City of Edinburgh

Newhaven Harbour
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Newhaven Harbour

Now a district of Edinburgh, the village of Newhaven came into being as a ship-building centre and later was a notable fishing port. Located 2 miles (3 km) north of the centre of Edinburgh, on the western margin of the port of Leith, Newhaven retains some of the characteristics of a fishing port and a reputation for fish restaurants. Behind the village is a steep slope that represents a raised beach and runs parallel to the Firth of Forth, connecting Granton, Wardie, Trinity and Newhaven.

Newhaven Harbour was founded as a royal dockyard by King James IV (1473 - 1513) in 1504, on land he bought from Holyrood Abbey, to permit the building of much larger ships than was possible at Leith. His ambition was to build the Great Michael, launched in 1511 as the pride of the Scottish navy. James built housing for an international workforce, which included French, Dutch and Flemish craftsmen, together with the Chapel of St. Mary and St. James (1505) of which only the west gable remains today.

Later Newhaven became known as the premier oyster port of Scotland and from the late 18th Century herring were landed here in large quantities and Newhaven became the fish-market for Edinburgh. Photographers David Hill (1802-70) and Robert Adamson (1821-48) made a unique record of the Newhaven fisher-folk in 1843, one of the first uses of photography to record social history. An indoor market was built here in 1896, which served many of the fishing villages in Eastern Scotland. This timber and iron structure remains, having been restored in 1993, and is now B-listed. Newhaven Heritage Museum once occupied part of the building, which is otherwise now used by seafood restaurants.

The Society of Free Fisherman of Newhaven, which remains active today, gained their Royal Charter in 1573 from King James VI (1566 - 1625). Newhaven fish-wives, with their cries of "Caller Ou" and "Caller Herrin", were a common sight on Edinburgh streets from the middle-ages, but the last one retired in 1974.

Newhaven became part of Edinburgh in 1920. The area was redeveloped from 1960 by architect Ian G. Lindsay, conserving some properties while creating new ones with some vernacular features and yet others, on the opposite (south) side of Main Street, which can best be described as utilitarian, comprising dismal three-storey grey-harled blocks of flats. To the east, around Annfield and Great Michael Rise, are some better blocks by Sir Basil Spence (1907-76), one of which interestingly incorporates granite cobbles recycled from roads.

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