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Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders

Date 2007

Event ID 590608

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Leith, the port of Edinburgh, is one of the oldest seaports in the United Kingdom and, from the time of a recorded

mention in ca.1329, for nearly 500 years, consisted of quays adjoining the Water of Leith. From the beginning of the 19th century the port developed as a system of enclosed docks, as follows:

Dock name Date Length and breadth (ft) Depth on sill (ft) Entrance width (ft) ngineer Approx.cost (£)

East 1800–06 750X300 13MHWN 36 J. Rennie 300 000

West 1810–17 750X300 13MHWN 36 J. Rennie

Victoria 1846–52 750X300 20 60 J. Rendel 180 000


of Wales (dry) 1859 382X70 Disused for many years 60 000

Albert 1862–69 1100X450 22 60 J. Rendel & G. Robertson 350 000

Edinburgh 1874–81 1500X650 22 60 A. M. Rendel & G. Robertson 500 000


(dry) 1881 300X40 A. M. Rendel & G. Robertson Not known


(dry) 1896 335X48 A. M. Rendel & G. Robertson

Imperial 1897–1904 1900X550 27 70 P. Whyte, Leith Docks 700 000

From 1826–29 the eastern pier followed by the western pier and breakwater were built immediately north of the East and West Docks to the design and under the direction of William Chapman, with a timber deck above a rubblework for the former (see cross-section 3-51), at a cost of about £240 000. James Leslie acted as clerk of works. Telford was brought in as costs escalated and reported in 1828 that the order of expenditure was not justified by the trade but his advice was ignored. In 1852 these piers were extended as part of the expansion of the port. By 1896, as a preliminary to building the Imperial Dock, Peter Whyte had designed and directed the provision of a 30 ft high sea wall, 4400 ft long containing almost the whole harbour and of an unusual design.

Large concrete blocks were used on the sea face, the toe blocks for which are 6 ft X 6 ft X 8 ft long. From 1936–42 the western harbour was created with the building of the east and west breakwaters and a wider pier entrance.

In 1969, the year after the Forth Ports Authority was established, the port reached its present form with the completion of the state-of-the-art new entrance lock 850 ft 158long and 110 ft wide which transformed the whole harbour into a deepwater port capable of accommodating ships of 35 ft draught at any high tide. The lock was constructed within an immense cofferdam 1700 ft long. A sealing dam about 1000 ft long was constructed to maintain the level of the impounded water within the harbour. The consulting engineers were Rendel Palmer & Tritton and the main contractor was Edmund Nuttall, Sons & Co.

R Paxton and J Shipway 2007

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders' with kind permission of Thomas Telford Publishers.

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