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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


Leith.! HARBOUR AND PIER 271 Hence all attempts, therefore, to obtain a good or workable harbour at Leith have been, of a necessity, limited to the constfuction of long limes of piers, to divert the current of the tides, to give the river mastery over them, and enable it, by the weight of its downward and concentrated volume, to sweep away, or at least diminish, the bar, and to the excavation of docks for the reception of vessels floated in at high water, and for retaining them safe from the inexorable power of the receding tide. From the GentZeman?s Magazine for May, I 786, we learn that, owing to a long continuance of easterly wind, the bar at the mouth of Leith harbour had attained such a height, that vessels could scarcely pass out or in with any chance of safety ; that many were aground upon it ; and that the magistrates of Edinburghwere considering how it could best be removed. It is related that when, in the spring of the year 1820, Lord Erskine re-visited Edinburgh, after an absence of nearly half a century, on which occasion a banquet was given him in the Assembly Rooms, at which all the then master spirits of the Scottish bar were present, and Maxwell of Carriden presided, he returned to London by sea from Leith. He took his passage in the Favourite, one of the famous old fighting-smacks, Captain Mark Sanderson; but it so happened that she either grounded on the bar, or there was not in the harbour sufficient water to float her over it; thus for days no vessel could leave the harbour. Lord Erskine, with other disappointed passengers, was seen daily, at the hours of the tide flowing, waiting with anxiety the floating of the vessel; and when at last she cleared the harbour, and stood round the martello tower, he wittily expressed his satisfaction in the following verse :- ?( Of depth profound, o?erfiowing far, I blessed the Edinburgh Bar ; While muttering oaths between my teeth, I cursed the shallow Bar of Leith ! ? 1 In the cabin a motion was made, and unanimously canied, that this impromptu stanza should be printed on board by Mr. John Ruthven, who was among the passengers, and whose name is so well known as the inventor of the celebrated printing press and other valuable improvements in machines. With one of his portable printingpresses he proceeded to gratify his companions, and struck off several copies of the verse, to which one of the voyagers added another, thus :- ? To Lord Erskme- Nor lower us thus, 8s if at war; We at our harbour placed a bar.? ? Spare, spare, my lord, your angry feelings, . ?Tm only to retain you with us The first pier constructed at Leith was of wood, )ut was destroyed in 1544, at the time of the nvasion in that year, and we have no means of ndicating its precise site. During the earlier years if the seventeenth century another wooden pier uas erected, and for two hundred and forty years ts massive pillars and beams, embedded in a :ompact mass of whinstone and clay, withstood ;he rough contacts of shipping and the long up :oming rollers from the stormy Firth, and the last races of it only disappeared about the year 1850. Between the years 1720 and ?1730, a stone pier, n continuatioii of this ancient wooden one, which inly to a slight extent assisted the somewhat meagre iatural facilities of the harbour, was carried seaward for a hundred yards, constructed.pa+y of nassive squared stones from a curious old coal-pit it Culross ; and for a time this, to some degree, renedied the difficulty and hazard of the inward navi- :ation, but still left the harbour mouth encumbered with its unlucky bar of unsafe and shifting sand. The old pier figures in more than one Scottish ;ong, and perhaps the oldest is that fragment preierved by Cromek, in his ?Remains of Nithsdale ind Galloway Song? :- ?Were ye at the Pier 0? Leith? Or cam ye in by Bennochie ? Crossed ye at the boat 0? Cra.ig?- Saw ye the lad wha courted me? Short hose and belted plaidie, Garters tied below his knee : Oh, he was a bonnie lad, The blythe lad wha courted me? Contemporaneous, or nearly so, with this early ;tone pier was the formation of the oldest dock, which will be referred to in its place. So early as 1454, the improvement and main- :enance of a harbour at Leith was the care of lames 11. (that gallant king who was killed at the iiege of Roxburgh) ; and in his charter granted in that year, and which was indorsed !?Provost and BaS yies, the time that thir letters war gottin, Alexmder Naper, Andrew Craufurd, William of Caribas, md Richart Paterson,? he gave the silver customs md duty of all ships and vessels entering Leith for :he purpose of enlarging and repairing the port :hereof (Burgh Charters, No. XXXII.). In 1620 we first read of several beacons being Erected, when, as Sir James Balfour records, the zoal-masters on both sides of the Forth, for the xydit of the countrey and saftie of strangers trading Lo them for cole and salte,? in the June of that year, erected marks and beacons on all the craigs md sunken rocks within the Eirth, above the Roads st Leith, at their own expense.
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Volume 6 Page 272
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