The History of Leith

November 15, 2007

Campaign for a Leith Museum

Evidence for Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee
Petition PE 103, to be considered at the meeting of 6th November, 2007


The campaign for a Leith museum fully supports the petition to the Scottish Parliament submitted by John Arthur. We would request that the signatures to our paper petition be considered alongside and in support of the e-petition. The signed petitions have been submitted to the Clerk. Our campaign is directed at the establishment of a Leith museum, but we do support the developments of local museums elsewhere in Scotland.

Why Leith?

Leith is one of the largest historic communities in Edinburgh without its own dedicated museum. There have been repeated efforts over decades to establish a Leith museum, but these have never come to fruition. Edinburgh City Council has from time to time investigated the possibility of such a museum being established, but once again these have never resulted in any positive outcomes. At present, the only museum facility in Leith is at Trinity House. This is the home of the Incorporation of Shipowners and Shipmasters, and has a small collection of maritime memorabilia which can be visited by appointment. Apart from that, there has been nothing else except occasional displays in Leith library, and for a short period in about 1985, an exhibition on the “forced merger” of Leith with Edinburgh, which was displayed in the Custom House Gallery section of Leith Custom House (see below). There is a small fisheries heritage museum in Newhaven. This, however, is only a small museum dealing solely with the heritage of Newhaven with a concentration on its history as a fishing port. It does not deal with the wider history of the area (of which Newhaven is only one small part), and in any event this museum has been temporarily closed by Edinburgh City Council. Leith’s history is rich and varied, and given the port’s importance as the gateway to Scotland’s capital, its history includes some of the most significant events in the history of Scotland. Our campaign therefore seeks to establish a museum which will feature not just the history of Leith, but place it in its wider context as part of the history of Edinburgh and of Scotland. Furthermore, Leith, like many other communities in Scotland, is currently undergoing rapid change with new developments, new residents, and a growing representation of new ethnic communities. We believe that a Leith museum could play an important role in strengthening community links between the existing and new communities; such a museum should be a living and vibrant place where the community of today and the next generation can find out more about the history of their community, and where the older and existing community can celebrate the history and culture which has made Leith the place it is today. A museum for Leith would also be of economic development benefit to Leith, which notwithstanding recent changes still includes some of the areas in Edinburgh with the PE1083/A highest indicators of social deprivation. It would also provide a boost to the tourism potential of Leith and of Edinburgh as a whole.

Where might a Leith museum be established?

There is no shortage of suitable historic buildings in Leith where such a museum could be established. Possibilities also exist in the new developments currently taking place and proposed for Leith docks, and we note that Forth Ports have suggested making space available for some type of museum in their proposed redevelopment. As a campaign, we have not yet expressed a preference for a particular venue, as we consider our priority is to build up support for the principle of a museum so that we can work with the relevant local and governmental authorities to carry out the necessary feasibility work to take forward the idea of a museum for Leith. However, we are particularly interested in the possibility of using the Custom House as a location for a museum. This is currently used by the National Museums of Scotland as storage. The National Museums have expressed a willingness to move out of the
building, but would require funding from the Scottish Government (or elsewhere) to provide alternative storage space to allow them to vacate the building.

Our campaign and steering group

This present campaign for a Leith museum was established by the MP for Edinburgh North & Leith, Mark Lazarowicz. It now has all party support from a wide range of representatives for the Leith area, including the following:
Mark Lazarowicz, MP for Edinburgh North & Leith (Labour)
Malcolm Chisholm, MSP for Edinburgh North & Leith (Labour)
Robin Harper, MSP for Lothian (Green)
Gavin Strang, MP for Edinburgh East (Labour)
George Foulkes, MSP for Lothian (Labour)
Ian McKee, MSP for Lothian (SNP)
Margo MacDonald, MSP for Lothian (Independent)
Rob Munn, Councillor for Leith , Depute Lord Provost (SNP)
Marjorie Thomas, Councillor for Leith (Liberal Democrat)
Gordon Munro, Councillor for Leith (Labour)
Angela Blacklock, Councillor for Leith Walk (Labour)
Maggie Chapman, Councillor for Leith Walk (Green)
Louise Lang, Councillor for Leith Walk (Liberal Democrat)
Steve Cardownie, Councillor for Forth (SNP)
Elizabeth Maginnis, Councillor for Forth (Labour)
Councillor Stefan Tymkewycz (SNP)

It also has support from a large number of community organisations in the Leith area, as follows: Leith Local History Society, Leith Festival Association, Leith Harbour & Newhaven Community Council, Leith Open Space Group, Rotary Club of Leith, Saltire Society Edinburgh Branch, Leith Central Community Council, Leith St. Andrews Parish Church, Pilrig – St. Pauls Parish Church, Leith Links Community Council, South Leith Parish Church, and North Leith Parish Church.

The campaign is now being led by a steering group drawn from a wide cross section of the Leith community, including representatives from many of the above organisations together with a number of local business leaders.

Our priorities and our request to the Public Petitions committee

The current top priority of the campaign is to obtain the support of local and central government, along with other relevant agencies, to the principle of a Leith museum, and thereafter to work with us to carry out the necessary feasibility work into the establishment of such a museum. As indicated above, our view is that this work has relevance for Scotland as a whole, not least because of the possibilities offered by use of Leith Custom House, which would require support from an agency funded by the Scottish Government, namely the National Museums of Scotland. We would therefore hope that the relevant departments of the Scottish Government would agree to work with our campaign to develop the proposals set out in this paper. We would also hope that our efforts would be supported by the relevant economic development and tourism promotion bodies given the obvious potential of such a museum in these respects.

For further information, contact the Chair of the Campaign for a Leith Museum, Mark Lazarowicz MP, at
for more details of the campaign and its supporters.

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