Leith's historic Robert Burns statue to be dismantled and rebuilt for next phase of tram development

The 200-year-old statue of Robert Burns in Leith is set to be removed during tram extension works on Constitution street, and later replaced out of the way of the road 20 feet West of its current location.

By Elsa Maishman
Friday, 13th September 2019, 5:38 pm
A photo illustration of a tram on Constitution Street.
A photo illustration of a tram on Constitution Street.

The work is part of the construction of tram line 1b, an extension to line 1a, which runs from Edinburgh Airport to St Andrew Square.

After phase 1b, planned to complete in 2023, the line will continue to Newhaven.

The 1b phase to Newhaven was originally planned to be completed in the first round of construction but was abandoned in April 2019 due to a funding shortfall.

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The Robert Burns statue sporting a pair of stripey socks put on by a local resident. Picture: Lesley Martin.

The listed bronze monument was commissioned by the Leith Burns Club in 1987, and a statue designed by David Watson Stevenson was erected a year later.

Nicholas Hotham, Head of External Relations at Edinburgh World Heritage said:

“Many of Edinburgh’s statues have been moved over the years, usually to accommodate traffic, and in 1961, Stevenson’s Burns statue was moved 18 feet to the west to ease the flow of traffic, and again, in 2004. It is important that the repositioning of the statue is appropriate, prominent, and accessible. Edinburgh World Heritage would be happy to advise on the most appropriate position for this historic landmark.”

A spokesperson for the Council said they would use the opportunity to carry out some maintenance and conservation of the statue while it is taken away.

The statue in 1910. Picture: Courtesy of Capital Collections.

SNP Councillor Ellie Bird said: “Rabbie has been resident at the crossroads for over 100 years. Under his watchful eye Old Leith’s horse drawn tramlines made way for cars and now we’re making way for the tram to Newhaven. There is no question that he will be reinstated once it is safe for him to do so. He will be safely stored while works are underway and we’ll use this time to carry out some conservation work too.”

A planning application for moving the statue was submitted on August 26, and is open for comments until October 11.

The determination deadline is October 25.

The planning application argues that the statue’s current location is not an “appropriate” setting, and that it would conflict with the new planned pedestrian crossing and be too close to the newly-aligned road.

New uplights will also be installed to illuminate Rabbie in his new setting.

A Spokesperson for the Robert Burns World Federation said: "The RBWF understand that the relocation of the Robert Burns statue in Bernard Street is necessary for the planned Tram's works. We welcome the opportunity for these works to provide an enhanced focal point around the Robert Burns Statue in order for it to remain a prominent feature within the Leith area."

Not everyone is pleased by the statue’s relocation.

“The tram works will inflict years of disruption and upheaval upon everyone in Leith, even the national bard will not be spared,” said Independent Councillor Lewis Ritchie.

“Where this doomed tram project is concerned, the Council would do well to remember that ‘the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain for promised joy.’”