Thelma & the Wee Hub

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Many will be aware that part of Ocean Terminal is to be demolished to make way for a new hotel, houses and retail units sometime in 2023. Debenhams occupied a substantial part of this area and was vacated a couple of years ago when it became an online-only retailer. As it will take around a year for the plans and permissions to be finally processed and work to begin, the management team of Ocean Terminal have in the meantime entrusted this cavernous space to the Living Memory Association (THELMA) for community use. www.facebook.com/livingmemoryassociation

With deliberate irony, THELMA have called the area The Wee Hub — it is 66,000 sq. ft. on two floors — and Newhaven Heritage has been generously allocated an exhibition ‘room’ of 590 sq. ft.

A wide variety of community groups such as a fencing academy, a circus school, a model railway layout, and much more will ensure there is something for all tastes. THELMA, too, is well represented, as you might expect, with reminiscence zones, a browsing library with comfy seats and a dance floor for a variety of dance classes, performances and occasional tea dances. www.facebook.com/TheWeeHub

In our area on the first floor, Newhaven Heritage has created an exhibition about Edinburgh’s fishing village as part of its commitment to protect, preserve and promote Newhaven’s rich history and heritage. Key features of its history are set out on a number of illustrated information panels covering topics such as Fishing, Fishwives, Childhood, and more.

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson were two significant people in the story of Newhaven. In 1845, by their use of the new invention of photography, they could reasonably be argued to have brought Newhaven to the attention of the wider world.

A gallery of their timeless images is on display, showing the fishermen, fishwives and bairns of the Victorian period, photographs which took Britain by storm and came to the attention of Queen Victoria herself. With all this publicity, souvenirs of Newhaven such as pottery figures, some of which are on show, became popular and the village became a well-frequented tourist spot. Panels on the Newhaven as a Destination stand illustrate this in detail.

Such was the appeal of the colourful gala outfit worn by the fishwives — their ‘braws’ — that the costume was adopted by both the famous Newhaven Fisherwomen and Newhaven Fisherlassies Choirs, which entertained the public and raised much money for local good causes, including Leith Hospital.

Our mannequins are wearing the gala dresses of two choir members, Grace Hackland and Isabella [Fluckhart] Andrews. Also on display is a child’s gala outfit which belonged to Isabella’s granddaughter, Dawn. We have a representation of a male figure dressed in garb typical of Hill and Adamson’s portrayal of fishermen of the period. What is missing, however, is a working fishwife’s costume; darker and more drab, this outfit is less likely to have been kept for posterity. If any reader has, and is willing to donate, such a costume, please get in touch with the author at newhavenheritage@gmail.com.

Newhaven Heritage was delighted to be loaned models of typical fishing vessels from around Scotland by THELMA, in particular a typical Granton steam trawler, the Bonnie Jean, which has pride of place in the Fishing section of the exhibition. A map wall has depictions of Newhaven as it was transformed during the period of maximum growth from 1852 until 1946, i.e. just before re-development.

The work of Newhaven Heritage is seen as a two-way conversation. When the Community Museum was active from 1997 until 2007, it was largely staffed by indigenous members of Newhaven’s community who were able to answer questions and recount tales of village life as it used to be. A couple of decades later, very sadly but inevitably, this valuable resource has been depleted. Whilst much is known and documented, those who staff the old harbourside police box each Saturday morning delight in the information exchanges that inevitably occur when speaking to long-time residents and visiting Diaspora.

For that reason, the Ocean Terminal exhibition area makes provision for members of the public to add to the charity’s knowledge base by leaving information, anecdotes or amendments for the archivists to include in their files.

Many records are available for visitors to browse through, and these will be added to on a continuing basis. In particular, our archivists are keen to print the extensive photo library now being built, and to make it accessible for members of the public both to enjoy and to make their own contributions to what is already known. We hope that visitors will return again and again to see what new pictures have been added.(www.facebook.com/NewhavenOnForth)

Not having had any premises since our museum’s closure, Newhaven Heritage has functioned with a small group of volunteers ever since. As a result, The Wee Hub exhibition will be largely unmanned. We are eager to recruit additional help so that visitors to the exhibition would have a friendly face to greet them, and with whom they could engage. These personnel would not need to be knowledgeable about the village, just keen both to learn from others and also encourage them to jot down their memories of Newhaven in the past. ■

Info: The Wee Hub is open daily from 11am until 4pm.

The Pastor’s Visit to Newhaven Fish Lassies 1843-47

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David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, embracers of the new invention of photography, brought Newhaven to the attention of the wider world

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