Leith Lives: The Country Within The Country

Having spent a good part of my life in the very heart of Leith, I have watched the place change over time. Of all things Leith has is soul. It is the country within the country having a long and distinguished history of trade and commerce with all parts of the world.  Before oysters and claret were the trappings of the wealthy, these were eaten and shared in the everyday lives of the workers of Leith.

Leith Docks

I spent years playing in the docklands as a young kid when the trade had been taken from the place and the ports closed up.  To this day, the people of Leith distinguish themselves proudly from Edinburgh, as up the hill was the financial seat of power which came to take the cream from the milk – or at least many feel…
Living in Linksview House which overlooks the Kirkgate from one side and the Water of Leith from the other, I came to be taken in by the changes which I saw. The warehouses and land cleared away and replaced by new builds, The Shore bringing in punters from all over to enjoy the food, but the people keep bringing people back.
Underneath Constitution Street run tunnels from the dock yards; the buildings smack of Amsterdam architecture as features have worked themselves in from a long link with truck and barter.  Nearby it is rumoured that golf was started in Leith Links where the record of the first ‘international’ golf match was made in 1681, between Scotland and England. 

Leith is the stuff of legend, and there are plenty of faces and memories which are living today who amongst the community are more tangible than the shallow flickering lights of the television.  Leith Lives are living and persevering.  The marrow is still pumping through the veins of the place, which is the cosmopolitan quarter of what has come to spread itself as Edinburgh city.

It is pleasing to walk down Leith walk to see the mix of cultures hailing from all over the world, but have come to call this place on the water their home.  For this reason it feels more real, more welcoming, than many places which have lost the folk and the shared sense of place.  I miss living in Leith and enjoy wandering around the place still untarnished by the corporate sheen that seems to engulf so many places smothering the life.

Dr Andrew Bell' School, Junction Street, Leith
Dr Andrew Bell’ School, Junction Street, Leith

You can still see where one of Andrew Bell’s schools still stands – a man who developed a peer led teaching method which was to unite communities across the UK to deliver free education long before the government thought to bankroll it.
Working with the last vestiges of the Edinburgh Settlements, Steve Robb the archivist and man who has driven this 110 year old tradition of social and educational provision has brought the local community together around many local events.
Knowing the locals is to know the history, and as someone who makes sure that the heritage of the people is not lost or discarded, he has been very active in involving people in his work.
The development of the Leith Lives project is an important one which should be backed as it aims to highlight the active community hubs of the area.  Providing a platform for locals to share their photographs, memories and histories, it acts as a container for heritage that is often undervalued until it has been lost.

Doing active work in Leith with People Know How and the Edinburgh Settlements, and having done work with the likes of Out of the Blue Drillhall and local dynamo Tracy Griffen, I look forward to finding ways of contributing more to the people there.  Have a look at the collections and archives which are accumulating in the Leith Lives website and if you have something to share, put it in.