LEITH PIER AND HARBOUR

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This view is taken from the pier, with Edinburgh, the Castle, the Calton-hill, Salisbury-crags, and Arthur’s
seat in the background.

LEITH, which performs nearly the same important services to the “Modem
Athens” as the “Piræus” did to the Ancient, has long served as the port and harbour of
Edinburgh, to the prosperity of which, as well as to that of the whole country, it has
greatly contributed. As early as the beginning of the fourteenth century the citizens of
Edinburgh received from King Robert I. a grant of the harbour of Leith; but, owing to the
resistance of a powerful family, to whose interests it was prejudicial, the royal grant was
of little or no value to the city. As soon, however, as the difference was adjusted, and
the corporation of Edinburgh had obtained undisturbed possession of the harbour,
symptoms of mercantile prosperity became visible. But as this prosperity was confined
to the corporation, the inhabitants of Leith were naturally incensed at the monopoly;
they felt themselves debarred from the natural advantages, profits, and employments of
their maritime position, and daily beheld the wealth which flowed into their port
transferred to the hands of those who were neither resident nor proprietors in the place.
In 1555 a strong effort was made by the inhabitants of Leith to throw off their humiliating
dependence. With this object in view they petitioned the Queen Regent of Scotland,
Mary of Lorraine, for the royal sanction and assistance; and succeeded as far as to get
Leith erected into a burgh of barony, a preparatory step to its being raised to the
independence of a burgh royal. From this epoch, however, having obtained letters
patent, empowering the inhabitants to elect magistrates, and charters for erecting divers
of their trades and arts into corporations, Leith acquired the name and distinction of a
town. By these charters the people were divided into four classes, each of which
became an incorporated body, known as the shipmasters, the traffickers or merchants,
the maltmen, and the trades’ companions; the last of which possesses exclusive
privileges.

The port and harbour of Leith has always been an object of paramount interest
to the country at large, and, from time to time, various plans for their improvement and
extension have been carried into effect. There are now two dry-docks for building and
repairing vessels — a branch of the craft which is here brought into extensive operation
— and two wet-docks, each three hundred feet wide by upwards of seven hundred feet

long, and occupying, with their appurtenances, a space of about three hundred acres.
On these important works upwards of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds have
been expended. The basins are enclosed by well-constructed quays and capacious
warehouses for the reception of merchandise. The Custom-house, the Exchange, the
Trinity-house, the Bank, the Courthouse, the Baths, the Grammar-school, &c., are all
elegant buildings, designed with classic taste, and of modem erection.

Leith enjoys an extensive commerce with the Baltic, the northern parts of
Europe, Holland, France, Spain, Portugal, the Mediterranean, North America, and
the West Indies; besides a widely ramified coasting-trade, and a share in the whale
and herring-fisheries. The Leith smacks have been famous for their safety and swift-
sailing properties; and the powerful steam-ships, which now maintain an almost daily
intercourse with London, are proverbial for their speed and accommodation.

The growing prosperity of Leith is fully evinced by the number of trading vessels
in its port, the mercantile business carried on in every street, the crowded warehouses
and ships, its rope-works, canvas manufactories, sugar refining-houses, breweries,
distilleries, soap-works, iron-foundries, glass works, and other establishments of local
industry. But the tide of prosperity, it is said, is prevented from reaching its height by the
corporation of Edinburgh, who, by increasing the rate and number of the port-dues of
Leith, has caused various branches of commerce to seek encouragement in Kirkcaldy,
Dundee, Aberdeen, and other places.

The depth of water in the harbour of Leith is stated at only sixteen feet at spring-
tides, and ten feet at neap-tides; so that every large vessels cannot enter the port; but at
a mile from the mouth of the harbour there is excellent anchorage in what is called Leith
Roads. The fort, garrisoned by the royal artillery, is a place of great strength.

The municipal government of Leith is vested in a provost, four bellies, a
treasurer, and ten common-councilors, and, in connexion with Portobello and
Musselburgh, returns one member to Parliament.

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