Anyone who has ever lived in Leith, or indeed worked there or just visited, will very soon have realised that the place has a long, fascinating, and often dramatic history. The Siege of Leith; its role in the wars with Napoleon and the American colonies; its peacetime history as a centre of industry, shipbuilding and commerce; its starring role for dramatic moments in Scottish history such as the landing of Mary Queen of Scots; and its location as the place where migrants from Scotland departed and immigrants arrived. All are examples of how Leith’s history is not just that of the port itself. In fact, the history of Leith is an important part of the history of Scotland – the place where Scotland met with the world, and still does.
That is why Leithers, and friends of Leith, are proud of its history. That pride is also an important element in the strong feeling of community so characteristic Leith.
And yet, although you can see history all around Leith, there is a noticeable absence – a place where the story of Leith is told and where the historic and contemporary links of Leith can be the basis for exciting cultural, educational and community activity. Apart from the excellent, but very small, Trinity House museum, there is hardly anything about Leith’s history.
Royal Yacht Britannia is of course also situated in Leith, and it’s an excellent place to visit, but it is essentially a national visitor attraction. Indeed, one of the concerns in Leith is that many of the visitors to Leith come down to Ocean Terminal, have an enjoyable visit to Britannia, and then go back up to Edinburgh without visiting any of Leith’s historic locations, or contributing to local businesses and the local economy.
That’s why there has been a campaign for many years to establish a Museum in Leith. Not just a local history museum, but a location which is museum and heritage centre, and potentially also a centre for education, cultural and many other activities.
The campaign has been focused on acquiring Leith Custom House, a historic building in the centre of Leith. Used for decades as storage by National Museums Scotland, it is due to become vacant next year. Local Leith groups and residents, trusts and museum campaigns, and Edinburgh City Council are now in urgent discussions to see if plans, and funds, can be put in place to allow this building of national significance to be transferred into what would be a fantastic asset, not just for Leith but for all of Scotland. It would certainly be a tragedy if this opportunity is lost.
Follow @MuseumforLeith on Twitter.
Mark Lazarowicz is MP for Edinburgh North and Leith