Why are Leith Docks’ bridges being left to rust? – Steve Cardownie
In early October last year, Forth Ports closed two pedestrian bridges within Leith Docks, much to the consternation of both residents and visitors alike. These are the Victoria Swing Bridge and the Rennie’s Lock Bridge and although one pedestrian lane of the Victoria Bridge was subsequently reopened, locals have been left puzzled about Forth Ports’ future plans as very little information has filtered through to the public.
These bridges are not just any run-of-the-mill constructions but serve as fine examples of engineering masterpieces. Both have been awarded Grade A Listed status by Historic Environment Scotland, which means that they “are buildings of national or international importance either architectural or historic, or fine little-altered examples of some particular period, style or building type”.
The Victoria Swing Bridge was the largest of its type when it opened in 1873 and was the subject of a remarkable painting by Richard Demarco back in 1962 but it has now fallen into a state of disrepair and is in urgent need of attention to restore it to its former glory.
Of equal importance is the disgraceful state of Rennie’s Lock, of which the Georgian swing bridge is an integral part, but which has been allowed to deteriorate into such a poor condition that it hardly resembles the original structure.
Along with the lock gates, winches and turntables, it is an engineering jewel built to a design by the great Scottish engineer John Rennie, and ir dates back to 1806 when Rennie built the old East Dock.
John Rennie is in the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame and features as one of the greatest Georgian engineers – the bicentenary of his death in 2021 will be recognised by The Civil Engineering Society. Born in East Linton and a graduate of Edinburgh University, he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1821, aged 60, and it is deplorable that this man’s fine work has been neglected to such an extent.
But all is not lost. According to a letter from the Scottish Government’s Culture, Tourism and Major Events Directorate: “Historic Environment Scotland acts as the lead public body on matters relating to Scotland’s historic environment, and its primary purpose is to investigate, care for and promote this environment. Although the Victoria and Rennie’s Isle lock bridges are in the care of Forth Ports, HES have been involved in the consultation process regarding the restoration of these culturally significant structures.”
So it is over to Forth Ports. What are the plans and when will the work start?
I have met with Charles Hammond, the Chief Executive of Forth Ports, on several occasions over the years and he was always keen to impress upon me that the company wanted to play its part in the wider community, recognising the heritage of the port and the role that it plays in Scotland’s history and I am in no doubt that he meant what he said.
Here is a long overdue opportunity to turn these words into action by letting stakeholders know what the future holds for these two bridges and when can we look forward to their restoration, thereby turning them into the attraction they undoubtedly are.