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The Leith Flag
By Alexander Wilson


Leith, ah Leith, that wee un-loved gem nestling on the shore north of your big neighbor - Edinburgh, whatever went wrong, another forced marriage between unequal partners, sad really, history repeating itself again, isnít it ?. When did it all go wrong ?.

Answer, in 1920. At long last Edinburgh got her wish and subsumed Leith into itís grasp. Leith and its proud citizens who were and are always Leithers first, and Edinburgers last, gave up the ghost and knuckled under. In all the bru-ha-ha, the one single important symbol of Leiths unique status as a newish burgh and an ancient town was lost, seemingly forever, their historic emblem, their unique flag !.

Fault can be laid at the door of the then councillors of Leith for not recognizing that in giving up their individual identity also meant loosing their special flag. In the same vein, the councillors of Edinburgh, equally were deficient in not recognizing the great identifier that the Leith flag was, not only for Leith but for the city as a whole. So, in all the administrative details that had to be attended to, the flag was overlooked but not by everybody.

The crown, who have some role in these things took it upon itself to grab title to the emblem of Leith as they invoked their authority on what they regarded as a crest and therefore an heraldic symbol of Leith and itís former status as a burgh. So, since 1920 the ancient flag of Leith has been crown property and illegal to be flown over the town of Leith, or anywhere else for that matter.

This situation was felt by the writer to be unconscionable and needed re-dressing. How to go about it ?. Perhaps go to source ?. So a visit to the office of the Lord Lyon was in order. The Lord Lyon, the Queens representative in Scotland on such matters is a fairly formidable person to take on but after 90 years, it was time. Initially, polite but unhelpful their resistance faded when I threatened to call Lizzie to demand the flag back as clearly, she had no need for it. Suddenly, the Lord Lyonís office became more helpful. Having detailed out a mechanism as to how the flag could be retrieved fro Leith the writer made his way back towards Leith mulling over the implications of the advice and how to create a mechanism as to how to potentially retrieve the return of the flag with some local involvement.

The long walk back home formulated a plan. Firstly, the pupils of Leith Academy wore a version of the Leith flag as their uniform badge, perhaps the school might be interested in supporting a campaign ?.

Then, recalling that an old acquaintance was now the Deputy Lord Provost of the City of Edinburgh, the die was set.

Phone calls were enthusiastically received and meetings arranged. The school were in their 450th year and about to celebrate this historic anniversary later in the year, bingo !. They were all for rolling up their sleeves and supporting the writers campaign. The Deputy Lord Provost too was highly enthusiastic. Game on !.

During 2010 the following occurred. The Academy set about creating a task for their Modern Studies department to prepare a petition to be delivered to the city and upon receipt, the Deputy Lord Provost would then himself petition the office of the Lord Lyon for the return of the flag. Much more clout than the writer on his own could evoke.

June 2010 an 800 signature petition was formally received at the City Chambers, delivered by the pupils and staff of the Academy. This little ceremony was a great experience for the kids and the city laid on a small reception for them in the offices of the Deputy Lord Provost, enjoyed by all.

In some respect, that was the job done by the school but not quite.

Edinburgh, a city of great history could not be allowed to let the 450th anniversary of the school slip by - unnoticed. The writer, twisting a few arms, managed to persuade the city to formally honor the school and this proposal was placed before a formal council meeting.

The city embraced the idea with enthusiasm to the extent that they elected to hold a Civic Reception for the school later that year at the main meeting room of the Council Chambers.

In the meantime, the school had to celebrate itís historic anniversary which was scheduled for October. Horror upon horrors. The writer discovered that whilst the school had itís own version of the Leith flag as their school badge, they had never ever had a flag created from it.

A quick check revealed that in providing a dispensation to the school to utlilise a derivation of the Leith flag as a school badge that the dispensation also extended to the creation of a flag, something which had never been activated.

A quick proposal to the local business community via the area Business Association produced the necessary funds to provide a flag to coincide with the celebrations. So it was, that on the 450th anniversary of Leith Academy the local Business Association presented to the school in a packed Assembly Hall a stunning hand embroidered 5í x 4í flag to rapturous applause and cheering. Another job done.

The steady hand of the Deputy Lord Provost was now working with the office of the Lord Lyon to secure the return to Leith of its ancient symbol. Monies were paid and done through official channels, unlikely therefore that the Lord Lyon would ignore a formal request from the city whereas he might have summarily dismissed any approach from an impoverished private citizen.

These things move inexorably slowly. Speed is not a word used lightly in the Lord Lyonís exalted establishment. Most of 2011 has passed as the Lord Lyon considers the request. This time however has not been wasted. The potential return of the properly entitled Flag of the Port of Leith has created many opportunities for a complete re-branding of Leith as a destination within the great historic city of Edinburgh itself a World Heritage site but sadly, for the moment, excluding Leith. Hopefully in time, all that will change, if the writer gets his way !!!.

The whole business community in Leith can see the advantages for Leith in re-identifying itself with itís own symbol. This is not something exclusive to the business community for the flag is for all Leithers not just one section of the town.

A revived sense of community, a re-establishment of local pride and a one up for Leith for so long denied even that by itís larger neighbor is so long overdue. This one action, the return of the flag is the one galvanizing element that has been missing for all these long 90 years and hopefully, soon, it will make a triumphal return to the Port of Leith and itís environs where it can be celebrated with pride and visited by tourists and locals alike keen to understand the highly significant symbol that has been Leithís for nearly 950 years. Who can deny us this history ?.

The Flag of the Port of Leith is thought to have arrived in Leith in the middle of the 11th century. The flag is not Scottish, far from it and the flag does not depict what people believe it does, that is a whole other story which, if this little expose excites you can be the subject of another article. Save to say that the flag of Leith predates the Saltire, probably by several hundred years although the Saltire was extant at the time of arrival in Leith of what was to become, its adopted flag.

Copyright AMW. 10/11.


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