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,
isnt it ?. When did it all go wrong ?.
Answer, in 1920. At long last
Edinburgh got her wish and subsumed Leith into its 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 its 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 Lyons 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
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 its historic anniversary which was scheduled for
October. Horror upon horrors. The writer discovered that whilst
the school had its 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
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 5 x 4 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 Lyons 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 its 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 its 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 its 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 Leiths
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.