The History of Leith

August 15, 2004


During my formative years at day school in Edinburgh, Trinity Academy, the Empire Exhibition, situated at the City of Glasgow Bellahouston Park, opened by King George VI on 3rd May 1938.

Being staged amidst the glare of extended publicity, the Edinburgh school authorities arranged to run a special chartered train from the North Leith Caledonian station, which was entered directly opposite the Old West Dock Gate, where pupils from Leith Academy joined, whilst our lot did not have far to nip over the wall (almost) to Newhaven station, conveniently situated on Craighall Road – just within the Parish precinct of Newhaven, to be conveyed direct to the Exhibition railway halt, at Bellahouston Park, Glasow – South.

Some time prior to the day out, a circular passed round the various classes inviting names of those wishing to be included, at the cost of five shillings (25p) to be paid in advance, well, apart from the actual day out, my immediate reaction was, having `a day off school`, so the hand went up like a rocket, and me`thought that was that, home after school to tell `Mum` what I had volunteered for, !!!, you had no right, can`t afford a day from lessons etc. besides where do you think the cost of ticket is coming from.

Several days later, when we were required to take said five shillings, I sat, rather embarrassed and fumed at not being allowed to go, the class routine was briefly interrupted by the intervening presence of Miss MacKay, School Secretary, to the effect that the number of pupils wishing to go to the Exhibition was well over-subscribed and those below a certain age were to be excluded, whew, relief at not having to mention not having the money and equally very disappointed in not getting my `day off`.

Came the day the others were due to travel, teacher, right on nine o`clock called us all to attention for an important urgent announcement, for some unknown reason one of the would-be travel group had to drop out, in view of the time factor a decision had to be made at once, being one of the earlier excluded applicants I was being offered the place, if I could get parental permission, the teachers well aware of my home being a minutes run from class to house, I having dashed indoors to explain I had been given this opportunity, needed to take the money and some extra for lunch, the long and short of it was a dash back to school, under normal conditions I only ever sauntered there, so with little time to spare to join the big ones, and a very short walk to station, with dire warnings not to board the train until told to do so, the front coaches had been allocated to the Leith`ies, and were greeted by much yah boo sucks, and better still it was a corridor train, duly boarded and settle down to a not too speedy journey, probably having to give way to regular traffic, Granton Road – Pilton – Craigleith – Murrayfield – Dalry Road, then a change of direction to, who cares.

Teacher escorts mustered everyone inside Exhibition compound and issued strict instructions for everyone to meet at a given time and place, or else!, with an additional parting charge `you are privileged to have been given the day off school to experience the Empire Exhibition and further your education, upon return to school you will be expected to compose an essay of what you saw and did, now go and enjoy your day, DO NOT let your school down.

Well, it was here there and everywhere, have you seen this – yeh – or done that, been there or done this, memories are dimmed over the years but some items do stand out, the Space Planatarium – looking into infinity – a working replica of the Niagara Falls with roar of cascading water in background, coupled with those delicious Canadian Mac Red apples, watched over by immaculate Royal Canadian Mounies in their Scarlet Jackets and, to us, Scout Hats,…………..sheep shearing in the Australian pavilion with crunshy charred cooked ribs, as we now know and accept as Bar B Q, the Dominion Pavilions were without doubt the most popular, all that free food leaving our dinner money to be spent on things where we HAD to pay.

Being interested in boats and anything that floats my wanderings soon led me to an outside stand, or exhibit, by a well known yacht builder, Alexander Robertson of Sandbank, on the Holy Loch, near Dunoon, or so their brochures told us, otherwise it did not mean much to us lads, though were quite mesmerised with their exhibit, a huge new Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Watson Class lifeboat, which had just been completed at their boatyard, and being presented as a typical example of Scottish crafts-man-ship, named Sir Arthur Rose this boat was stationed at Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull.

Being somewhat magnetically attracted by this – to me – a huge beautiful boat, my just standing and staring, I was invited to climb on board by one of the attendant crew, to be confronted with shine and polish implanted a lasting memory, in later years I learned this was the accepted presentation, not just for public exhibitions, but in every day life – after my exhilarating guided tour of inspection, I being at almost rock bottom with personal finance (skint, stoney broke) felt obliged to part with the few coppers from my sorely depleted day-out budget, by dropping those into the collection box, and for showing a genuine interest, was promptly presented with a model of the exhibit, albeit a papier mache construction, painted in true replication colours, I do wish I had the fore-sight to retain such a now valuable collectors item.

We (scholars) being all duly accounted for and safely on board special train were soon conveyed back home, having thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the exhibition, and more importantly, a day off school. The non-participants back in class were eager to learn of the adventures of those on the trip, for my part I was awarded a book, for writing the most informative description about the school day out, the book, alas has long since disappeared, but my personal memories of an exciting day `off school` remain in my mind…………………….the longer the memory, the heart grows fonder.

RNLB Sir Arthur Rose

By W. L. Hume……..2004

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