The History of Leith

August 5, 2009

Ten Questions: John Arthur, Leith historian

John Arthur, 60, is a Leith historian. He now lives in Craigmillar.
1 What is your earliest memory of Edinburgh?

I remember going to Sunday school in Duke Street, when South Leith Church had their halls there. It was in a massive hall and when you’re five years old and you see a place that big with so many people in it, it makes an impression

2 What are your memories of school?

I went to Dr Bell’s School in Great Junction Street. I used to have a cat and I remember one day the cat dropped a mouse into my schoolbag. I discovered it when I got to school and, not knowing what else to do with it, I took it up to the teacher’s desk and she screamed her head off.

3 Where is your favourite place in Edinburgh and why?

Arthur’s Seat. First of all you have the incredible vista over the whole of Edinburgh. It’s a great place to cycle, and get some exercise. It’s also packed with history.

4 What are the best things about Edinburgh?

It’s the people that make a place, and the Edinburgh people are friendly, helpful, and they always think more of other people than they do of themselves.

5 What would you change about the city?

The Council. They’ve got good intentions but I don’t think they’ve got a clue about what they’re doing, and like any political organisation they don’t listen to anything the people tell them. I remember having a discussion with a councillor about the system in Norway, where no new developments are allowed to go ahead without the final say of the people in the community. He said that, unlike Norway, Edinburgh was democratic which is why he was elected to make the decisions.

6 Describe a perfect Edinburgh day/night out.

I’d go for lunch in The Conan Doyle, and then go and see a play at The Playhouse.

7 Which sports interest you?

I’m not interested in sport.

8 What was your most embarrassing moment?

As a historian I correspond with a great number of newspapers, and I got a call from a newspaper in Jerusalem looking for sponsorship on my site. I said: “But I’m a Christian!”, as if that had any bearing on anything. I regretted it the minute I said it.

9 What is your greatest achievement?

Setting up my website –

10 Sum up Edinburgh in three words.

Good people, bad politicians. That’s four words but it sums up the city quite well

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