1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leith

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LEITH, a municipal and police burgh, and seaport, county of Midlothian, Scotland. Pop. (1901) 77,439. It is situated on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, 11/2 m. N.N.E. of Edinburgh, of which it is the port and with which it is connected by Leith Walk, practically a continuous street. It has stations on the North British and Caledonian railways, and a branch line (N.B.R.) to Portobello. Lying at the mouth of the Water of Leith, which is crossed by several bridges and divides it into the parishes of North and South Leith, it stretches for 31/4 m. along the shore of the Firth from Seafield in the east to near Granton in the west. There is tramway communication with Edinburgh and Newhaven.

The town is a thriving centre of trade and commerce. St Mary’s in Kirkgate, the parish church of South Leith, was founded in 1483, and was originally cruciform but, as restored in 1852, consists of an aisled nave and north-western tower. Here David Lindsay (1531–1613), its minister, James VI.’s chaplain and afterwards bishop of Ross, preached before the king the thanksgiving sermon on the Gowrie conspiracy (1600). John Logan, the hymn-writer and reputed author of “The Ode to the Cuckoo,” was minister for thirteen years; and in its graveyard lies the Rev. John Home, author of Douglas, a native of Leith. Near it in Constitution Street is St James’s Episcopal church (1862–1869), in the Early English style by Sir Gilbert Scott, with an apsidal chancel and a spire 160 ft. high. The parish church of North Leith, in Madeira Street, with a spire 158 ft. high, is one of the best livings in the Established Church of Scotland. St Thomas’s, at the head of Shirra Brae, in the Gothic style, was built in 1843 by Sir John Gladstone of Fasque, who—prior to his removal to Liverpool, where his son, W. E. Gladstone, was born—had been a merchant in Leith. The public buildings are wholly modern, the principal being of classic design. They include the custom house (1812) in the Grecian style; Trinity House (1817), also Grecian, containing Sir Henry Raeburn’s portrait of Admiral Lord Duncan, David Scott’s “Vasco da Gama Rounding the Cape” and other paintings; the markets (1818); the town hall (1828), with an Ionic façade on Constitution Street and a Doric porch on Charlotte Street; the corn exchange (1862) in the Roman style; the assembly rooms; exchange buildings; the public institute (1867) and Victoria public baths (1899). Trinity House was founded in 1555 as a home for old and disabled sailors, but on the decline of its revenues it became the licensing authority for pilots, its humane office being partly fulfilled by the sailors’ home, established about 1840 in a building adjoining the Signal Tower, and rehoused in a handsome structure in the Scottish Baronial style in 1883–1884. Other charitable institutions include the hospital, John Watt’s hospital and the smallpox hospital. The high school, built in 1806, for many years a familiar object on the west margin of the Links, gave way to the academy, a handsome and commodious structure, to which are drafted senior pupils from the numerous board schools for free education in the higher branches. Here also is accommodated the technical college. Secondary instruction is given also in Craighall Road school. A bronze statue of Robert Burns was unveiled in 1898. Leith Links, one of the homes of golf in Scotland, is a popular resort, on Lochend Road are situated Hawkhill recreation grounds, and Lochend Loch is used for skating and curling. There are small links at Newhaven, and in Trinity are Starbank Park and Cargilfield playing ground. The east pier (1177 yds. long) and the west pier (1041 yds.) are favourite promenades. The waterway between them is the entrance to the harbour. Leith cemetery is situated at Seafield and the Eastern cemetery in Easter Road.

The oldest industry is shipbuilding, which dates from 1313. Here in 1511 James IV. built the “St Michael,” “ane verrie monstruous great ship, whilk tuik sae meikle timber that schee waisted all the woodis in Fyfe, except Falkland wood, besides the timber that cam out of Norroway.” Other important industries are engineering, sugar-refining (established 1757), meat-preserving, flour-milling, sailcloth-making, soap-boiling, rope and twine-making, tanning, chemical manures-making, wood-sawing, hosiery, biscuit-baking, brewing, distilling and lime-juice making. Of the old trade of glass-making, which began in 1682, scarcely a trace survives. As a distributing centre, Leith occupies a prominent place. It is the headquarters of the whisky business in Great Britain, and stores also large quantities of wine from Spain, Portugal and France. This pre-eminence is due to its excellent dock and harbour accommodation and capacious warehouses. The two old docks (1801–1807) cover 101/2 acres; Victoria Dock (1852) 5 acres; Albert Dock (1863–1869) 103/4 acres; Edinburgh Dock (1874–1881) 162/3 acres; and the New Dock (1892–1901) 60 acres. There are several dry docks, of which the Prince of Wales Graving Dock (1858), the largest, measures 370 ft. by 60 ft. Space can always be had for more dock room by reclaiming the east sands, where in the 17th and 18th centuries Leith Races were held, the theme of a humorous descriptive poem by Robert Fergusson. Apart from coasting trade there are constant sailings to the leading European ports, the United States and the British colonies. In 1908 the tonnage of ships entering the harbour was (including coastwise trade) 1,975,457; that of ships clearing the harbour 1,993,227. The number of vessels registered at the port was 213 (net tonnage 146,799). The value of imports was £12,883,890, of exports £5,377,188. In summer there are frequent excursions to the Bass Rock and the Isle of May, North Berwick, Elie, Aberdour, Alloa and Stirling. Leith Fort, built in North Leith in 1779 for the defence of the harbour, is now the headquarters of the Royal Artillery in Scotland. Leith is the head of a fishery district. The town, which is governed by a provost, bailies and council, unites with Musselburgh and Portobello to send one member to parliament.

Leith figures as Inverleith in the foundation charter of Holyrood Abbey (1128). In 1329 Robert I. granted the harbour to the magistrates of Edinburgh, who did not always use their power wisely. They forbade, for example, the building of streets wide enough to admit a cart, a regulation that accounted for the number of narrow wynds and alleys in the town. Had the overlords been more considerate incorporation with Edinburgh would not have been so bitterly resisted. Several of the quaint bits of ancient Leith yet remain, and the appearance of the shore as it was in the 17th and 18th centuries, and even at a later date, was picturesque in the extreme. During the centuries of strife between Scotland and England its situation exposed the port to attack both by sea and land. At least twice (in 1313 and 1410) its shipping was burned by the English, who also sacked the town in 1544—when the 1st earl of Hertford destroyed the first wooden pier—and 1547. In the troublous times that followed the death of James V., Leith became the stronghold of the Roman Catholic and French party from 1548 to 1560, Mary of Guise, queen regent, not deeming herself secure in Edinburgh. In 1549 the town was walled and fortified by Montalembert, sieur d’Essé, the commander of the French troops, and endured an ineffectual siege in 1560 by the Scots and their English allies. A house in Coalhill is thought to be the “handsome and spacious edifice” erected for her privy council by Mary of Guise. D’Essé’s wall, pierced by six gates, was partly dismantled on the death of the queen regent, but although rebuilt in 1571, not a trace of it exists. The old tolbooth, in which William Maitland of Lethington, Queen Mary’s secretary, poisoned himself in 1573, to avoid execution for adhering to Mary’s cause, was demolished in 1819. Charles I. is said to have received the first tidings of the Irish rebellion while playing golf on the links in 1641. Cromwell in his Scottish campaign built the Citadel in 1650 and the mounds on the links, known as “Giant’s Brae” and “Lady Fife’s Brae,” were thrown up by the Protector as batteries. In 1698 the sailing of the first Darien expedition created great excitement. In 1715 William Mackintosh of Borlum (1662–1743) and his force of Jacobite Highlanders captured the Citadel, of which only the name of Citadel Street and the archway in Couper Street have preserved the memory.

A mile S.E. of the links lies the ancient village of Restalrig, the home of the Logans, from whom the superiority of Leith was purchased in 1553 by the queen regent. Sir Robert Logan (d. 1606) was alleged to have been one of the Gowrie conspirators and to have arranged to imprison the king in Fast Castle. This charge, however, was not made until three years after his death, when his bones were exhumed for trial. He was then found guilty of high treason and sentence of forfeiture pronounced; but there is reason to suspect that the whole case was trumped up. The old church escaped demolition at the Reformation and even the fine east window was saved. In the vaults repose Sir Robert and other Logans, besides several of the lords Balmerino, and Lord Brougham’s father lies in the kirkyard. The well of St Triduana, which was reputed to possess wonderful curative powers, vanished when the North British railway was constructed.