The Pilrig Muddle that caused chaos for an entire generation of commuters

The result of two very stubborn town councils, the infamous Pilrig Muddle caused a major headache for an entire generation of commuters.
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In 1905, when the newly-created Leith Corporation Tramways pioneered the use of electric traction, an anomaly appeared that would take nearly 20 years and the unification of Edinburgh and Leith to sort out.

Edinburgh’s tram system was predominately cable-run and Leith’s, with its distinctive Munich Lake and ivory livery, was electrified. This meant passengers travelling along Leith Walk were forced to change trams outside the Boundary Bar opposite Pilrig Church.

The Pilrig Muddle was born.

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It’s said that Edinburgh favoured the cable system, as it was considered that the stanchions and overhead cables of an electric tram system would spoil the architectural beauty and aesthetics of the city centre.

Leith Town Council meanwhile was resolute in its decision to retain its electric system between Pilrig and the Foot of Leith Walk.

The Pilrig Muddle caused a headache for an entire generation of commuters.The Pilrig Muddle caused a headache for an entire generation of commuters.
The Pilrig Muddle caused a headache for an entire generation of commuters.

Fed up with the situation, one irate reader of The Scotsman wrote: “The Tramway Committee should meet without delay and consider whether it is not possible to reduce to some extent the discomforts of the Muddle.

"I have had occasion recently to travel a good deal to and from Leith by tramway, and some days the cable cars were stopped at a point which left passengers a walk of some 200 to 250 yards before they were able to join the Leith cars.”

The merger between the two burghs in 1920 was the catalyst for upgrading the Edinburgh network to an electric system. Princes Street was converted from cable to electric operation overnight in October 1922.

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Electric trams finally crossed the frontier on June 20, 1923, and the chaotic interchange known as the Pilrig Muddle was finally eradicated.

The above text is adapted from the book Secret Leith by local author Jack Gillon.

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