Snapshots of Leith past and present merge in fascinating new book
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Leith has played a prominent role in Scottish history throughout the ages. As the major port serving the Capital it has been the stage on which many significant events have taken place, seeing civil war, being the port of call for royal arrivals and becoming its own burgh. However, it’s to the Port's more recent history that Gillon and Parkinson look in their new book, Leith Reflections, an exciting collection of historic and modern pictures they have merged to reveal how the area has changed over the last hundred years or more.
Each of the 180 images reprinted in the publication combine a recent colour view of Leith with the matching sepia archive image. Through the split-image effect, readers see how streets, buildings, the docks and everyday life have transformed and evolved with the passing of time.
And who better to present this fascinating visual chronicle and ingeniously reveal glimpses of past than Gillon, who has been involved in the conservation of the city’s heritage of historic buildings for around 30 years, and Parkinson, who runs the hugely popular Spirit of Leithers page on Facebook.
Some of the most striking images in the collection are presented here, how many scenes do you recognise?
In one, on page six, a horse drawn tram passes Leith Central Station, long a landmark of the Port and while parts of the station building remain, the four platforms, which were 15ft above street level, are long gone, replaced by a supermarket.
The dramatic change in the Kirkgate, Leith's very heart, is captured in merged shots of the corner of St Andrew Street on page 16. The array of cigarette adverts on McLaggan's corner shop contrast starkly with the brutalist steps leading to Linksview House.
One thing that has remained constant throughout the years in the Kirkgate is Trinity House, built between 1816 and 1818, although as the image on page 17 shows, everything around it changed beyond all recognition.
Over the page, the shops that once lined Tolbooth Wynd, one of the oldest streets in the Port, dating back to 1565, are captured in an atmospheric shot showing Leithers going about their everyday business in ghostly sepia.
A good shot for getting your bearings can be found on page 22 where a picture of the Central Fruit Store on the corner of St Anthony Street, which disappeared in the Sixties, illustrates how the street was consumed by the New Kirkgate.
To The Shore next, and kids gather on the Upper Drawbridge over the Water of Leith on page 36. Built in 1787, the bridge remains to this day, albeit in a very different form.
Another bridge features on page 41, Bernard Street Bridge where, as a Lothian bus turns onto The Shore, a Corporation tram trundles along the old swing bridge, replaced in the 1960s.
Page 50 boasts views along Great Junction Street. It's a view that hasn't changed all that much in 100 years, although if you look to the right you'll spot the tenements that once stood where Boots The Chemist is now.
The Leith Provident Cooperative Society takes centre spot on page 54, built in 1911, its turreted clock tower may be unchanged but can you remember your 'Provi number?
Finally, looking in the other direction, the view over the Great Junction Street Bridge from 1904 - on page 61 - brings a reminder that there were once shops on both sides of the bridge, overhanging the Water of Leith, while the station building and steps down to the platform can be seen on the right.
Other images gathered in the collection chart the changes to Commercial Street, Bernard Street and, of course, the most photographed Leith scene ever, the fit o' Walk, and offering a fascinating wander down many streets that now live on only in these images and the memories of those old enough to have walked them.
Leith Reflections is published by Amberley Books and available from https://www.amberley-books.com/leith-reflections.html