Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh backs new exhibition rediscovering old Leith

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As echoes of the past reveal themselves as Leith’s tram works uncover unexpected insights into the past, a timely new exhibition recording the streets, buildings and people of the Port has won praise from Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh.

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The Living Memory Association and Spirit of Leithers Facebook page have joined forces to present Old Leith Rediscovered, which will be housed in a new walk-in exhibition space at Ocean Terminal, made possible by a £90,100 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Much of old Leith was swept away as part of Edinburgh’s ‘improvements’ of the Twenties and Sixties. Knowledge of what was lost then now relies mainly on old street maps and photographs. One of these maps, a Fire Insurance Plan dating to 1892, records significant details, such as building footprints, construction materials, number of storeys, room arrangements and function, location of doors and windows, and much, much more.

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Detailed map of 19th century Fire Plans for LeithDetailed map of 19th century Fire Plans for Leith
Detailed map of 19th century Fire Plans for Leith

Using a digital copy of this map created by the National Library of Scotland, Old Leith Rediscovered will add a wealth of information, including hundreds of surviving images scattered across numerous collections, to bring the historic townscape of Leith to life.

The project was conceived during lockdown as a means of celebrating the history of the Port and her people and to provide a focus for Leithers to share memories and stories of days gone by.

Welsh, author of the seminal Leith-based novel, says, “In the current age of drab uniformity, as manifest in our urban architecture and design, where modern construction renders everything generic, it’s important to remember the richness in the heritage of places like the great port of Leith.

Detailed maps of 19th century Fire Plans for LeithDetailed maps of 19th century Fire Plans for Leith
Detailed maps of 19th century Fire Plans for Leith

"Thanks to this magnificent project, Leithers old and new can now immerse in the vibrant community of bygone days. As Bob Marley once said ‘in this great future you can’t forget your past...’

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“So we can now connect with where we came from, which you have to be able to do in order to truly know where you are going.”

Miles Tubb, Project Co-Ordinator, The Wee Museum of Memory, adds, “Our Wee Museum of Memory has been based in Ocean Terminal for more than seven years and this new unit dedicated to memories of Leith will bring different generations together to learn about the rich history of the Leith community.”

The interactive web-based map of Leith will be published online at the end of 2022 with the exhibition set to open a second Wee Museum of Memory later this month.

Christopher Fleet, Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland, says, “We are delighted to be associated with this project, which will integrate our maps with related historical information, including photographs and oral history resources.

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"Maps present the past in one of its most engaging forms, allowing endless insights into what was there, and into how people lived and worked. Moreover the plans that form a focus of this project are one of the most detailed types of urban mapping ever surveyed of places such as Leith.”Fraser Parkinson, administrator of Spirit of Leithers Facebook page, adds, “This project is another huge step in building bridges across the globe between all those who wear their association with Leith as a badge of honour.”

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