Edinburgh stole Scotland’s Capital status from Leith claims author

The annexing of Leith by Edinburgh 102 years ago created “something like apartheid” between the neighbouring Burghs while robbing the port of its rightful place as Scotland's Capital, claims author William Haddow.

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Next month, the secret history of Leith will be brought to life by local theatre company, Citadel Arts Group, when Leithers Live is staged in a site specific production taking place in and around the port's historic Custom House, which was completed in 1812 and designed by architect Robert Reid in the Greek revival style.​

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Based on the novel, Leithers: One Family, by Mr Haddow, which traces the history of the port from medieval times to the present day, the new play has been adapted by 10 different writers from the Citadel Arts Group, who have each taken a different time in the history of the port to right about.

Mark Kydd, Mairi Jayne Weir and Debbie Whyte rehearse at the Custom House Leith for Leithers Live.

Offering a rare behind the scenes look at the Georgian building which is currently awaiting redevelopment, Leithers Live will be performed for four performances only, over two days, June 17 and 18, at 2pm and 7pm.

The play opens in 1398, when the burgesses of Edinburgh effectively took over the profits of trade from the Port of Leith - beginning centuries of resentment between Leith and Edinburgh - and ultimately depriving the port of its rightful wealth.

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Mr Haddow says, “If you look at the geography, Leith really should be the capital of Scotland. But Edinburgh realised it had to have access to the sea and so they bought the Shore. It created something like apartheid between Leith and Edinburgh. It’s quite a story.

“The history of Leith is amazing - when you look at what’s involved. There’s no town with the same length and depth of incredible history like it in the whole of the UK.”

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Mark Kydd, Tam t he Story Teller, rehearses for Leithers Live at Custom House.

Leithers Live covers the whole range of life in the port, with characters including bankers, smugglers, fishwives and pickpockets - right up to the modern day invasion of hipsters and gourmet coffee shops.

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Mark Kydd, who plays the mischievous time travelling narrator Tam, explains, “It is a different kind of thing doing a promenade performance and it will be fun to perform so close to where some of these events really happened.

“I think a lot of people will want to have a look inside the building. That’s one of the great things about Citadel Arts Group - they are good at taking these stories and bringing them into the heart of the community.

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“There are some beautiful spaces and some beautiful rooms inside the Custom House and we will be performing in quite a few of them - from the grand staircase to the library and then outside at the edge of the Shore.”

Gregor Davidson, Leithers Live, Custom House Leith, pic by Eric Robinson.jpg
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Liz Hare, the director of Leithers Live, adds, “We are very excited about this. It is the first time we have performed a site specific work.

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“It will be wonderful to see the play come to life inside the Custom House and outside on the Shore - which is where some of the scenes in the play take place.”

The Scottish Historic Buildings Trust is currently holding consultations on the future of Custom House, which was bought by Edinburgh City Council in 2015 after it had been used as a storeroom for the Museum of Scotland over the previous three decades. The building has also been championed as a possible home for a Museum of Leith.

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Una Richards, CEO of Scottish Historic Buildings Trust views Leithers Live as a great opportunity to use the building in a creative way and for people to see inside the building, which is normally closed to the public.

She says, “As part of our commitment to the community of Leith, we are delighted to welcome Citadel Arts to the Custom House to perform Leithers Live. After such a long time in lockdown, it is wonderful that the Custom House is being brought back to life with such an enthusiastic progressive performance.”

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Taking part in the performances, each playing multiple roles, will be local actors Deborah Whyte, Mairi Jayne Weir, Stephanie Falls and Gregor Davidson. Live music will be provided by fiddler Laure Paterson and pianist James Bryce.

Lizzie MacLean, one of the playwrights says working on the play has been a joy, “I joined the Citadel writing group during lockdown and it has been a great experience. I’ve learned such a lot - both from the other writers and from the actors.”

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The other writers are Hilary Spiers, Susan Chaney, Elaine Campbell, Alan Mountford, Jim Brown, Laure Paterson, Rhona McAdam, John Lamb, Pamela Hanlon.

Tickets for Leithers Live are available from [email protected] or by calling 01875 340 717

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