Coordinates: 55°58′48″N 3°10′12″W / 55.980089°N 3.170049°W / 55.980089; -3.170049

The Water of Leith
Leith is located in Edinburgh

 Leith shown within Edinburgh
Council area City of Edinburgh
Lieutenancy area Edinburgh
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district EH6
Dialling code 0131
Police Lothian and Borders
Fire Lothian and Borders
Ambulance Scottish
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament Edinburgh North and Leith
Scottish Parliament Edinburgh North and Leith
List of places: UK • Scotland • Edinburgh

Leith (play /ˈlθ/ leeth; is a district and former municipal burgh[1] to the north of the city of Edinburgh at the mouth of the Water of Leith and is the port of Edinburgh, Scotland. It lies on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, in the unitary local authority of the City of Edinburgh.


South Leith v. North Leith

Up until the late 16th century Leith (originally designated Inverleith, i.e. the mouth of the Water of Leith, on early maps), comprised two separate towns on either side of the river.

South Leith was the larger, coming under the jurisdiction of St. Cuthbert's parish in Edinburgh. It was based on trade and had many merchants' houses and warehouses. This was where ships offloaded their cargoes at the Shore where they were collected by Edinburgh merchants.

North Leith was smaller but proportionately richer, coming under the jurisdiction of Holyrood Abbey. It was effectively one street, now Sandport Street and Quayside Lane. Long riggs ran down to the river from each house.[2] This was the shipbuilding side of Leith. Several wet and dry docks existed, including the first dry dock in Scotland (1720). A small peninsula of land on the east bank also came under the same jurisdiction on what is now Sheriff Brae/Sheriff Bank. The first bridge to link both banks of the river was built in 1496 by Abbot Bellenden, who controlled the church at North Leith. Dating from the same period, it is reputedly Leith's oldest building (albeit considerably altered). The bridge was demolished in 1780 to allow ships to sail further upstream. The bridge to that date was a toll bridge, the revenue supplementing the church's income.


The earliest evidence of settlement in Leith comes from several archaeological digs undertaken in the Leith area in the late 20th century. Amongst the finds were medieval wharf edges from the 12th century.

Leith has played a long and prominent role in Scottish history. As the major port serving Edinburgh, it has been the stage on which many significant events in Scottish history have taken place. Mary of Guise ruled Scotland from Leith in 1560 as Regent while her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots remained in France. In that year Mary of Guise left her temporary palace on the Castlehill, in use since the burning of Holyroodhouse in the Hertford raid of 1544, and moved the Scottish Court to Leith, to a site that is now Parliament street, off Coalhill. Her own palace was situated in what is now Quality Lane. Artifacts from the demolished palace are held by the National Museum of Antiquities. This move was made to take advantage of the protection provided by the large French garrison stationed in Leith which resisted attacking Scottish Protestant lords, reinforced by troops and artillery sent from England by Queen Elizabeth I. In June 1560, the Siege of Leith ended with the departure of the French troops in accordance with the Treaty of Leith (also known as the Treaty of Edinburgh). Mary of Guise died during the siege.

'Giant's Brae' on Leith Links

A large mound on Leith Links, known locally as "Giant's Brae", was long believed to be a cannon emplacement created for the siege, though a respected local historian, Stuart Harris, has challenged this. His interpretation of the 1560 Siege of Leith map places the English artillery on the nearby slope of Hawkhill. Nevertheless, the mound, which appears on early maps as 'Somerset's Battery', owes its survival to the belief that it was a man-made earthwork, because Leith Town Council spared it from being flattened when the Links were laid out as a public park in the Victorian period. It is now a scheduled monument. Other gun emplacements in the siege were positioned at Pilrig and Bonnington, near the north end of Ferry Road, and at the north end of Bangor Road. The best documented day of the siege was 7 May 1560, when the English charged the walls of Leith with ladders that turned out to be too short. John Knox records the delight of Mary of Guise at the failure of the attack, and English sources report 1000 casualties.[3]

Lamb's House

Late in 1561, Mary, Queen of Scots, arrived in Leith and, finding no welcoming party to receive her, made a brief stop at the "house of Andro Lamb ... beit the space of ane hour", before being collected and escorted by coach to Holyrood Palace, to begin her ill-fated six-year-long reign. The Protestant reformer, John Knox, explained the lack of preparation thus,

"The ninetein Day of August 1561 Yeirs, betwene seven and eicht Hours Befoirnone, arryved Marie Quene of Scotland, then Wedo, with two Gallies furth of France... Becaus the Palace of Halyrudehous was not throuchly put in Ordour (for hir cumming was more suddane then many luiked for), sche remained in Leyth, till towards the Evening, and then repaired thither". .[4]

Remains of the Citadel

A century later, Leith was a prospective battleground when the Army of the Covenant, led by General David Leslie, threw up an earthen rampart between the Calton Hill and Leith to defend the northern approach to Edinburgh against Oliver Cromwell's forces, under the command of General Monck. This rampart became the line of Edinburgh's longest street, Leith Walk. After Cromwell's victory at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 and subsequent occupation of Scotland, a fort known as Leith Citadel was erected in 1656 to regulate the port traffic. All that remains of the fort today is a vaulted trance in Dock Street which was its main entrance.

The earliest documented mention of golf refers to Leith Links. The Town Council, at the request of King James II, banned "gouff" (golf) and "fut ball" (football) in 1457 on military grounds, to discourage distractions from archery practice.[5] Leith Links hosted golf again in 1714 with the first competition for "The Edinburgh Arrow" by the Royal Company of Archers. The links are the site of an early five hole golf course built in the 18th century. What bolsters Leith's claim to being "the home of golf" is the fact that the official rules of golf, initially formulated at Leith in 1744 by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, were later adopted by St Andrews. The only difference introduced with those rules (which remain the rules of golf) was the omission of one rule to do with hazards such as trenches. Leith Links also has one of the longest established cricket pitches in Scotland, at 1820 (late by English standards, but early for Scotland).

Leith Fort Flats behind the perimeter wall of the Georgian fort

During the American War of Independence the Scot John Paul Jones, who is credited as founder of the US Navy, set sail on 14 August 1779 as commodore of a squadron of seven ships with the intention of destroying British commerce in the North Sea. He intended to capture the port of Leith and hold it for ransom, but his plan was thwarted when a gale on 16 September kept him at the mouth the Firth of Forth. The scare he caused led to the hasty erection of Leith Fort, designed by James Craig, the architect of Edinburgh's New Town, and built in 1780. It was similar in scale and design to Fort George near Inverness (see Fort George, Highland). A fine Georgian terrace to the north-east served as officers' quarters, and was known as "London Row" because, being brick-built, it looked more like a London terrace than any in Edinburgh. The fort was in active use until 1955, latterly serving for National Service training. Most of the barracks were demolished to build a Council housing scheme centred around Fort House and enclosed by the old fort walls. The Council development was an award-winning scheme in its day (1955), but is now intended for demolition. A pair of the old fort's gatehouses survive at the southern entrance to the scheme.

South Leith Parish Kirk
North Leith Parish Kirk

There is a long history of worship in Leith which can be dated back to at least the 12th century.[citation needed] After the Scottish Reformation the principal parish kirk for Leith was South Leith Parish Church, originally constructed in 1483. In June 1811 a statistical population census gave the population of South Leith as 15,938; North Leith 4875. With a procession and ceremony, the foundation stone of the new church for the parish of North Leith was laid on 11 April 1814.[6]

Leith was the port of entry for the visit of King George IV to Scotland, and The Old Ship Hotel and King's Landing was then given its new name, to mark the King's arrival by ship's boat at Leith Shore for this event, which is remembered most for popularising and decriminalising symbols of Scottish national identity.

Leith Docks became known as the port for Edinburgh and modest shipbuilding and repair facilities grew. On 20 May 1806, there was a procession of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Magistrates (Baillies), and Council, along with a numerous company of ladies and gentleman, for the opening of the first new Wet Dock, the first of its kind in North Britain. The Fife packet called The Buccleuch was the first to enter the dock, with the civic dignitaries on board, amid discharges of artillery from the Fort and His Majesty's warships in the Roads. The foundation stone for the second (middle) wet dock was laid on 14 March 1811, which was completed and opened with due ceremony in 1817 by Lord Provost Arbuthnot. The same year the Trinity House in Kirkgate was erected in Grecian architectural style at an expense of £2500.[7]

The docks at Leith underwent severe decline in the post-Second World War period, with the area gaining a reputation for roughness and prostitution, with an official 'tolerance zone' until 2001. In recent years Leith has undergone significant regeneration and is now a busy port with visits from cruise liners and the home of the Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Terminal, and administrative offices for several departments of the Scottish Government. The council and government's 'Leith Project' provided a further economic boost. The shore area of Leith, once seedy, is now a centre for a range of new pubs and restaurants in charming surroundings. On 6 November 2003, Leith was the location for the MTV Europe Music Awards, with a temporary venue being built next to Ocean Terminal.

The Provost and Council of Leith welcome Queen Victoria in 1842

Historically Leith was governed by the Town Council of Edinburgh, with separately organised baillies appointed by various bodies without contact with each other. The result became vary unsatisfactory, and half of Leith was provided with no municipal government whatever or any local magistrates. An 1827 Act of Parliament arranged for municipal government and administration of justice in the town, providing watching, paving, cleansing, and lighting, with Edinburgh Council responding to the views of Leith townspeople. In 1833 the Burgh Reform Act made Leith a Parliamentary Burgh, which jointly with Portobello and Musselburgh was represented by one member of Parliament. On 1 November 1833, Leith became a separate Municipal Burgh, with its own provost, magistrates, and council, and was no longer run by bailies. In history the Right Hon. Lord Provost of Edinburgh is virtue officii Admiral of the Firth of Forth, the Provost of Leith is Admiral of the port thereof, and his four bailies were admirals-depute.[8] Until 1923 there was no through tram service between Leith and Edinburgh; at the boundary in Leith Walk it was necessary to change from a Leith tram (electrically powered) to an Edinburgh tram (cable hauled) until the electrification of the Edinburgh Corporation Tramways in the early 1920s.

Continued growth meant that Leith and Edinburgh formed a contiguous urban area. Leith was merged with Edinburgh in 1920 despite a plebiscite in which the people of Leith voted 26,810 to 4,340 against the merger.[1]

Traditional industries

Leith was Scotland's premier leader in several industries for many centuries. Of these the most notable are:

  • Glass – the Leith Glassworks stood on Baltic Street and dated from 1746. There is also some reference to earlier glass production from 1682, but the site of this earlier works is unclear.[9] Leith specialised in wine bottles, largely for export to France and Spain. At its peak (c.1770) production was a staggering one million bottles per week. The Leith pattern bottle is the parallel-sided, round shouldered, narrow neck bottle now dominant within the wine industry. Around 1770 the company branched into lead crystal glass, mainly for chandeliers. This was under a new company name of the Edinburgh Crystal Company but stood on the same site in Leith (ironically this company has never truly been in "Edinburgh".
  • Soap – the Anchor Soapworks was established on Water Street around 1680. This largely used whale oil in its production. This survived until around 1830.
Carved stone from a 17thC wine-merchant's house
  • Wine and whisky storage – wine storage in Leith dates from at least the early 16th century, notably being connected with the Vaults on Henderson Street from this time. At its peak there were around 100 warehouses storing wine and brandy. In the late 1880s, due to the collapse of wine harvest in Europe, most of these were "converted" to whisky storage. Around 85 bonded warehouses stood in Leith in the 1960s. Jointly these matured around 90% of all Scotch whisky. One of the largest, Crabbies on Great Junction Street, stored whisky for some of the foremost whisky distilleries: Lagavulin, Talisker, Laphroaig etc. The last bond, on Water Street, closed around 1995. An offshoot to the wine industry (for obvious reasons) were several vinegar works. Crabbies also had a famous Green Ginger manufactury alongside its bond.
  • Lime juice – Rose's lime juice was founded by Lachlan Rose in Leith on Commercial Street in 1868. This was originally and primarily focussed upon provision of vitamin C to seamen.
  • Shipbuilding – originally centred around the Water of Leith and limited in scale due to the shallow water, Leith's shipbuilding started to fade as vessels increased in size. Latterly Leith specialised in odd ship types: tugs, hotel ships, cable-layers etc. Whilst the most notable large shipyard Henry Robb's, closed around 1981 this was technically outlived by a very small shipbuilder on Sherrif Brae (run by the Scottish Co-operative Society) which closed around 1988. The most notable ships built in Leith are the SS Sirius, one of the first steamships to cross the Atlantic, and SS Copenhagen one of the largest rigged ships ever built.
  • Lead – Scotland's largest leadworks stood on the corner of Mitchell Street and Constitution Street. Founded around 1760 the operational part worked until the 1970s and the empty buildings stood until the late 1980s. The offices, on Constitution Street, still survive. The company specialised in lead pipes for water supply and lead drainpipes. They also produced lead sheet for roofing and lead shot for weapons.
  • Whaling – the mainstay of Leith for centuries. Originally focussing on local waters (the last whale in the Firth of Forth was caught in 1834) and on Icelandic waters, by the mid 19th century ships were travelling to the Antarctic. This was latterly all under the umbrella of the Christian Salvesen Company who had many whaling stations in the South Atlantic. This led to the main settlement of South Georgia (which came to fame at the beginning of the Falklands War) being named Leith. The company moved from Leith to Fettes around 1980 and then left Edinburgh altogether in the mid 1990s. The founder, Christian Salvesen is buried in Rosebank Cemetery. The whale ships from Leith brought the very first penguins to Edinburgh Zoo around 1900.


Former Seamen's Mission, now the Malmaison Hotel

After decades of industrial decline, slum clearance and resultant depopulation in the post-war era, Leith gradually began to enjoy an upturn in fortunes in the late 1980s. Several old industrial sites were developed with modest, affordable housing, while small industrial business units were constructed at Swanfield, Bonnington, Seafield and off Lindsay Road. The Shore developed a clutch of upmarket restaurants, including the second of the groundbreaking chain of Malmaison hotels in a conversion of the former "Angel Hotel", a seamans' mission, whilst the once industrially-polluted and desolate banks of the Water of Leith were cleaned up and a public walkway opened.

Leith's gradual revival was also helped by the decision of the then Scottish Office to site their new offices in Leith Docks (just north of the old infilled East Dock). The site was chosen as part of a design-and-build competition against other sites at Haymarket and Marionville. It was completed in 1994. A tram was offered at the time of the application (at Forth Port's expense) from the new office to St Andrew Square, but the Council declined this offer.[10] However, the hoped for influx of well-paid civil service jobs failed to have much local impact as most commute to the office, and only a small percentage venture beyond the confines of the office during lunchtimes. It did however further foster Leith's growing reputation as a white-collar, small business location. Further large-scale service and tourist development followed, including the Ocean Terminal complex and the permanently moored Royal Yacht Britannia. Unfortunately, the plan to connect Ocean Terminal and the Scottish Executive building area by the new Edinburgh Trams by the Port of Leith tram stop has been shelved after dispute between Edinburgh Council and the contractors.

Western Harbour

In 2004 the owner of the docks, Forth Ports, announced plans to eventually close the port and carry out a major redevelopment of the area.[11] The planned development, which was given supplementary planning guidance by the City of Edinburgh Council in 2004, will be the size of a small town with up to 17,000 new homes.[12] It will include developments on the infilled Western Harbour as well as residential, leisure, retail and commercial development across the rest of the old docks. The urban design of the project will keep it in context with the older developments in Leith and provide a wealth of public and private open space, including two large parks and a number of pedestrian linkages across the docks. The whole project is expected to be completed by about 2020.


Streets in Leith include Constitution Street, Great Junction Street, Henderson Street, Leith Walk and Easter Road, Edinburgh.

One of the areas is Timber Bush.


Leith has several notable historic churches, including North Leith Parish Church and South Leith Parish Church (both of the Church of Scotland), plus Our Lady Star of the Sea (Catholic Church).

Culture and community

Leith has a long history of idealistic social advances, many of which were the first in Scots history:

All boys were educated for free from 1555 onwards. This was paid for by the local trade guilds. All girls were educated from 1820, admittedly a long time after the boys, but very early for free education for females (the law only required it from 1876). A free hospital service was provided from 1777, paid for by a local income tax, with beds sponsored by local shops. Leith had electric street lighting from 1890, and electric trams from 1905 (only Blackpool was earlier in the UK). The first public sewer in Scotland was built in Bernard Street in 1780; this simply flowed into the Water of Leith. The iron seal over the end of this is still visible next to Bernard Street bridge. The sewage is now pumped the other way (it was laid to fall westwards) to Seafield.

Hibernian Football Club have their stadium at Easter Road in Leith.[13]

The Utopia pub on Easter Road started a protest campaign against the Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling after the 2008 Budget.[14]

Famous people from Leith


  1. ^ a b The Story of Leith XXXIII. How Leith was Governed
  2. ^ Plan of Leith 1777
  3. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. i: HMC Hatfield Manuscripts, vol. i: Sadler Papers, Edinburgh (1809): Forbes Full View, (1740): History of Reformation, John Knox, etc.,
  4. ^ Knox, Historie of the Reformatioun in the Realme of Scotland
  5. ^ Council Records 1430
  6. ^ Gilbert, W.M., editor, Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century, Edinburgh, 1901: 54 and 58
  7. ^ Gilbert, W.M., editor, Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century, Edinburgh, 1901, pps: 42,64-5
  8. ^ Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant
  9. ^ Grants Old and New Edinburgh, vol 6 p239
  10. ^ City of Edinburgh Council planning records
  11. ^ End of the line for Leith port
  12. ^ Leith set for major development
  13. ^ "Hibernian Football Club". www.hibernianfc.co.uk. http://www.hibernianfc.co.uk/. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  14. ^ "'Ban Alistair Darling from every British pub' - Telegraph". London: telegraph.co.uk. 26 March 2008. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/labour/1582825/Ban-Alistair-Darling-from-every-British-pub.html. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 

External links

Texts on Wikisource:

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Leith —    LEITH, a burgh and sea port town, in the county of Edinburgh, 1½ mile (N. by E.) from Edinburgh, and 392 (N. N. W.) from London; containing, with the parishes of North and South Leith, 28,268 inhabitants. This place, which is of considerable… …   A Topographical dictionary of Scotland

  • Leith — ist der Name mehrerer Orte in Australien: Leith (Tasmanien) in Kanada: Leith (Ontario) im Vereinigten Königreich: Leith (Schottland), Stadtteil von Edinburgh Leith Hill, Surrey, England Leith Harbour, Südgeorgien, Überseeterritorium in den… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Leith — Leith, ND U.S. city in North Dakota Population (2000): 28 Housing Units (2000): 21 Land area (2000): 1.234705 sq. miles (3.197871 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.013872 sq. miles (0.035928 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.248577 sq. miles (3.233799 sq.… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Leith, PA — Leith Hatfield, PA U.S. Census Designated Place in Pennsylvania Population (2000): 2820 Housing Units (2000): 1143 Land area (2000): 1.871514 sq. miles (4.847200 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1 …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Leith, ND — U.S. city in North Dakota Population (2000): 28 Housing Units (2000): 21 Land area (2000): 1.234705 sq. miles (3.197871 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.013872 sq. miles (0.035928 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.248577 sq. miles (3.233799 sq. km) FIPS… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Leith — (en gaélico escocés: luz) es un distrito municipal de la ciudad de Edimburgo (Escocia). El distrito se sitúa en el norte de la ciudad, en la desembocadura del río Leith y junto al puerto de Edimburgo. Categoría: Geografía de Escocia …   Wikipedia Español

  • Leith — (spr. Lith), 1) Dorf mit Alaunwerken in der englischen Grafschaft York; 2) Fluß in der schottischen Grafschaft Edinburg; 3) Stadt in der Grafschaft Edinburg am Flusse L. u. am Frith of Forth, Hafenstadt von Edinburg, s.d. 2) …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Leith — (spr. līth), Stadt in Edinburghshire (Schottland) und Hafenort der Stadt Edinburg (s. den »Stadtplan von Edinburg«), mit der sie durch eine 2 km lange Häuserreihe verbunden ist, liegt an der Mündung des von zahlreichen Brücken überspannten Water… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Leith — (spr. lihth), Stadt in der schott. Grafsch. Midlothian, der Hafen Edinburghs, am Firth of Forth, (1904) 80.508 E.; Docks, Schiffswerften, Mühlenbetrieb, [Karte: Großbritannien und Irland I, 2] …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Leith — Leith, s. Edinburgh …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • leith — leith·ner s; …   English syllables

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”