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,
isn’t it ?. When did it all go wrong ?.
Answer, in 1920. At long last
Edinburgh got her wish and subsumed Leith into it’s 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 it’s 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 Lyon’s 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 it’s historic anniversary which was scheduled for
October. Horror upon horrors. The writer discovered that whilst
the school had it’s 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 Lyon’s 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 Leith’s
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.
Leith Flag now flying high
The historian had very much hoped that the flag
would be released in time for the Leith Pageant in June, but
unfortunately that was just not possible. It seems that things
move slowly in the world of heraldry and every box must of
course be ticked to ensure the provenance of any claim.
Part of the work to obtain the rights to the coat
of arms was directed by former Deputy Lord Provost Rob Munn who
was also present at the ceremony today. Following the bestowal
by Mrs Elizabeth Rhodes from the Court of the Lord Lyon, the Sea
Cadets helped fold the flag properly and it was then taken to
roof of Leith Library where it is now flying. Mackenzie & Millar
transported Mrs Rhodes with the Letters Patent to the Leith
Library this morning in a very fancy chauffeur driven car as
their contribution to this big Leith Community event.
The history of the flag is a very old one.
Alex explained:-“For more than 770 years, this
flag flew proudly over the town of Leith. It was such an iconic
image that it was selected to become the Coat of Arms of Leith
in 1833 when Leith achieved Burgh status.It was at this time
that the legend ‘Persevere’ first appeared to be added to the
cartouche along with the Latin inscription Sigillum Oppidi de
Leith, the Emblem of the Port of Leith.
“As the rights to the flag/Coat of Arms could
only be awarded by the office of the Lord Lyon to a Leith-wide
organisation it was the decision by the Deputy Lord Provost, Rob
Munn, who was very helpful in moving the flag forward while in
office, that it should be the Neighborhood Partnership that
should receive this, once granted.”
Alex is hopeful that the principal idea to have
the flag flying from as many buildings in Leith as possible will
now be fulfilled
We spoke to him and some of the others attending
the ceremony today to find out more about how the process
unfolded and what it means in the future.
Alex Wilson a Leither at heart
Alex Wilson did not live all of his
life in Leith, nor was he born there, but he was a sure and
certain part of the fabric of the area until his untimely death
The Edinburgh Reporter met Alex in his guise as Chair of the
Leith Business Association. Then of course he was a historian,
and yes there was the flag, oh and the walking tours. He was
passionate about everything he did, but passionate in particular
about Leith. He will be very much missed by all who knew him.
Depute Lord Provost Councillor Deidre Brock said: “Alex Wilson
was one of this community’s biggest champions, and was involved
in so many different campaigns on behalf of his beloved Leith.
He always wanted the very best for the area and for everyone who
lived and worked here, and he will genuinely be greatly missed
by us all”.
His friend and colleague Cron Mackay writes:
I FIRST MET ALEX WILSON WHEN HE SPOKE TO LEITH ROTARY ABOUT
BRINGING THE LEITH FLAG HOME TO LEITH AND HAVING A LARGE NUMBER
OF LEITH FLAGS DECORATING THE TOWN.
HE WAS SO VERY PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS THAT IT ALMOST AMOUNTED TO
A CRUSADE. HE STRONGLY BELIEVED THAT EVERY LEITHER SHOULD HAVE
THE RIGHT TO FLY THEIR OWN FLAG. HE MANAGED TO PERSUADE
COUNCILLOR ROB MUNN TO BECOME A SUPPORTER AND THE COAT OF ARMS
WERE EVENTUALLY AWARDED TO LEITH NEIGHBOURHOOD PARTNERSHIP.
UNFORTUNATELY, ALTHOUGH HE WON THE BATTLE, HE LOST THE WAR, AND
THE ONLY LEITH FLAG THAT WAS EVER FLOWN, ADORNED LEITH LIBRARY
UNTIL IT BECAME TATTERED AND WAS BROUGHT DOWN.
ANOTHER CRUSADE WAS IN SUPPORT OF THE BUSINESS OWNERS IN LEITH
WALK AND CONSTITUTION STREET. THE ALMOST CONSTANT DISRUPTIONS TO
THE BUSINESSES THERE CAUSED BY CONTINUAL PREPARATION WORKS FOR
TRAMS HAD CAUSED FURY FROM MANY LOCAL OWNERS.
HE TRIED TO CONTAIN THIS, AND THROUGH THE LEITH BUSINESS
ASSOCIATION, TO DISCUSS THE PROBLEMS WITH COUNCILLORS AND
COUNCIL OFFICERS. HE WAS POSITIONED IN A VERY DIFFICULT PLACE
BETWEEN FURIOUS OWNERS AND COUNCIL OFFICIALS WHO SEEMED UNABLE
TO GIVE ANY REASSURANCES.
HOWEVER OUT OF THIS EVOLVED THE STAKEHOLDERS COMMITTEE WHICH
OVERSAW THE WORKS AND INFORMED THE BUSINESSES. INDEED, WITH THE
RECENT WORKS, THE COUNCIL HAS PRODUCED DETAILED PREDICTIONS OF
THE TIMES WHEN ROAD DISRUPTION WOULD OCCUR AND IN WHICH SECTION.
THIS HAS GONE A LONG WAY TO ASSIST THE SHOPS AND OTHER
BUSINESSES. ALTHOUGH THE BATTLES INVOLVED IN GETTING THERE
NEARLY DESTROYED LEITH BUSINESS ASSOCIATION, LEITH WALK BUSINESS
OWNERS OWE ALEX A HUGE VOTE OF THANKS.
HE MADE SEVERAL OTHER ATTEMPTS TO ACHIEVE LARGE IMPROVEMENTS IN
LEITH. WE BOTH FELT STRONGLY THAT A WELL MARKETED LEITH WOULD BE
OF IMMENSE BENEFIT TO EDINBURGH. WE DID NOT SUCCEED AT THE TIME
EITHER. HOWEVER, THE SIGNS ARE THAT MANY OF THESE PROJECTS WILL
HAPPEN IN THE NEAR FUTURE.
WHEN WE ALL LOOK BACK, WE MAY WELL REALISE THAT HIS VOCAL SINGLE
MINDED DETERMINATION SET US ALL ON THE RIGHT PATH TO A RESURGENT
Former landlady of the Port O’ Leith, Mary Moriarty said: “I met
Alex many times at meetings and of course in the streets when
going about his business. His enthusiasm and dedication to Leith
will be sadly missed. The Leith Festival poster for next year
has three Leith flags on it. He would have liked that.”
Sandra Marshall said:- “Alex Wilson will be sorely missed in
Leith. He threw all his experience, into trying to help Leith
become a better place, and we will all remember a strong,
committed person who never gave up trying to help our
Nick Gardner, Labour Councillor, Leith Walk Ward said: “Alex had
a lively, playful and creative character. I am very sad that his
boundless energy has been taken from us, and will miss him very
Keith Hales has organised a wake in Leith following the funeral
which is to be held in St Monan’s this Friday
Friday 12th December, 12.15pm service in the church then 1.00pm
at the graveside
St Monans Parish Church Braehead St Monans, Fife
There will also be a gathering afterwards, most likely at The
Ship Inn, Elie which is a short distance from St Monan’s en
route back to Edinburgh.
The Leith wake for Alex has been provisionally been arranged for
Friday December 12th at &.00pm at Teuchters Landing, Leith.
Alexander WILSON Obituary
WILSON Alexander (Alex) (Edinburgh)
At the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, on Tuesday, December
2, 2014, Alexander (Alex) Wilson, aged 64 years, Chancelot
Terrace, Edinburgh, dearly loved son of the late Alex and Agnes
Cameron Wilson, of St Monans. Alex was a good friend to so many
but will be deeply missed particularly by Dean, Bryan, Andrew,
Stuart and Gwen. He was an active member of the Scottish
Democratic Alliance and worked tirelessly with Leith Business
Association to raise the profile and historical significance of
Leith. Funeral service at St Monans Parish Church, on Friday,
December 12, at 12.15 pm, thereafter to St Monans Cemetery at 1
pm, all friends are respectfully invited.
Perseverance pays off as coat of
arms to fly above Leith once more
IT has been almost a century since the historic Leith coat of
arms was seen flying over the port.
From the Scotsman Newspaper 21st Jan 2012.
ow the flag is set to be returned to the ownership of the
community as part of a long-running campaign to allow Leithers
to fly their coat of arms once again.
The Court of the Lord Lyon, the heraldic authority for Scotland,
has been responsible for the historic crest since 1920.
However, Leith councillor Rob Munn revealed that Leith will once
again be allowed to use the coat of arms freely in three months’
Councillor Munn, Deputy Lord Provost, said: “When Leith
amalgamated with Edinburgh, the coat of arms fell out of use and
was in the care of the Lord Lyon’s office. Previously the
Borough Council had it. Over the past decade or so there’s been
discussions about getting it back.
“The letter I received this week from the Lord Lyon’s office
says they will be ready to hand the coat of arms back to the
people of Leith in three months. It’s quite exciting.
“Getting it back won’t solve Leith’s problems, but if it gives
it a stronger identity and sense of place, that’s something to
“It should be flown and it should be flown proudly.”
The decision to return the flag follows a campaign, led in part
by local resident, writer and historian Alex Wilson. The drive
to restore the flag has also been helped by Leith Academy
pupils, who use a version of its symbol for their school crest.
With the support of Cllr Munn, and a petition signed by 582
people, the process began in summer 2010 to reinstate the flag
under the charge of Leith Neighbourhood Partnership.
Mr Wilson, 58, who lives in Ferry Road, said: “The flag will
bring back a sense of community in Leith which has been lost a
bit over the years.
“Everybody, old or young, will benefit and see the flag flying.
Nobody alive today has seen the flag flying, so it’s going to be
The crest of the flag features representations of Mary and Jesus
in a sailing ship, under the legend “Sigillum Oppidi De Leith”,
which translates as “the seal of the town of Leith”, and above
the phrase “Persevere”, and is believed to have been brought to
the community by 11th-century French traders.
The crest can still be seen on some lampposts, and on several
old buildings in Leith.
The Court of the Lord Lyon is understood to have heraldic
artists currently designing a slightly different version of the
flag for the handover.
Its official title will be The Arms of Leith Neighbourhood
Partnership and it will be based on the Arms of the former Leith
Cllr Munn added: “As far as I’m aware, there’s no great change
apart from the galley will appear in brown rather than sable
because it’s not going back to the actual borough council. The
change is to denote the new body taking it over.”