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Leith Edinburgh

History, Attractions and Activities

Leith Area Edinburgh

Leith area Edinburgh or originally inverlet ‘the mouth of the Water of Leith’ which was two villages one on each side of the river estuary North and South Leith which were first joined by a bridge in 1493 and the oldest building that remains is St Ninian’s at the shore. Leith was chartered to Edinburgh by Robert the Bruce in 1329 giving the powers of Edinburgh control of Leith. In 1920 Leith became a part of Edinburgh.

​The Leith Area Timeline

The first recorded mention of Leith was in 1143, when the area near the river estuary was granted to the Holyrood monks by David I. Known by the name Inverlet. Edward II mentions Leith in 1313 before the Battle of Bannockburn. The incorporation of  institution of the Mariners’  happened in Leith 1380. Leith became a ship building area circa 1520. The French invaded Leith in 1548 for 12 years they took control. Finally in 1560 after many battles and a siege the french left Leith in the wake of destroying what they could. Mary Queen of Scots returned to Scotland from France in 1560 at the shore in Leith. Cromwell took control of Leith in 1650 and had a base at the Citadel.

Leith Area 17th Century On

The Bank of Leith opened in 1806 with its own Leith currency.  King George VI set foot on Scottish soil at the Shore invited by Sir Walter Scott in 1822. The  “Leith Act” was passed by Parliament in 1827. Leith Nautical College was opened in 1855 The building resembling a ship. The Leith Improvement Act was passed in 1880.  A free home for retired Sailors’ was built in 1883 at the Shore. Now the building is a  Hotel. The first trains arrived in Leith when Leith Central station opened at the junction of Leith Walk and Duke Street in 1903. Finally Leith became a part of Edinburgh in 1920.

Queen Victoria 

Kirkgate Leith

This Statue was to commemorate the reign of Queen Victoria and her visit to Leith in 1842. She died in 1901. It is also a war memorial to the memory of the Scots Guards from the area that died in the Boar War. It was unveiled by Lord Rosebery who was the Liberal Prime Minister 1894-5 and the ceremony was watched by a crowd of over 20,000 people. Leith became a part of Edinburgh in 1920. The meaning of Leith is broad river.

Statue of Queen Victoria Leith Edinburgh

Trinity House Museum

Leith Edinburgh

The original mariner’s house built in 1555 on this site was an Almshouse for the retired and poor that wished to stay within the seafaring community.  The present building replacing the original Almshouse was built in 1816. Explore Trinity house and see the treasures the mariners returned home with from their travels. There are old marine maps, navigation equipment and ships models. There are also paintings and manuscripts that tell the stories of the sailors of the 14th century to this day.

Trinity House Museum
Trinity House Maritime Museum Edinburgh

South Leith Parish Church

  Leith Edinburgh

The first church built was St Mary’s in 1483, over the centuries famous people have used the church such as Mary of Guise and Oliver Cromwell. The church has been used as a prison and the General Assembly was held here. Many parts of the church have been replaced since first built, with the ceiling being replace during the renovations of 1847, a Hammer beam ceiling was installed which is still present and will take your breath away.

South Leith Parish Church 1483

St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church

 Leith Edinburgh

St Mary Star of the Sea was built mainly due to the emigration of Irish families due to the potato famine between 1845 and 1849. Many Irish Catholics families came to Leith and there was a lack of Catholic churches to satisfy the large congregations. The Church of St Mary Star of the Sea was Completed in 1854 and is within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

St Mary Star of the Sea.Leith Edinburgh
St Mary's Carving Leith Edinburgh.jpg
St Mary's Statue Leith Edinburgh.jpg

 Leith Town Hall 

 Leith Edinburgh

The Town Hall on the corner of Constitution Street and Queens Charlotte Street was built in 1828. A new Town Hall was open in 1929 after leith joined Edinburgh but was nearly destroyed by bombings in 1941 during the 2nd World War.

Leith Town Hall Carved Panel Leith Edinb
Old Leith Town Hall Leith Edinburgh

Stone Plaques Maritime Street Leith

1893       Javance (Uncover) 

JAVANCE. Wall Tablet Maritime Street Lei

Stone Plaques Maritime Street Leith

Spe vires augentur.

(Our powers are augmented by hope.)

Wall Tablet Leith Edinburgh

Leith Assembly Rooms

Exchange Building

 Leith Edinburgh

The exchange buildings were built by subscription as a meeting place for merchants, which included the Assembly Rooms that opened in 1783 and an extension in 1810 which was the Leith Exchange. This was where everything from commerce to entertainment was centred.

Leith Assembly Rooms Exchange Building P
Leith Exchange Building Leith Edinburgh

A Leith Hero Eric “Winkle” Brown

 Leith Edinburgh

Eric Melrose Brown  21 January 1919 – 21 February 2016.  Eric was born in Leith Area a port outside of Edinburgh.

Captain Eric Melrose Brown known as Winkle due to his slight stature was an amazing man and record holder.

His father was a pilot and as a young boy Eric was involved in aviation. Captain Eric Brown’s first flight was on his fathers’ knee.

He became Britain’s most decorated test pilot in the Royal Air Force. Flying 487 different types of aircraft.

He was also the first person to land a plane on an aircraft carrier. 

He saw Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics, witnessed the horrors of Belsen and awarded and the CBE, MBE and OBE. He was to  continue flying aircraft until he was 70 years old.

He also was a published author of  books and lived till he was 97 years of age.

Eric Winkle Brown Fighter Pilot

Robert Burns Statue

 Leith Edinburgh

Robert Burns died at the age of 37. He was known as the Ploughman poet. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. Burns was born two miles south of Ayr, in Alloway South Ayrshire, Scotland. Robert Burns was the eldest of seven children.  He travelled the world and had many love interests and had 9 children. Robert Burns is buried in St. Michael’s Churchyard, Dumfries, Scotland. Robert Burns’ brother Gilbert Burns (1760 – 1827) and mother, Agnes Broun 17 March 1732 – 14 January 1820 (and later his sister Annabella) moved to Bolton East Lothian from Ayrshire. Gilbert oversaw the building of the new Bolton parish church which was completed in 1809. The cottage at Grant’s Brae is no longer there, the house was demolished and a roadside monument stands in its place. No more than one hundred yards northeast lies the drinking well used by the Burns family. It was lovingly restored in 1932 and dedicated to Agnes Broun. The dedication states: “Drink of the pure crystals and not only be ye succoured but also refreshed in the mind. To the mortal and immortal memory and in noble tribute to her, who not only gave a son to Scotland but to the whole world and whose own doctrines he preached to humanity that we might learn?  


Burns 1759 – 1796

Robert Burns Statue Leith Edinburgh

“The priest-like father reads the sacred page –

from scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeur springs,

that makes her loved at home, revered abroad:”

Robert Burns Statue  Plaque Leith Edinbu

“I there wi something did forgather,

that pat me in an eerie swither:”

Presented by Robert Meikle

Robert Burns Statue  Plaque Leith Edinbu

“When Vulcan gies his bellows breath

an plowmen gather wi’ their graith”

Robert Burns Statue  Plaque Leith Edinbu

“In order, on the clean hearth-stane

the luggies three are ranged:”


Presented by William Tulloch

Robert Burns Statue  Plaque Leith Edinbu

Leith Bank Building

 Leith Edinburgh

Leith Bank was established in 1792 and printed Leith bank notes and was trading from its premises in Bernard Street from 1806. It was common place for towns in Scotland to print their own money. The funding would come from local wealth merchants.  Leith Bank did not stay open long as it closed due to lack of funds in 1842.


Reverend John Home 

 Leith Edinburgh

Reverend John Home was a poet and playwright and was born in Maritime Street Leith in 1722. He is remember for his play Douglas which was first performed in the Playhouse Theatre Canongate in 1756

Rev John Home Author of Douglas.JPG

Corn Exchange

 Leith Edinburgh 

The Corn Exchange building was built in 1861 marketing hall to deal with the sale and purchase of agricultural goods. The building has a frieze which runs down the Constitution Street side of the building which depicts cherubs at work in the agricultural services. The frieze was sculpted by John Rhind.

Leith Corn Exchange Carving Leith Edinbu
Leith Corn Exchange Leith Edinburgh

West Bowling Green Street


Leith Edinburgh

William Beatson was the engineer that built the bridge in west Bowling Green Street in 1886. It is a Single span bridge with a single cobbled road which spans the Water of Leith. The road is now pedestrian only and can be accessed from The Quilts or west Bowling Green Street. 

West Bowling Green Street Bridge Plaque
West Bowling Street Bridge over the Wate

Leith Fort

Leith Edinburgh 

Leith fort was designed by James Craig of Edinburgh and the Fort was constructed in 1780. The Royal Artillery occupied the fort in 1793. The Fort was increased in size during the Napoleonic War to accommodate French prisoners. Leith Fort saw no action and was man with a battalion until 1957. A that remains of the fort is part of the walls and the two gate houses. There are also a number of canon still on site.

Leith Fort Leith Edinburgh (Gateway)
Leith Fort Leith Edinburgh Cannon
Leith Fort Leith Edinburgh Guard House
Leith Fort Leith Edinburgh

Norwegian Seaman’s Church


Norwegian Seaman’s Church Leith was built in 1868 by Johan Storjohn a divinity graduate from Bergen Norway who arrived in Edinburgh in 1863 and could not find a church for Scandinavian people. At the time there were many Scandinavian sailors as the whaling fleet of Christian Salvesen was registered in Leith.

 Norwegian King Olav V visited the church in 1962.

Norwegian Seaman's Church Stone Leith Ed
Norwegian Seaman's Church Leith Edinburg
Norwegian Seaman's Church Stone Leith Ed
Norwegian Seaman's Church Stone Leith Ed

Miracle at Sea 

Norwegian Church Leith

“Vim Stone”

In the Garden of the Church is a stone named the “Vim Stone”. The stone was named after a Norwegian  ship which ran aground in 1937 and was letting in water and would have sunk with loss of life. The rocks the ship hit, part broke off and plugged the hole and saved the ship, which finished its journey to Leith. . The sailors on the ship removed the rock fragment and took it to the church, where it can be seen in the garden to this day.

The inscription reads


The Vim Stone Norwegian Church Leith
Norwegian Seamans Church Leith
Vim Stone Plaque  Norwegian Church

David Kilpatrick Public School

Leith Memorial Stone

David Kilpatrick School was built between 1913 and 1915  and was first used as a barracks before becoming a school in 1919, which it was its original purpose. 

The inscription on the memorial stone reads: “David Kilpatrick” Public School, Leith. The Memorial Stone of this public school was laid on 27th September 1913 by the Right Honourable R.C. Munro Ferguson P.C. L.L.D. M.P. For Leith District of Burghs members of the school board. Rev. David Kilpatrick (Chairman) Mrs. Elizabeth Logan Calder, Mr. James Murphy, Mr. J. Duncan Cran, Rev. M. O’Reilly, Mrs. Janet Cruickshank, Rev. James M. Stott M.A., Mr. James Dempster, Mr. Thomas Scott, Mr. John Garden, Mr. Wm. L. Sharp, Miss Clarice M. McNab, Mr George W. Tait S.S.C. Mr Frank J. Trotter, clerk and treasurer, Mr George Craig, licentiate, R.I.B.A., architect. The building was ready for occupancy on 1st September, 1915; but owing to the premises being required for military purposes in connection with the great European war, they were not fully utilised for educational work until 2nd September 1919.

David Kilpatrick Public School Memorial

Leith Town Hall Complex

Leith Town Hall Complex consists of Thomas Morton Hall a venue that holds upto 200 people. The Theatre which concerts and weddings are held plus the public Library building. 

Thomas Morton Hall Leith

Thomas Morton was born in Leith in October 1781 and became a shipbuilder. Opening his own company. In 1818 Thomas Morton was the inventor of the slipway, a way to haul ships in and out of the water. Thomas Morton lived at 1 Pilrig Place Leith. He died in 1832 and is buried in South Leith church burial grounds. The hall that is part of the Town Hall Complex was named in his memory.

Thomas Morton Hall Leith Edinburgh

Leith Theatre

The Leith Theatre complex was a gift fro Edinburgh Council when Leith became a part of Edinburgh in 1920. After many years of building the theatre opened  in 1932. With the complex being bombed in 1941 the theatre did not open again until 1961 when renovations and rebuild was complete. The theatre building now operates by a trust and is a creative hub for all.

Leith Theatre Leith Edinburgh

Leith Public Library

The Library was built in 1929 and bombed in 1941 then rebuilt and opened in 1955.

Leith Public Library Leith Edinburgh

Mount Falcon Battery Site 

Leith Edinburgh 

This is said to be where Officer Falcon had an artillery battery in the siege of Leith in 1560

prior to the French disregarding Leith du to Mary Queen of Scots intervention.

Mount Falcon Battery Plaque Leith Edinbu

Leith Provident Buildings

Leith Edinburgh

The Leith Provident Co-operative Society built their first department store in 1911 on Great Junction Street Leith

Leith Provident Building Leith Edinburgh
Leith Provident. Tablet Carving Leith Ed

Gurdwara Nanak

Leith Edinburgh 

The first Sikh families to arrive in Edinburgh were in 1958 from the Punjab. The Sikh place of worship is a Gurdwara and the first Gurdwara was a house in Leith in 1964. In 1976 the present Gurdwara was opened at 1 Sheriff Brae Edinburgh. Previous to the Gurdwara it was St Thomas’s Church which was built in 1843. The Sikh religion was founded by Guru Nanak, he was born in 1469 A.D. It is believed that the Sikh religion was first preached in 1496 in the Punjab by Guru Nanak.

Edinburgh's Gurdwara in Leith

Dr Andrew Bell School

Leith Edinburgh

Dr Bell's School Junction Street Leith was built in 1838 and acquired by Leith school board in 1882 from the Bell Trust. Dr Andrew Bell founded schools worldwide using the educational system that he founded.

Andrew Bell was born in St Andrews in 1753. He became a Scottish Episcopalian priest and teacher who pioneered

the Madras System of Education. He was founder of The Madras College St Andrews.

More on St Andrews on 

He first was a teacher in the Americas during the 1770’s.

He returned to Britain in 1871 and was a minister at Episcopal Chapel in Leith.

John Bell School Leith Edinburgh
Dr Andrew Bell School Statue Leith Edinburgh

Leith Swimming Baths

Leith Edinburgh

Leith swimming baths is a part of the original Bell’s School which was acquired by the Leith school board in 1896.

Victoria Leith Baths  Leith Edinburgh

Leith Vaults 

Leith Edinburgh 

The oldest warehouse and cellar for wine in the Leith Area is the Vaults previously known as the Black Vaults. The oldest part of the Vaults now is 1682, but were on this site much earlier possibly circa 1540.

Leith Vaults Leith Edinburgh Plaque

Porters’ Stone

Leith Edinburgh 

The Porters Stone or Stingmans Plaque was originally in Tolbooth Wynd before it was moved to Sugarhouse Close Leith, then was put for safekeeping in the National Museum Edinburgh, the copy in Henderson street of the original carving 1670 gives a picture of how wines and spirits were transported from Leith. Leith was the main supplier of Wine to Edinburgh with circa 250,000 p.a. The Stingmen were the workers at the warehouse that moved the barrels of wine. 

Porter Stone Tolbooth Wynd Leith Edinbur

Leith Improvement Scheme

Memorial Stone 

First Artisans Dwellings

Henderson Street was built as part of the Leith Improvement Scheme, a Bill which became an Act of Parliament known as the Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Act, Henderson Street was named after Dr John Henderson the lord Provost of Leith from 1875 to 1881 The area Henderson street was built on was previously over a dozen close’s which had terrible living conditions.

Leith First Artizans Dwellings Leith Edi
Leith Improvement Scheme Carved Tablet L

Leith Links

First Written Rules of Golf

Leith Links is where the first rules of golf where written in 1744 for a golf tournament, 13 rules in all. There had only been 5 rules players had played to before. The oldest golf course to be mentioned in history is in fact Bruntsfield Links with the oldest golf club house the Golf Tavern. Which is where the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers were first based as were the oldest golfing society the Burghers (Royal Burgess Golfing Society) incorporated in 1735. Leith Links course has the honour of the first official tournament to rules.  

Leith Improvement Scheme Carved Tablet L

Giants’ Brae

Leith Links Edinburgh

The are two small hills on Leith Links which both have names, the one pictured is “Giant’s Brae” and the other is

“Lady Fyfe’s Brae”, these were said to be constructed as artillery mounds dated from 1560 when the siege of Leith took place.

Giant's Brae Leith Links Leith Edinburgh

Pilrig House

Leith Area Edinburgh 

The original Pilrig House was owned by Sir Patrick Moneypenny and he sold the land to Gilbert Kirkwood in 1623 who rebuilt the house in 1638. The Balfour family purchased the house in 1718.  James Balfour’s great-grandson was Robert Louis (Balfour) Stevenson, Robert’s father married a member of the Balfour family and his great grandfather was born in Pilrig house in 1777. The Balfour family remained in Pilrig House till 1941. In 1971 a fire destroyed the house but luckily the history of the house and owners were seen to be important enough for the house to be rebuilt and restored to its original look in 1982 when the work started and is now complete

Pilrig House Plaque Leith Edinburgh.jpg
Pilrig House Leith Edinburgh

Professor John Barlow 

Blue Plaque

Professor John Barlow eminent Quaker scientist. Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at the Royal Veterinary College Edinburgh. He was a highly respected member of the Edinburgh scientific community. Much loved member of the Religious Society of Friends. Husband of Eliza Nicholson (1813-1894) and father of Alfred (1851-1899). He was a leading Quaker pacifist and first manager of the Bourneville Village Trust.  John Henry Barlow (1855-1924) lived here 1851-1856.  

Professor John Barlow Pilrig Street Leit
Blue Plaque Professor John Barlow
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