For August’s pop-up event members were given the opportunity to explore Trinity House Maritime Museum in Leith. As well as a tour of the house and collections, members also learnt about the ongoing outreach programme run in conjunction with Illuminate UK.
The origins of Trinity House can be traced back to the establishment of a seafaring fraternity in 1380, later known as the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters. Their purpose was to provide support to those who had been injured or retired from life at sea. Its activities were largely funded by a tax on merchandise loaded or unloaded from Leith port, known as ‘prime gilt’. In the 1550s the organisation commissioned an ‘almshouse’ or hospital on the Kirkgate in Leith. Today, Trinity House stands on this site.
In the early 19th century it was decided to replace the almshouse with a new building in which the Incorporation could carry out their business. Designed by Edinburgh architect Thomas Brown, the foundation stone was laid in 1816 and the building complete in 1818 at a cost of £2,500. This grand building was much more fitting to the important role the Incorporation had within the seafaring community. Arguably the most impressive room in the house is the Convening Room on the first floor which includes an ornate nautical themed ceiling – a late addition to the design plans. Today, this is the room where most of the museum’s collections are displayed.
The majority of the objects in the house were collected by the Incorporation. These include paintings – including four by Sir Henry Raeburn – furniture, navigational equipment, and seafaring curiosities and memorabilia. In 2004, the house and its contents were passed into the care of Historic Environment Scotland. As the majority of the collection is on open display the building is usually only open by appointment, although some objects can be found on the Historic Environment Scotland Collections website.
In recent years Historic Environment Scotland have worked with Illuminate UK, a drama education group, who have trained pupils from the museum’s local primary school as Junior Tour Guides for the house. This programme allows pupils to learn presentation, communication and storytelling skills, and once ‘graduated’ the guides offer tours to other school groups. As part of the Year of Young People, 2018s Junior Tour Guides class have also taken part in a young curator workshop, designed to inform pupils how the collections in the house are documented and cared for.
Whether you’re a nautical novice or expert, this hidden gem in the heart of Leith is well worth a visit.