Port of Leith

(Leith Harbour, Leith Docks)

Leith Docks
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Leith Docks

Leith has for centuries acted as the port of Edinburgh and remains one of Scotland's larger ports. The modern harbour is located in South Leith, with distinctive break-waters enclosing its entrance to the northwest.

The original harbour, which dates back to the 14th C., was a simple anchorage at the mouth of the Water of Leith. Docks were constructed from the early 17th C, but these suffered encroachment by sand bars. John Rennie (1761 - 1821) identified a lack of deep water and was asked to propose a scheme to overcome the problems. His docks, which lay to the west of the river, were begun in 1800. The original gateway is preserved in Dock Place, beside the Leith Customs House, although the docks here, which were built c.1852 are now ornaments within the redeveloped Victoria Quay complex. Following Victoria, came the Albert and Imperial docks built through until c.1880. To the east, the Edinburgh Dock was completed in 1881. Beginning in 1936, a vast area of deep water, which lay to the west towards Newhaven, was enclosed by immense break-waters to create the Western Harbour, completed 1943.

By 1948 Leith was importing nearly a quarter-million tons of grain per annum, with grain-handling facilities on the Imperial Dock and Western Harbour. While Rank-Hovis's Caledonia Mills on the Western Harbour were demolished in 2004, some grain handling facilities remain including Chancelot Mills also on the Western Harbour (built 1954) and the immense B-listed Imperial Dock Grain Elevator (built 1933-34, extended 1957-58 and again in the 1960s). A deep-water lock was built across the harbour entrance in 1968.

Redevelopment from the early 1990s, which claims to have resulted in the largest waterfront development in Europe, includes the Scottish Executive building at Victoria Quay, desirable residential dwellings, retail and leisure facilities, including the Ocean Terminal complex, which incorporates the permanent berth of the Royal Yacht Britannia. Half of the Western Harbour was in-filled to create the land. Amongst these developments are the Victoria Swing Bridge and the Albert Dock, which is at least partly ornamental, with new office developments on its southern margin, although a hydraulic crane, which was the first in Scotland, survives at its eastern end.

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