Edinburgh’s coastal communities have a rich social and maritime history, which together combine to present a key part of the City’s story. A once busy seaport, Leith was regarded as Edinburgh’s main gateway to the sea and to Europe. We hold a remarkable collection of objects, photographs and oral history recordings relating to life in Leith.
The Newhaven collection focuses mainly on the neighbourhood’s fishing heritage, with collections which include hand-made fishing nets, sail making tools, woven fish baskets (creels), objects from boats and the traditional gala costume of Newhaven fishwives and their choirs.
See more stories about the Leith and Newhaven collections at the "Life on the Forth" virtual exhibition.
View the exhibition here.
The Leith collections relate to work in the shipyards, building and repairing ships. There were sailors and fishermen, rope and sail makers and dockers who unloaded ship’s cargo. In the breweries and whisky bonds, coopers made the wooden barrels and nearby glass makers made bottles.
Other areas of work were in the Print Industries and transport systems -shipping lines, road haulage and Leith trams. The collections also represent housing and health, churches and community events, sport and games, schools and colleges and civic regulation and control.
Some of the older collections came to the museum from Starbank House while others were transferred from Leith Museum Trust in 2003. These are held by Museums and Galleries Edinburgh in trust until the establishment of an Accredited Leith Museum.
From sea to shore: Working lives
Leith was a busy sea port where people made a living working in the trades and industries connected to the sea.
The burgh of Leith
Collections relating to town life in the Burgh of Leith. A busy seaport from the 13th century, Leith was very important to Edinburgh as her gateway to the sea
The Newhaven collection traces the way of life of the people of Newhaven, a village established during the 16th century around the naval dockyard that built the Great Michael, the greatest ship of its time.
The collection focuses on fishing, fishwives and fishwife choirs, including colourful costume. There are many other treasures, including photographs, model ships, and well-known local objects such as the sign from David Dow fish curers.
A small display relating to Newhaven life can be found at the People's Story Museum, but the majority is stored at the Museum Collections Centre. This is open to view by appointment, so please contact us directly to arrange a visit.
Fishing has long been a way of life in Newhaven, and the Newhaven collection includes objects, photographs and first-hand accounts relating to this important work.
Our Newhaven collection includes creels (fish baskets), items of clothing, photographs and figurines relating to the fishwives of Newhaven.
The Newhaven collection includes items relating to the fishwife choirs of Newhaven, among them colourful examples of 'gala' costume.