LEITH was Edinburgh’s window to the world in the centuries before railways and air transport.
The famous old port brought prosperity to the capital by exporting and importing goods of all descriptions and providing employment for thousands of dock workers, merchant seamen and shipbuilders.
The main harbour was once the present day Shore, where ships could sail into the natural harbour formed by the Water of Leith. Archaeological excavations in the late 1990s uncovered remains of wharfs built in the 11th century, making the former burgh one of the oldest ports in the country.
Leith became Scotland’s principal port in the 14th century, replacing Berwick-upon-Tweed which was captured by the English during the Wars of Independence.
Following the Act of Union in 1707, Glasgow claimed that title as it offered shorter voyages to the colonies in America and the West Indies.
The modern Leith docks, built to the north of the Shore, took shape in the 19th century. The enclosed Queen’s Dock opened in 1817, and was followed by the Victoria Dock in 1852, the Albert Dock in 1869, the Edinburgh Dock in 1881 and the Imperial Dock in 1904.
Leith remains a vibrant and busy port bringing skilled employment opportunities and economic benefitJoint statement from Scottish Enterprise, Forth Ports and Edinburgh City Council
The docks’ present form was completed in 1969 when a huge state-of-the-art sea lock was installed, transforming the tidal harbour into a deepwater port.
Shipbuilding in Leith continued for more than 600 years until the closure of the final yard, Henry Robb, in 1984.
The site is now occupied by the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, one of a number of commercial ventures that have opened in Leith in the past 20 years.
The amount of commercial shipping docking in Leith declined in the late 20th century as the docks could not handle the largest modern container ships.
The busiest Scottish commercial port is now Grangemouth, 26 miles to the west.
But the Port of Leith remains the largest enclosed deepwater port in Scotland and tentative plans to expand its capacity for larger cruise liners and ships servicing the offshore industry were revealed last year.
A joint statement released by Scottish Enterprise, Forth Ports Ltd and Edinburgh City Council said: “Leith has the potential to support offshore wind developments, however, it is widely recognised that the industry has not progressed as quickly as first anticipated. Whilst there are a number of projects in development which could utilise Leith, market conditions mean these will develop over a longer period of time.
“However, we are continuing to progress consents and work up detailed proposals for a range of port infrastructure enhancements at ports across Scotland, including Leith.
“Leith remains a vibrant and busy port bringing skilled employment opportunities and significant economic benefit and it continues to be in a strong position to accommodate offshore renewable energy operations in line as the sector develops.”