Looking back at Edinburgh’s notorious Leith Fort

Soldier outside Leith Fort on the day it was announced that is was to be closed.
Soldier outside Leith Fort on the day it was announced that is was to be closed.
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ITS imposing gated entry and brown brick walls became synonymous with trouble – a high rise housing estate with a reputation for violence and drug-taking.

But to many more, the notorious Leith Fort - or ‘The Fort’ - was simply home.

A cannon remains at the Leith Fort housing scheme in Edinburgh, December 1976.

A cannon remains at the Leith Fort housing scheme in Edinburgh, December 1976.

Despite local protests, the housing scheme was eventually demolished in 2013.

We take a look back at the chequered history of the once great military base.

Military beginnings

Originally created as military base, the fort was still in active use as late as 1955, before it was demolished to make way for housing.

The Fort Augustus locks on the Caledonian Canal were drained in February 1984, for the first time since 1840, to allow repairs to be done.

The Fort Augustus locks on the Caledonian Canal were drained in February 1984, for the first time since 1840, to allow repairs to be done.

During the American War of Independence, John Paul Jones - the Scot credited with founding the US Navy - set sail in August 1779, as commodore of a seven-ship squadron charged with destroying British commerce in the North Sea.

He aimed to capture the port of Leith and hold it for ransom, but by chance a gale on September 16 prevented him from reaching the port, and he was stalled at the mouth of the Firth of Forth.

This scare led to the rapid construction in 1780 of Leith Fort, designed by celebrated architect James Craig - the mastermind behind Edinburgh’s stunning New Town.

Decades later, it was enlarged to accommodate French prisoners captured during Britain’s war with Napoleon and remained as a military base until the mid-1950s when much of it was demolished to make way for housing.

View of Leith Fort housing scheme Edinburgh in December 1976.

View of Leith Fort housing scheme Edinburgh in December 1976.

The fort had a colourful history.

In 1824 gunners at the fort hauled their fire engine up to the High Street to help fight the ‘Great Fire of Edinburgh’.

Throughout the Second World War it was used as an army base.

The Royal Army Pay Corps was the last military unit stationed at Leith Fort. It had its final official parade in April 1956.

The Fort, in Leith.

The Fort, in Leith.

While most of the original fort’s interior was later demolished to make way for housing – namely the Fort House estate – the perimeter wall, entrance gate and guardhouse were all left standing and became listed buildings.

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Fort House

Fort House – or “The Fort” as it was better known – was either loved or loathed by those who lived in it and nearby.

It had a notorious past, because for many years it was synonymous with drug abuse, antisocial behaviour and some of Edinburgh’s worst troublemakers.

But for many people it was simply home.

Leith Fort  Edinburgh, flats under construction.

Leith Fort Edinburgh, flats under construction.

In 2007, the Edinburgh Evening News reported that 30 of the 157 flats at Fort House were understood to be occupied by drug users. About 20 years before that, residents complained of syringes being found on the estate and addicts shooting-up in communal stairways.

Fort House incorporated the original army guardhouse and office of the former 18th Century Leith Fort. Black cannons which featured at the entrance to the site were added at a later date.

The housing estate recieved much negative publicity for its problems with drug abuse and crime over the years.

In April 2013 the 1960s flats were demolished to make way for new affordable housing.

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The Fort being demolished.

The Fort being demolished.