A Manifesto for Newhaven

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Newhaven was founded by King James IV in 1503 but existed as a fishing hamlet well before that. For much of its existence the small village was dependent on fishing for oysters and herring. With the development of the railways in Victorian times, the importance of Newhaven grew and as it did, the population increased.

By the early 1900’s, the village had about 5,000 inhabitants and sustained over 80 businesses. At the time, it was said that the Newhavener never had to leave the village to buy anything other than perhaps furniture.

Folks from the village were known as Bow-Tows and they formed a strongly supportive, hard-working society. Independent by nature, their social mores prompted neighbourliness looking after each other when the need arose and ensuring children were brought up in a safe environment.

‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is an old African proverb and this was very much the case in Newhaven. (So, too, would be the phrase “Ah ken yer mither!” to keep an errant child in line.)

By the 1950s and early 60s, it was obvious that most of the Victorian houses had become unfit for habitation.

However, all this societal cohesion was demolished, along with the houses, when villagers were removed from their homes in a most insensitive manner.

The Council’s purpose was honourable but the way the essential modernisation was conducted was portrayed by some as Newhaven’s own ‘Clearances’ – they were, in effect, scattered to a’ airts. Long-time neighbours no longer lived beside each other; bairns’ friends now lived streets away, removed to various districts.

When some of the indigenous population moved back, Newhaven was not quite what it had been. Even the houses on Main Street, which are built back to front to catch the sun, exemplified this. It seemed like neighbours had turned their backs on each other.

Forth Ports Authority (FPA) filled in Western Harbour and developers built on that newly reclaimed land. The area has now changed dramatically and the population has more than doubled with local residents rising to more than 14,000. The provision of essential amenities that help make communities what they are seem not to be a priority, to the detriment of those now living in the area.

Newhaven Heritage began life as Newhaven Action Group in 2009, not long after the popular Community Museum at the Fishmarket closed in a perfect storm of Council cutbacks, new disability legislation, and increasing rents by owners, FPA.

The mission of Newhaven Heritage is to be ‘inspired by the past to build a better future together’. It is committed to promoting social integration for people of all ages from both old and new Newhaven. The charity believes in the empowerment of the people of this Greater Newhaven, including Western Harbour.

The goal is to build the kind of inclusive, caring, confident and supportive community all would wish to live in and, once upon a time, Newhaveners used to take for granted.

It now seems increasingly unlikely that the old Victoria School will provide Newhaven Heritage with what is required to re-establish the community museum, due to reasons of accessibility, space, security, and problematic environmental controls for artefacts.

Newhaven Heritage must therefore redefine its purpose to protect, preserve and promote the rich history of the village, unique in a number of ways from other east-coast fishing communities.

Consequently, they are developing a comprehensive online presence, beginning with a virtual heritage trail around the village, believed to be exceptional in its concept and purpose.

Designed to be interactive, participants will follow a defined route and by reading a QR code on a lamppost sign (something that we have all become familiar with due to Covid mitigations), a web page dedicated to that location will access information from bygone days contrasting the ‘then’ and the ‘now’.

In addition, a facility on each page will allow the user to contribute their knowledge too. The charity may be stewards of Newhaven’s heritage but it doesn’t profess to know everything about the village as it used to be.

For a few weeks after its launch, access to these various pages will only be available by visiting Newhaven and using a smartphone. However, very soon afterwards, the whole website will be accessible using a computer wherever you are in the world.

In addition to this, a new website will become a virtual museum, with its full photographic catalogue available to view. This will incorporate some unique features as it develops.

Online talks and in-person meetings are also in their future plans. You can follow their progress by subscribing to their free quarterly newsletter, The Bow-Tow, by writing to newhavenheritage@gmail.com.

Info: Gordon Young, Clerk to Newhaven Heritage, 0770 663 2300 or newhavenheritage@gmail.com

Newhaven Main Street around 1910, the high tenement block (centre) was called the Klondyke!

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Newhaven Heritage must therefore redefine its purpose to protect, preserve and promote the rich history of the village

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