When Fraser Parkinson first contacted us about the collection of historic photographs of Leith that he had been entrusted with, my colleagues and I at the Centre for Research Collections were very excited. The photographs were taken to show the slums of Leith prior to the ‘Edinburgh (Leith) Improvement Scheme of 1924’, where large areas were to be cleared and rebuilt. Fraser tells us that:
‘The Town Council Minutes of 3rd April 1924 propose the demolition or reconstruction of ‘certain houses, courts, and alleys unfit for human habitation’.
The concerns of William Robertson, Medical Officer of health for the City and Royal Burgh of Edinburgh, were that the
‘narrowness, closeness and bad arrangement, or the bad condition of the streets and houses, or the want of light, air, ventilation or proper conveniences or other sanitary defects are dangerous or injurious to the health of the inhabitants of the buildings in the said Areas, or of the neighbouring buildings.’
The scheme involved large-scale demolition in this area of Leith, and the re-housing of most displaced residents out-with the areas covered by the scheme.
These photographs were taken as a record of the area at this time by the City Council. They provided the photographic evidence of the conditions that presented significant risk to public health at this time.’