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  • Edinburgh Leith History

    Leith lies to the north of Edinburgh on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. It has been Edinburgh’s port since the settlement first required it, and has since served for freight, whaling, cruise liners and even briefly as an airport when flying boats used its waters in the 1940’s.

    The burgh of Leith was for many years separated from Edinburgh itself and to this day retains it’s own identity. Leith was officially merged with Edinburgh city in 1920 even tho its inhabitants voted five to one against the move in a referendum.

    Over time Leith has been the venue for several historically important battles. In 1560 the area was laid siege to by a joint force of English and Scottish troops whilst occupied by the French at the hands of Mary Queen of Scots’ French mother Mary of Guise. Remains of the cannon emplacements can still be found on what are now the Leith Links. Oliver Cromwell also used Leith as his headquarters for a time in the 17th century.

    During the time of the American war of Independence, Leith was attacked by a flotilla led by John Paul Jones, who would later be credited with founding the US Navy. Reasons for the attack are sketchy to this day but in any case his efforts were thwarted by bad weather. Responding to the threat, areas of Leith were fortified and to this day part of Leith is still known as ‘The Fort’ although nothing of the fortifications apart from a single gatehouse remain.

    Mentioned earlier, Leith Links is also important for a different reason, it is widely accepted to be where golf was invented, and the very first game was played. The sport was banned in 1457 by King James II as he considered it to simply be a menace to more useful pursuits such as archery. The game eventually came to fruition in 1744 however, when rules were formalised by the ‘Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’.

    Over time Leith Docks became known as the Port of Edinburgh and ship building flourished. Some of the 19th century ship yard buildings remain, along with the Leith Nautical College building on Commercial Street which was established in 1903.

    After the second world war Leith degenerated into a rough, undesirable area known for prostitution and low standards of living. The contrast between then and now is remarkable. Extensive regeneration projects have transformed Leith into one of the most sought after locations in and around Edinburgh, especially the areas know as ‘The shore’ and ‘The Waterfront’. The Royal Yacht Britannia is moored alongside a brand new shopping complex named Ocean Terminal, and nearby is the Scottish Executive building.

    Many upmarket bars, restaurants and luxury Edinburgh hotels such as Mal Maison are scattered around The Shore, as well as several new apartment complexes which are available on this site. The forthcoming Edinburgh Trams will also run thru Leith.

    Leith has spawned several celebrities, but perhaps most famously is the birthplace of the British book and later film starring Ewan McGregor ‘Trainspotting’, it’s author Irvine Welsh is of Leith descent.

    Written by Shaun Flanagan

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