1902 Encyclopedia > Leith


LEITH, a municipal and parliamentary burgh of Midlothian, the chief seaport of the east coast of Scotland, 11 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, LEITH divides it into North and South Leith. Stretching along the coast for about 31 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'Essd'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.

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 Rev. 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 clock was commenced in 1720, and the customhouse 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; 10i acres), the Victoria dock (1852; £135,000; 5 acres), the Albert dock (1863-69; £224,500; 101 acres), and the Edinburgh dock (1874-81 ; £400,000 ; 16 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 (185S), measures 370 by 60 feet, and cost £100,000 ; the east and west 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 1SS1, 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 :- annually ; it also possesses glass-works, tile-kilns, potteries, and metallic ware factories. The principal agricultural products of the surrounding country, which on account of its fertility has been called the " Bohemian Paradise," are corn, fruit, hops, and wine. Population in 1880, 10,854.

At a very early date Leitmeritz enjoyed special privileges, which were extended and confirmed in 1325 by King John of Luxemburg. In 1421 the town was ineffectually besieged by Ziska. Royal diets were held there in 1494 and 1547, but subsequently the commune was deprived of several of its ancient rights, and its importance declined. In 1631, during the Thirty Years' War, Leitmeritz was captured and forcibly occupied by Saxon troops, who were, however, obliged. to relinquish it in 1632 to the imperialists. In 1639 it was taken by the Swedes, who did irretrievable damage to the town. In 1742 the suburbs were burnt by the French.

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