Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Leith

LEITH, a municipal and parliamentary burgh of Midlothian, the chief seaport of the east coast of Scotland, 1¾ miles north by east of Edinburgh, with which it is connected by Leith Walk and other lines of street. It is built on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, at the mouth of the Water of Leith, which, crossed by seven bridges, divides it into North and South Leith. Stretching along the coast for about 3¼ miles from Seafield on the east to Granton on the west, the burgh includes the fishing village of Newhaven, the suburb of Trinity, and part of Wardie, and extends to an area of 1978 acres. It figures as Inverleith (“mouth of the Leith”) in the foundation charter of Holyrood Abbey (1128); and many of its houses, in narrow wynds and along the eastern waterside, have an antique and decayed appearance. The earliest date on any is 1573; but one, at the Coalhill, is thought to be the “handsome and spacious edifice” built for her privy council by the queen regent, Mary of Guise. Nothing remains of D'Essé's fortifications (1549) or of Cromwell's “fair citadel” (1650); but it was Cromwell's troops that raised the battery mounds upon the Links, a grassy expanse of 1140 by 400 yards, bought for a public park in 1857. Leith Fort, the headquarters of the royal artillery in Scotland, dates from 1779; the quaint old Tolbooth, where Maitland of Lethington poisoned himself (1573), was demolished in 1819; and the public buildings one and all are modern, most of them classical structures. They comprise the town-hall (1828), the custom-house (1812), Trinity house (1817), with David Scott's Vasco de Gama and other paintings, the exchange buildings, the corn exchange (1862), the markets (1818), the slaughter-house (1862), the post-office (1876), the public institute (1867), the poor-house (1862), the hospital (1872-76), John Watt s hospital (1862), the high school (1806), and Dr Bell s school (1839). In December 1881 eight board schools had 4839 children on the roll, and an average attendance of 3932.

Plan of Leith.

Of twenty-seven churches, belonging to nine different denominations, the only ancient one is that of South Leith parish, which, founded in 1483, and dedicated to St Mary, was originally cruciform, but now, as “restored” in 1852, consists of merely an aisled nave and square north-western tower; David Lindsay preached in it before James VI. a thanksgiving sermon on the Gowrie conspiracy (1600), and in its graveyard lies the Eev. John Home (1722-1808), author of Douglas, and a native of Leith. Other places of worship are North Leith parish church (1814-16), with Grecian spire of 158 feet; North Leith Free church (1859), in Germanized Gothic, with spire of 160 feet; and St James's Episcopal church (1862-69), a cruciform structure, designed in Early English style by the late Sir G. G. Scott, with apsidal chancel, a spire of 160 feet, and a peal of bells.

So early as 1313 Leith possessed its ships, they in that year being burnt by the English. But in a wide flat foreshore and drifting sands the port has had great difficulties to contend with; and Tucker in 1656 describes it merely as “a convenient dry harbour into which the firth ebbs and flows every tide, with a convenient quay on the one side thereof, of a good length for lading of goods.” The earliest dock was commenced in 1720, and the custom house quay constructed in 1777; but little of the existing works is older than the present century. These, with date, cost, and area, comprise the Old docks (1801-17; £285,108; 10½ acres), the Victoria dock (1852; £135,000; 5 acres), the Albert dock (1863-69; £224,500; 10¾ acres), and the Edinburgh dock (1874-81; £400,000; 16⅔ acres); in connexion with the last two 62 and 108 acres were reclaimed from the east sands. The largest of seven graving docks, the Prince of Wales dock (1858), measures 370 by 60 feet, and cost £100,000; the east and wesb piers, extended or formed during 1826-52, and respectively 3530 and 3123 feet long, leave an entrance to the harbour 250 feet broad, with a depth at high water of 20 to 25 feet. The aggregate tonnage registered as belonging to the port was 1702 in 1692, 6935 in 1752, 25,427 in 1844, 28,303 (3946 steam) in 1854, 33,303 in 1860, 44,892 in 1867, 65,692 in 1873, 74,713 in 1878, and 86,509 on 31st December 1881, viz., 64 sailing vessels of 16,371 tons, and 125 steam-vessels of 70,138 tons, the largest of the latter being one of 2144 tons. This shows marked progress, as likewise does the following table, giving the aggregate tonnage of British and foreign vessels that entered and cleared from and to foreign ports and coastwise, in cargoes and ballast, during the years ending 15th May:—

 Year.  Entered. Cleared.

Sailing. Steam. Total. Sailing. Steam. Total.

1854 ... ... 369,499 ... ... 364,022
1867 235,065 321,035 556,100 97,669 304,806 402,475
1875 304,201 534,479 838,680 291,344 536,453 827,797
1878 309,751 652,624 962,375 312,621 654,427 967,648
1879 250,343 595,258 845,601 252,062 593,751 845,813
1880 261,407 678,793 940,200 263,927 681,303 945,230
1881  262,871   711,282   974,153   259,143   712,056   971,199 

Of 3838 vessels of 952,580 tons that entered in the twelvemonth ending 31st December 1880, 861 of 215,268 tons were foreign, 464 of 61,514 tons were in ballast, and 2241 of 343,005 tons were coasters; whilst of 3766 of 935,607 tons that cleared in the same year, 837 of 212,250 tons were foreign, 1093 of 225,655 tons were in ballast, and 2611 of 471,055 tons were coasters. The total value of foreign and colonial imports was £7,887,096 in 1876, £9,777,270 in 1877, £8,514,889 in 1878, £7,351,548 in 1879, and £9,475,030 in 1880. The total value of exports again was £3,145,820 in 1876, £2,861,992 in 1877, £2,804,912 in 1878, £3,036,780 in 1879, and £2,819,111 in 1880. Lastly, the customs revenue has fluctuated between £607,264 in 1867 and £290,570 in 1880,—the amount for the year ended March 31, 1882, being £466,018; and the port s revenue and expenditure amounted to £1,996,609 and £1,993,947 from July 1838 to May 1876, and to £655,682 and £606,306 from 15th May 1876 to 15th May 1881.

In 1511 James IV. here “buildit the ‘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;” at present three shipbuilding yards employ together nearly two thousand men. During the six years 1875-80 10 sailing vessels of 932 tons and 34 steam-vessels of 11,217 tons were built at Leith, of which those built in 1880 were all steamships—11 of 3655 tons being of iron, and 5 of 191 tons of wood. Glass-making dates from 1682, sugar-refining from 1757, meat-preserving from 1837; and other industries are flour-grinding, canvas-weaving, soap-boiling, rope-making, engineering, tanning, and the manufacture of artificial manures. Leith is an important centre of trade in grain, timber, and wool, and in wine from Spain, Portugal, and France. It is also head of one of the twenty-five fishery districts of Scotland. Granted to the city of Edinburgh in 1329, it first became an independent parliamentary and municipal burgh in 1832-33, with Portobello and Musselburgh returning one member to parliament, and being governed by a provost, four bailies, a treasurer, and ten councillors. The annual value of real property amounted in 1882 to £366,295, against £150,642 in 1860, and £252,349 in 1873. Population (1811) 20,363, (1841) 26,808, (1851) 30,919, (1861) 30,628, (1871) 44,277, (1881) 58,193.

The history of Leith is closely connected with that of Edinburgh, episodes being the burning of its shipping by the English in 1313 and 1410, its sack by them in 1544 and 1547, its tenure by Mary of Guise as stronghold of the Catholic party from 1548 to 1560 and ineffectual siege in the latter year by the Scotch and English allies, the sailing from it of the first Darien expedition in 1698, and the seizure of its citadel by Brigadier Mackintosh of Borlum and 1600 Highland Jacobites in 1715, to which may be added the arrival, departure, or visit of James II. (1437), Mary Queen of Scots (1561), James VI. and his queen Anne of Denmark (1590), Charles I., who is said to have first got tidings of the Irish rebellion (1641) when playing golf upon the Links, Cromwell and Charles II. (1650), George IV. (1822), Queen Victoria (1842), the king of Denmark (1874), and the duke of Edinburgh (1881).

See A. Campbell's History of Leith (Leith, 1827). (F. H. G.)