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The Perseverance of Leithers - Humble beginnings

If you don’t come from Edinburgh, you might have heard about Leith via the Proclaimers song – “While the Chief, puts sunshine on Leith, I'll thank him, for his work and your birth and my birth, yeah, yeah, yeah …”

Leith lies 14 miles from Edinburgh’s city centre on the south coast of the Firth of Forth. Today it’s a buzzing creative hub, full of pubs and restaurants and waterside walks, but before 1920 it was a completely separate burgh.

The motto of Leith is ‘Persevere’ and the Hutchison family certainly took that to heart. Leith provided the foundation for the families wealth, the start and often end point for Isobel’s voyages and the backdrop where three generations built their resolve. Leith was in Isobel’s blood and it inspired her to adventure. In an early travelogue, North to the Rime-Ringed Sun, she wrote -

“It’s strange that though my lines are set so fair and pleasant here [at home], Yet every now and then there comes this whisper through the year — “Take up your bed. Go! Walk again! Oh man! Your days are few, And lo! The earth is very wide, her treasure waits for you.

Isobel’s parents came from farming stock, but it was her grandfather’s ambition that secured the family fortune and Isobel’s freedom to explore. Thomas Hutchison (1796–1852) apprenticed in Leith to a wine and spirits merchant and by the age of thirty, he had set up an independent wine import business, T. Hutchison and Company. His timing was perfect and he rapidly made a name for himself, supplying the growing middle class with this new found luxury.

Thomas Hutchison became a well-respected member of the Leith community and was eventually elected Lord Provost in 1845. You can still see one of the tributes paid to him in a stained glass window and a stone tablet at the South Leith Parish Church. As Provost he was among the first to welcome Queen Victoria to Leith docks and he subsequently commissioned a desk and chair for Victoria’s exclusive use, (the chair now resides in Carlowrie Castle, but that’s a later story).


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The North Star Explorer

Learn more about Isobel’s passion for the natural world, her experience of travelling to remote places and her encounters expressed through art and creative writing.

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