A Wee Bit Oor History

Leith Festival is one of the oldest festivals in Edinburgh. Having starting in 1907 with a pageant and Gala day (badge day) to raise funds for Leith Hospital (this was before the NHS), over a century later it’s still going strong.

There are so many aspects of Leith Festival that are of historic significance that local organisation Citizen Curator ran a whole project over 2017 – 2018, entitled Queens for a Day, all about the Scottish tradition of Gala and parading (‘Queen for a day’ being the parade queen). Their video is well worth a watch. The Pageant is headed up by the Mock Lord Provost, a light-hearted poke in the ribs to neighbouring Edinburgh (many in Leith were against the assimilation with Edinburgh in 1920). The Mock Lord Provost is usually a well-known figure in Leith, often a publican, and is adorned in a gown that was hand-made and embroidered over fifty years ago. It’s these little historical details that really make the Leith Festival special. For Leith, by Leith.

The structure of the festival remains the same, on the second Saturday of June a colourful Pageant proceeds down Leith Walk to the Gala day on Leith Links. Gala day has traditionally been a day of community, where locals can catch up with the gossip and chat with stallholders from Leith businesses and community groups.

The festival continues for the following week, with a selection of performances around Leith, whether it be music, theatre, exhibitions or workshops – there is something for everyone. Festival week finishes with Leith Festival Tattoo, akin to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, except it’s free for all to attend, and on the picturesque setting of the Shore.