11 remnants of the days when Leith was an independent burgh

A century has now passed since the burgh of Leith was amalgamated with Edinburgh, but there are still plenty of clues that the port was once independent of the Capital if you know where to look.

Saturday, 31st October 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Saturday, 31st October 2020, 9:16 am
Bier Hoose, Leith Walk
Bier Hoose, Leith Walk

The passing of the Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act of 1920 led to a major expansion of the city’s boundaries, including the amalgamation of a number of Midlothian parishes to the south and the fiercely independent burgh of Leith to the north.

Leithers were passionate about the sovereignty of their town and voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining separate from Edinburgh in two plebiscites held over the course of 1920. Controversially, the boundaries act still went through.

From boundary markers to fading street signage, we take a look at 11 remnants that serve as a reminder of the days when Leith was an independent burgh in its own right.

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Carved into the stonework above the police station at Constitution Street are the words "TOWN HALL". Built in 1828 (Leith became an independent burgh in 1833) this was the original Leith Town Hall. The building still contains the old Victorian debating chamber within.

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The old boundary between Edinburgh and Leith was well-defined and we can still see evidence of this on many buildings. This plaque, fixed to a tenement frontage in Albion Road, bears the letters E and L to mark the frontier betwixt the two burghs.
Edinburgh originally had its corn exchange at the Grass Market, but, prior to amalgamation, Leith had its very own. The former corn exchange building is situated at the corner of Constitution Street and Baltic Street.
Nowadays Leith is vast, but it once came to an end at what is now the Foot of Leith Walk. Consecrated in the 15th century, South Leith Parish Church is named as such because it really was at the south end of Leith and a full two miles from central Edinburgh. Today, we might consider it to be in north Leith.
Founded in 1793, Leith burgh once had its own counting house and circulated its own unique notes. The old Leith Banking Company building can still be seen today on Bernard Street.
Every independent burgh. needs its own coat of arms and Leith was no different. Granted on Feburary 27, 1889, the coat of arms bears the famous "Persevere" motto. The coat of arms can still be seen all over Leith today.
The 1920 amalgamation forced the alteration of numerous street names in Edinburgh and Leith to avoid duplication - a real headache for taxi drivers. Hope Street (pictured) in Leith was changed to Casselbank Street, while in Edinburgh's New Town, Pitt Street, which had a Leith twin, was altered to become an extension of Dundas Street.
Leith had its own distinct ornate lamp columns, which were emblazoned with the town's coat of arms and motto. Several examples of these columns can still be found around the Leith Shore area.
This stone relief on premises formerly belonging to the Leith Provident Co-operative Society can be seen today on Dalmeny Street. The Leith Provident was founded in 1878 and had its own Edinburgh merger a century later, becoming part of the Capital's St Cuthbert's Co-op, which was one of the largest in the UK's co-operative industry.
Leith and Edinburgh adhered to separate alcohol licensing laws. One Leith Walk pub, the Boundary Bar (now Bier Hoose), straddled the dividing line between the burghs, meaning drinkers could spill over to the Leith side at 9.30pm sharp to enjoy an extra half hour of revelry.
Opened in 1932, Leith Theatre was built a full 12 years after amalgamation. Few are aware, however, that the complex was actually part of a promise to placate the Leith public for their acceptance of the 1920 merger.