman of the Campaign for a Leith Museum, said it was now or never if they were going to seize hold of the building.

“It is make or break time for a museum in Custom House,2 he said. “If we can get the initial backing to get the project under way, I think it can and will happen. But if we don’t get backing in time, the opportunity may be lost for good.”

john.connell@edinburghnews.com