There has been a port at Leith since the Middle Ages. From a small hamlet, Leith grew in importance to become Scotland’s principal port, only surpassed in the nineteenth century by Glasgow. Over the years, the folk of Leith or ‘Leithers’ have suffered invasions, looting, burning of their homes, bubonic plague, famine and poverty. After the Second World War, Leith went into decline, but over the last few years it has seen a programme of huge regeneration. Luxury penthouse flats commanding views over the Firth of Forth now also command sky high prices. In recent times, Leith docks have hosted the Tall Ships, the Festival of the Sea, and in 2003 hosted the MTV awards. The Royal Yacht Britannia is permanently moored at Ocean Terminal. Although the public face of government plays out in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, much of the work of government is carried out in the expansive building of the Scottish Government, built on land reclaimed from the dockyards. It is here that this tour begins at N55 58.657 W003 10.446, at the start coordinates. You can park at Ocean Terminal or on one of the side streets At the weekends and after 6pm on weekdays parking is available on the west side of the Scottish Government building, accessed from Dock Place. The number 11 and 22 buses go to Ocean Terminal from Princes Street.
The Scottish Government
Victoria Quay is one of two main Government buildings in Edinburgh (the other is St Andrew's House on Regent Road). VQ now houses about 2,500 staff. On the ‘Discover Leith’ information point you will find the date that the building opened – 1st July 199A. (Apparently there is a different date on a plaque in the foyer of the building - so don't use that one!)
South of the Government building are some of the many bond warehouses in Leith. Many of these have been turned into flats and offices. The railway tracks in the cobblestone road are still there, which enabled goods to be transported. Originally the warehouses were used to store wine imported from the Continent. Trade was especially active with Rochelle, Bordeaux, Rouen and Dieppe. Leith became the greatest wine port in the UK. Upon arrival in Leith, the wine was clarified and bottled, then laid to mature for 10-15 years. This trade continued to grow for about two hundred and fifty years until the time of the Napoleonic wars, when the price increased because of duties imposed on it. During the 17th century, when England was often at war with France and the Low Countries, the Leithers were considered to be traitors for carrying on trading with these countries when they were prohibited from doing so. Later on sherry from Spain and port from Portugal began to be imported in increasing quantities. In the 1870s after the failure of several wine harvests, the bond warehouses lay empty and were snatched up to store whisky. Bond warehouses were secure duty-free warehouses allowing the whisky to mature untaxed. By the 1960s, 85% of Scotland’s whisky was matured in Leith in just under 90 warehouses.
But it is not only wine and whisky that Leith is famous for. In 1749, William Younger established a brewery in Leith, a company that was eventually to become Scottish Courage, the UK’s largest brewer. Crabbie’s Green Ginger Wine was also a Leith invention in around 1800 and until only a few years ago the name could be seen emblazoned on a warehouse in Great Junction Street (now flats). Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial was similarly a Leith invention, designed for sailors who were prone to scurvy at sea from a lack of vitamin C from fresh fruit and vegetables.
As you walk around Leith, you will see a huge variety of buildings. The older ones are around the Shore, but Georgian and Victorian buildings grace the streets surrounding Leith Links. There are many buildings associated with the maritime, trading, and industrial history. There are also 1960s monstrosities, some of which have thankfully been pulled down. What you will notice most is the large number of converted or new apartment buildings.
The Citadel N55 58.613 W003 10.474
From the Scottish Executive, it is a short walk south to find a small remnant of Cromwell’s occupation of Leith in the 17th century. Leithers had invited Charles II over from Holland and acknowledged him as King after the execution of Charles I. This prompted Cromwell to invade. The fortifications of Leith repelled him and his troops for over a month, but after the Battle of Dunbar, Cromwell occupied Leith and stayed for nine years. His troops built the Citadel stronghold in which to store their arms and ammunition and established strict military discipline over the locals. All that remains of the Citadel today is an archway. Find the date that it was built 16B6. Due to construction work obscuring the plaque, the number you need is 5.
Leith Harbour N55 58.648 W003 10.289
Retrace your steps and walk north on the west side of the river. You will pass a number of restaurants, Leith’s modern economy. Find the address of 'a room in Leith' – it is CC.
Whaling N55 58.699 W003 10.168
Carrying on North, find your way across Victoria Bridge over the Water of Leith at N55 58.718 W003 10.225. Head south along the east side of the river. You are looking for a relic of the whaling industry. In 1909, the company of Christian Salvesen caught its first whale in the Antarctic Ocean. By 1911, it had become the largest whaling company in the world. By the relic is a picture of Christian Salvesen’s base in South Georgia, named ‘Leith Harbour’, dated 19D8. Whaling began in 1616 when James IV granted a 35-year patent to two Leith skippers. In 1750 the Edinburgh Whaling Company was set up. Vessels mustered in the Firth of Forth and sailed to artic waters in convoys for protection. The last whaling ship left Leith as late as 1963.
Compare the picture of the old harbour with its modern day version.
As Leith grew in importance as a trading port, all of the industries associated with this activity also burgeoned. As well as shipbuilding and repairs, fishing and trading, the industries of rope, twine and sail making also flourished. As merchant ships travelled the world and returned with their goods, Leith became a centre for the storage and processing of sugar, grain and timber. With the wine and whisky trade came glass making, bottling and barrel making or coopering. The whaling industry and the resulting trade in whale oil brought about the establishment of the first soap making factory in Scotland.
In 1772 and 1787 the first dry docks were built. In 1806 the Old East dock was built and in 1817 the Old West dock was built. The bigger size of ships being built and the increased activity necessitated further larger docks. Victoria dock, where the Scottish Executive now stands, was built in 1852. Ocean Terminal opened in 2001 on the site of the famous Ramage and Ferguson shipyard. The Albert dock, Edinburgh dock and Imperial docks followed in 1865, 1881 and 1902. Leith still has the largest enclosed deepwater port in Scotland, and handles cargoes of timber, coal, steel, cement and petroleum liquid. More recently it has become a stopping off point for cruise liners. The dockyards are now run by Forth Ports plc.
Built in Leith in 1837, the SS Sirius was the first passenger steamship to cross the Atlantic. The journey to New York took 18 days, and the Sirius narrowly beat Brunel’s huge ship ‘The Great Western’. 300 years earlier, James IV set out to establish a national fleet for trade and defence. The ‘Great Michael’ was built in nearby Newhaven harbour. Launched in 1512, she was 240 feet long, 56 feet wide and had sides of oak 10 feet thick. Her huge size made her difficult to navigate and she required a crew of 300 men. She also carried 300 cannons, 120 gunners and 1000 men-at-arms. It was reported that all of the timber in Fife was used to build her, as well as much imported wood. In the end she never saw active duty and was sold to the French to settle debts. Models of the ship are in Ocean Terminal and Newhaven Heritage Museum at Newhaven Harbour. The ill-fated Darien Expedition also sailed from Leith, in 1698. Instead of founding a colonial market for Scottish goods in Panama, disease and skirmishes with the Spanish wreaked havoc. Of nine ships, only one returned. Douglas Galbraith’s novel, ‘The Rising Sun’, is based on expedition accounts and is a good read.
The Shore N55 58.674 W003 10.123
Passing Sandy Irvine Robertson, seated on the bench, you will find a former Sailor’s Home, now the Malmaison. This building provided accommodation for sailors, as well as a canteen, shop, chapel and recreation rooms. It was the place for skippers to come to find crew for their ships. In the Foundation stone there is a date: 20 September 18E3. The words’ Sailors Home’ are still over the door, though faint. The nearby street named ‘Timber Bush’ was a storage area for timber; Bush being a corruption of the French word ‘bourse’ or exchange. This area of the Shore was the hive of activity before the dock area was extended into the Firth of Forth. Ships sailed right up to the streets to offload their cargoes. With the building of wet docks during the 19th century, trading soared in Leith. At its height in 1913, trade in Leith reached 1,564,999 tons in imports and 3,081,046 tons in exports
The King's Wark N55 58.596 W003 10.161
A plaque on a building on The Shore commemorates the landing of King George IV on 1Fth August 1822. This visit was arranged by none other than Sir Walter Scott. George IV was the first reigning monarch to set foot in Scotland for almost 200 years.
Around the corner, at N55 58.574 W003 10.161, find a stone carving of the Leith arms and motto. The house number below the stone carving is G4 Across the road is the King's Wark pub, and the outline on the wall shows an old set of steps. The King's wark was originally built in 1H38.
The ‘Rough Wooing’ N55 58.501 W003 10.198
Go south along the shore turn left to find Lamb's house, which is signposted. Leith had to be rebuilt after the horrific years of the mid 16th century when it was looted and burned twice within a few years. The ‘Rough Wooing’ was Henry VIII’s retribution for the Scots reneging on the agreement for the infant Mary Queen of Scots to marry his son Edward. The Earl of Hertford was dispatched with 200 ships and 12,000 men. They killed all who tried to defend the town, but many Leithers had fled into the wild hinterland until it was safe to return. The houses were looted and burned, and the lands around Edinburgh torched. The English sailed away with their booty, only to return in 1547 defeating the Scots on ‘Black Sunday’ at Pinkie in Musselburgh. Leith was again destroyed. On the ‘Discover Leith’ information point find the date of the Earl of Hertford’s first sacking of Leith in 154J.
Few of the very old buildings of Leith have survived owing to repeated sackings of the town. Lamb's house is one of the oldest houses remaining in Leith. It is reputed to be the early 17th century house of a wealthy Leith Merchant. Mary Queen of Scots is supposed to have dined here after landing at Leith in 1561, before travelling to Holyrood Palace. The house is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Note the original ‘wind doors’ (windows) fashioned to use as little glass as possible as it was so expensive in those days.
The Leith Police N55 58.416 W003 10.089
Continue right and then head East. Near to the Leith Police station is another ‘Discover Leith’ information point. Find the date when Leithers first enjoyed travelling on electric trams – 19K5. Due to construction work for the new tram system, this information is not accessible and the number you need is 0. Leith was the first town in Scotland to have electric trams, as well as the first town to install electric streetlights in 1889. Try saying the famous rhyme about the Leith Police that is written on the information point:
“The Leith Police dismisseth us
I’m thankful, sir, to say.
The Leith Police dismisseth us
They thought we sought to stay
The Leith Police dismisseth us
We both sighed sighs apiece
And the sigh that we sighed
As we said goodbye
Was the size of the Leith Police.”
Leith Links N55 58.282 W003 10.017
Continue East. Leith Links are famous for golf and the plague. There were several outbreaks of plague around the turn of the 16th century. The death toll of the plague outbreak in 1645 was 2736. All who could fled the town, leaving the infected unattended. Plague camps were built on the Links, called ‘ludges’ where families of those infected were housed while their homes were fumigated. Of course, many never returned to them. Large trenches were dug on the Links to bury the dead, as the churchyards could not cope. Bodies have been disinterred by building work on nearby Wellington Place.
Leith lays claim to be the birthplace of golf. In 1457 James II forbad golf to be played on the Links as it interfered with his soldiers’ archery practise. However by 1505 James IV was known to have played the game on Leith Links. It became a popular pursuit and in the early 18th century ‘The Gentlemen Golfers of Leith’ was established. In 1744 the Town Council presented a silver club to the members to be played for each year under a set of rules that were later adopted by the Royal and Ancient Club at St. Andrews in 1754. The original rules referred to hazards such as losing a ball in the soldiers’ lines, which could be removed without penalty. The site was not ideal for playing golf however, and the club moved to Musselburgh and then onto its present home in Muirfield, West Lothian in 1891. Golf was banned in 1909 and there are signs around the Links forbidding it. At the coordinates there is a commemorative stone cairn that gives the date the Honourable Company moved to Musselburgh. It was 183L. NB. Don’t use the date on the ‘Discover Leith’ point as it is, for some reason, different to the one on the cairn.
Trade Guilds and Masonic Lodge N55 58.320 W003 10.276
Head West down a lane and through the gates of South Leith Parish Church churchyard at N55 58.325 W003 10.162 if it is open. Otherwise you will have to walk around it via Woolworths at N55 58.252 W003 10.304 and the shopping precinct. This church has a long history associated with Leith. In the main vestibule is a stone carving from a mansion house (now demolished to make way for a bond warehouse) built near the Shore by Mary of Guise. She was the wife of James V and mother of Mary Queen of Scots. As Regent of Scotland, it was due to her links with France that the ‘Auld Alliance’ came about. However, she was unpopular as well as Catholic, and the Protestants, encouraged by John Knox and allied with the English, laid siege to Leith in 1560. The Leithers were reduced to eating horseflesh among other unappetising animals. With Mary of Guise’s death, the French influence in Scotland ended and the 3000 French soldiers billeted in Leith departed. The fortifications they had built around Leith were demolished, and none of it remains today.
In a cabinet in the west porch is a display of weapons used by churchyard guards to fight off ‘resurrectionists’ or grave robbers. It was not just the infamous Burke and Hare who lined their pockets by selling dead bodies.
At the clue coordinates is Trinity House. All trades people were members of one of the Guilds. The oldest and wealthiest was the ‘Masters and Mariners of the Trinity House’. Dues, called ‘prime gilt’ were received on each ton of goods unloaded from vessels. These dues were abolished in 1872, but funds were used to build a seaman’s hospital or almshouse for the “poor, old, infirm and weak mariners”. The guild also provided pensions for old members and widows and their families. These guilds played an important part in the social, religious and industrial life of the Leithers. Find the date that Trinity House was rebuilt in 18M6.
Go down St Anthony's Lane and find Trafalgar Lodge at N55 58.332 W003 10.339. Notice the strange carvings and symbols all over the building. Above the door find the date that it was chartered on 1st February 18N8
Heading back towards the Shore you will pass the Vaults at N55 58.447 W003 10.358, built around 1785, which is another old warehouse for wine with a sumptuous former saleroom. It is now a restaurant. The wine trade was managed by the ‘Fraternity of St. Anthony’ guild, encompassing various tradesmen, including ‘stingmen’ and ‘rollers’. The former carried wine casks, while the latter rolled them, to the taverns in Leith. They also reported to the Clerk of Leith how much each inn used. There is a copy of a stone carving depicting a 17th century trade stone outside the Vaults. Look at the date 16P8.
The wine industry gave birth to Leith’s glass industry and in the mid 18th century one million bottles were being produced in Leith each week. The classic shape for the red wine bottle was called the ‘Leith Design’ and adopted around the world.
The Water of Leith N55 58.506 W003 10.310
Look for a metal representation of the course of the Water of Leith in the pavement on the northeast side of the bridge. This is the end of the Water of Leith walkway. There is another of these at the beginning of the walkway in Balerno, 12 miles upstream. (Click on the cache trail sign at the start of this webpage for a list of all the caches along the walkway.) There is also a pictorial representation of the various mills that existed on the river. Count the number of mills = Q1
From Church to Mill to Flats and Offices N55 58.534 W003 10.420
On the west side of the Water of Leith, find an old building converted into offices and flats, with a distinctive Dutch style bell tower. Originally part of the North Leith Parish Church, the building was turned into a Mill. Note two numbers above a window, one is 9, and the other is R
You should now have numbers for the letters A to R excluding I and O. The coordinates for the cache are:
N55 58.UVW W003 10.XYZ, where