Painting Leith with memories

Morvern Cunningham, Event Coordinator and Festival Producer for LeithLate writes a blog post for us explaining how their new mural came about and the part that older people had to play in ensuring it reflected the history and memories of the local community.

 Halmyre Street Mural

Photo of Halmyre Street Mural by Eoin Carey

A team of (mostly) Leith based artists have revealed their final design for a new mural on Halmyre Leith, and with public art becoming a proud part of Leith’s identity the artists decided that it was important to ground the design by involving Leithers of all ages.

The artists met with a group of older women from Jamieson Place; Port of Leith’s supported accommodation.

Some of the main items of reference in the final mural came from this research with the older women, things like the reference to policeman Willy Merrilees disguising himself as a baby (see The Mural Project explained below) and many other stories about long-dead Leithers which none of the Leith-based artists had heard! You could say that the tentacles were also a reference to this.


What was really important though, was the grounding of the artists’ final design very much in Leith, and these research sessions with folk that had lived in Leith all their lives really contributed to that for the artists.

I also know for a fact that the ladies had a great time coming along and contributing to the sessions, and it was great to see them take ownership of the final piece at the unveiling: they were all lining up and getting their photos taken with it! Great stuff

Find out more about the Mural project on their Facebook page: LeithLate 

More about the background and meaning behind Leith’s latest mural:

The project was realised in collaboration with the City of Edinburgh Council (who provided the majority of the budget) and Police Scotland, and funded by CEC, Leith Neighbourhood Partnership, Port of Leith Housing Association and Scotmid. A total of 6 artists were involved: Fraser Gray, Skint Richie, Rabiya Choudhry, Martin McGuinness and the duo known as DUFI. The collective worked on the design of the mural for around 8 weeks, a period of time which included research sessions with older Leithers from local housing associations, a tour of Leith’s pre-existing murals, and trips to local points of interest such as maritime museum Trinity House and the last steam ship registered to Leith, the SS Explorer.  A series of art workshops are due to take place with young people from the local area, in response to the mural’s artwork.

The final artwork is a nautical one, with busy seascape, a serene skyscape above and a ship moving forward beyond the design. The outline of the sun above the ship can also be seen as a giant head, itself moving forward in time. Points of interest in the final artwork include:

The mural as a whole is a large reworking of the Leith Persevere crest, and depicts a ship sailing across a striped sea.

The ship in the mural is based on the SS Explorer, the last steam ship to be registered to Leith and which is currently undergoing restoration by a team of volunteers and enthusiasts. The initials L.H. are on the boat, pertaining to Leith Harbour, and a nautical flag to the rear tells its readers ‘Open For Communication’.

A large sun broken by clouds rises up behind the ship. Its curve on the left follows the original arch on the tunnel, but on the right slips down into a human silhouette. This personification of ‘Sunshine on Leith’ represents the strength of character and identity typical of the average ‘Leither’.

Beneath the sea all is busy, much like life in Leith itself. A Newhaven fishwife’s song ‘Wha’l Buy My Caller Herrin” dips beneath the waves, a toilet seat (both a reference to the film adaptation of Trainspotting, and the Garde Loo boat that used to tip waste into the Firth of Forth) dwells at the bottom.

Tentacles, referring to the many stories and urban myths that abound in Leith swirl up from the depths. Unexploded mines (which are still present in the Forth today) loom menacingly while a pram (which refers to the story of Willy Merrilees, a below-stature policeman who once disguised himself as a baby to catch a criminal) bobs away on the tide.

A crab, representing the stalwart image of an older Leith and its Perseverance, as well as the zodiac sign of the majority of the artists, floats by a spaceman helmet – a reference both to the alienation of certain communities within Leith, as well as to an absent member of the artists’ collective: Mike Inglis. The gramophone on the left hand side acts as a counterbalance to the toilet and nods to the many antique shops and record shops along Leith Walk and Easter Road.

A swan in the top right hand corner, which is a reference to Swanfield and previous murals in that area. The heron refers to the sizable heron population that can be regularly seen along the Water of Leith.

A cat in the top right hand corner links this mural to the previous mural which stood on the site, as it is the only image that is retained of the original artwork which was painted by artist David Wilkinson (sadly subsequently obscured and defaced by graffiti tagging, prior to the new mural installation).

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