Crowds of holiday-makers cram onto Portobello Beach in May 1952 with the rollercoaster and funfair in the background.
Crowds of holiday-makers cram onto Portobello Beach in May 1952 with the rollercoaster and funfair in the background.

21 photos taking you back to the glory days of Edinburgh's Portobello in its 1950s and 1960s heyday

Did you know Portobello used to have a rollercoaster, an outdoor pool and wrestling matches?

Over lockdown, when trips beyond the council boundary were forbidden, many Edinburgh people keen for a visit to the seaside rediscovered Portobello.

The coastal suburb, with its promenade and sandy beach, was once a town in its own right before being incorporated into Edinburgh by Act of Parliament in 1896.

Visitors have been attracted to the waters since the 18th century, with the Edinburgh Evening Courant of 11 June, 1795, noting the “bathing sands are perfectly free from stones and danders (loose material), the water clear and the beach very retired”.

In 1807 salt-water baths were created at the foot of Bath Street and Regent Street, while work on the promenade was started by Portobello Town Council in 1864.

A railway station made it easier to access the resort in 1846 and hordes of tourists would descend on the beach over the summer months in the following decades.

A pleasure pier and open air pool (where Sean Connery would later work as a lifeguard) were other attractions in the early 20th century, while the Edinburgh Marine Gardens, completed in 1908–1909, included an open-air theatre, an industrial hall, a ballroom, a scenic railway, and a speedway track.

By the 1950s and 1960s most of these attractions had long closed, but the resort remained popular with holidaymakers, particularly Glasgwegians enjoying their Fair Fortnight.

Along with the open air pool, which finally closed in 1979, there were amusements, permanent fairground rides (including a rollercoaster), bars, restaurants and the all-important ice cream parlours.

Today, Portobello is mainly used by Edinburgh residents and is a popular place to live – it was voted the best neighbourhood in the UK at the 2020 Urbanism Awards and was named in the Sunday Times as one of the top eight places to live in Scotland.

Here are 21 pictures to take you back to the heady days of the 1950s and 1960s when social distancing meant getting a table to yourself outside the pub.

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