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Publication Account

Date 1985

Event ID 1016159

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Most major dock-systems in Scotland were provided with gates to keep the water-level within as high as possible even at low tide. The original harbour, however, first mentioned in the 12th century Great Charter of Holyrood, simply lined both sides of the Water of Leith along 'The Shore'. It was here that George IV disembarked when he visited Edinburgh in 1822. First these quays were extended and protected by piers, then John Rennie engineered the now filledin East (1800-6) and West (1810-17) Old Docks. The East Dock entrance gate and cast-iron swing-bridge survive (NT 270767). Other docks followed during the second half of the 19th century-Victoria Dock (1847-51), Prince of Wales Graving Dock (1858), Albert Dock (1869), Edinburgh Dock (1877-81: for shipping coal), Imperial Dock (1896-8), Alexandra Graving Dock (1896).

Though much modernised and extended, Leith Docks retain their essentially 19th century layout; they also retain some ofits more particular features. A fine iron swing-bridge joins the two sides of the harbour, across

the river; a hydraulic crane survives at the western end of Albert Dock; warehouses, bonds and office-blocks still line the edge of the Old Docks. Street names betray trading links-e.g. Baltic Street, Elbe Street; whilst the elegant buildings on Commercial Street, Bemard Street and Constitution Street (Custom House, banks, shipping offices, Exchange Building) reflect the prosperity that was once Leith.

Far out towards the new dock gates stands a Martello Tower (NT 268777)-forlorn sentinel and reminder of the Napoleonic Wars, and once isolated on its offshore skerry. And tucked in behind the western breakwater lies the little tidal fishing harbour of Newhaven (NT 254771). Begun in 1812, the L-haped pier, ending in a octagonal lighthouse, dates from 1825; the curved breakwater from 1876-78.

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

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