‘History man’ reveals all on town histories

Leslie Games Poster - July 1887
Leslie Games Poster - July 1887

It’s not often you get the chance to meet a man whose own story is as impressive as the stories of local history that he collects, writes Neil Henderson.

But that is exactly the case with life-long Leslie resident, Campbell Morris who will have lived in the village for an impressive 84 years come his next birthday.

Campbell Morris

Campbell Morris

He’s best known locally for his vast knowledge and seemingly inexhaustible supply of anecdotes and historical facts in relation to any and every facet of Leslie life over the last four hundred years.

Over a cup of coffee and a plate of biscuits - something you certainly don’t get when reporting council committee meetings, Leslie’s very own ‘history man’ told me a little about his own life and how his passion for collecting started.

“I was given a camera for my 21st birthday and have had an interest in capturing the historical changes and stories of the town ever since, in fact I still have the camera.

“The collecting side of my interest really took off after I retired, with more free time on my hand it gave me a chance to delve a little deeper into the rich history of the place where I have spent my whole life.

Leslie Town Hall pictured years ago

Leslie Town Hall pictured years ago

“I’ve spent hours in places like Fife Council’s Archive in Markinch reading through old minutes and documents trying to find out more about the Leslie of the past, but I’ve also been very lucky to have been in the right place, at the right time on several occasions.

One such occasion is when Campbell happened to enquire about some building work going on in a property on the High street and ended up getting more than he bargained for.

He explained: “The building was the old post office and I knew it had previously been a local council building many years before.

“I asked the builders what was happening to the place and ended up with two bin bags of old papers that were about to go into the skip”

“I took them home and amongst the items was a number of very old manuscripts relating to Leslie, the oldest of which dates back to the 16th century.

“It’s amazing how a document as old as this has survived a number of renovations and different uses of the building and survived intact, plus me passing the building at the very moment the documents were about to be thrown a way is just pure luck I suppose.

Some of the documents and other items were donated to the Fife Council Archive in Markinch where they can now be viewed by any member of the public who so wishes.

Campbell’s own story is as impressive as the items within his collection.

He completed his apprenticeship as a joiner at local company, D Mitchell and Sons and later went on to work on a number of famous projects throughout his career.

Including that of working on the foundation and anchorage contract for the Forth Road Bridge construction between 1959 and 1961.

“It was a massive job and quite staggering the amount of work that went into just providing the foundations for that bridge.

“I was invited back a few years ago having worked on the original construction and was even taken to the very top of one of the pillars.

Later he was Clerk of Works when the ‘rotunda cafe’ was added to Adam Smith College and even worked for a time at Stirling Albion’s Annfield Stadium when they laid the artificial pitch.

Campbell’s last position before retiring was that of Clerk of Works for the new gallery that was installed at Holyrood Palace in 2001.

“It was quite something to have to go to work at a building with a much history as that, and of course I had my camera at hand a to record the progress of the parliament too.”

Since retiring, Campbell has amassed an impressive array of artifacts, photographs, postcards and documents relating to all aspects of Leslie life and from the past.

“It was a very vibrant and busy place right up until the recent past, and actually had two community councils at one time such was the amount of local decision making required in Leslie.

“As well as the local history of Leslie itself, there is of course the added importance for the town in relation to Leslie House and in particular the story of the Countess of Rothsey, who was a survivor of the Titanic disaster.

But it’s the reminders of everyday life from a yesteryear that shine out most.

Documents telling who and how they funded the building of the Leslie Town Hall, are tangible link with the town’s past community and provides a social snapshot, as well as an historical one.

Amongst the collection is a Leslie Games poster dating back to the July 1887 event on Leslie Common, lists the prize for the ladies sprint as being tea to the weight of a pound.

Times have indeed changed and it’s vital that collectors like Campbell are collecting a record of those changes for future generations to call upon.

As for the future of the collection, Campbell said: “Ideally, I’d like to see Leslie have it’s very own museum or at least a permanent space in which people can learn about the local past of town, but ideas like that need funding and cost money that nobody has these days.

“Even if there was a museum that could tie in with surrounding towns and areas would be something. The Heritage Centre’s push for a permanent space should be supported by everyone, after all, history belongs to all of us.”