Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


282 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [Leith. C H A P T E R X X X I I I . LEITH-TIIE DOCKS. New Docks proposed-Apathy of the Government-First Graving Dock, 1710-Two more Docks constructed-Shellycoat?s Rock-The Contract-The Dock of &-The King?s Bastion-The Queen?s Dock-New Piers-The Victoria Dock-The Albert Dock-The Edinburgh Dock-Its &tent-Ceremony of Opening-A Glance at the Trade of Leith, IN theyear when the first stone pier was built (1710) steps were taken towards building a regular dock in Leith, when the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Town Council of Edinburgh, petitioned Queen Anne, praying her to establish at Leith, ? the port of her ancient and loyal city of Edinburgh, a wet and dry dock, for the commencing of building, fitting, and repairing her Majesty?s ships of war and trading vessels, which would greatly conduce to the interests of trade in general.? Every Scottish project in those days, and for long after, was doomed to be blighted by the loss of the national legislature ; so this petition had not the slightest effect, Time went on, and another was presented, and ultimately, under instructions issued by the Earl of Pembroke, then Lord High Admiral, some naval officers surveyed the Firth of Forth, and were pleased to report that Leith was the most suitable port, and two docks were eventually formed on the west side of the old harbour, the first, a pving dock, being constructed in 1720, in front of the Sand Port, where now the Custom House stands. The west quay, which now takes its name from that edifice, was built in 1777, but the accommodation still being inadequate for the requirements of the growing trade of the port, the magistrates of Edinburgh obtained, in I 788, an Act of Parliament empowering them to borrow the sum of &30,000 for the purpose of constructing a basin, or wet dock, of seven English acres, above the dam of the saw-mills at Leith, a lock at the Sheriff Brae, and a communication between the latter and the basin. This plan, however-one by Mr. Robert Whitworth, engineer-was abandoned, and the magistrates applied again to Parliament, and in 1799 obtained an Act authorising them to borrow ~160,000 to execute a portion of John Rennie?s magnificent and more extensive design, which embraced the idea?bf a vast range of docks, stretching from the north pier of Leith to Newhaven, with an entrance at each of these places. The site chosen for these new docks was parallel with what was known as the Short Sand, or from the Sand Port, at the back of the north pier westward, to nearly the east flank of the old battery; and here, for the last time, we may refer to one of the many superstitions for which Leith was famous of old and perhaps the most quaint of these was connected with a large rock, which lay on the site of these new docks, and not far from the citadel, which was supposed to be the seat, or abode, of a demon called Shellycodt, a kind of spirit of the waters, who, in the ?Traditions and Antiquities of Leith:? has been described as ?ra sort of monster fiend, gigantic, but undefinable, who possessed powers almost infinite ; who never undertook anything, no matter how great, which he failed to accomplish ; his swiftness was that of a spirit, and he delighted in deeds of blood and devastation.? Stiellycoat, so named from his skin or gamient of shells, was long the bugbear of the urchins of Leith, and even of their seniors; but in the new dock operations his half-submerged rock was blown up or otherwise removed, and Shellycoat, like the Twelve o?clock Coach, the Green Lady, and the Fairy Drummer, is now a thing of the past. In March, 1800, appeared in the Edinburgh papers the advertisement for contractors for the works at Leith thus :- ?All persons willing to contract for quarrying stones, at the quarry now opened near Rosythe Castle, westward of North Queensferry, and putting them on board a vessel, and also for the carriage and delivery at Leith, for the purpose of constructing a WET DOCK there, are desired, on or before the first Monday in April next, to send to John Gray, Town Clerk, proposals sealed, containing-First, the price per ton for which they are willing to quarry such stones and put them on board a vessel ; and secondly, for the carriage and delivery of them at Leith. ?There will be wanted for the Sea Wall about two hundred and fifty thousand cubic feet of ashlar, and in the Quay Walls about one hundred and seventy thousand cubic feet, besides a quantity of rubble stones. A specification of the dimensions and shape of the stones, and the conditions of the contract, will be shown by Charles Cunningham, at the Dean of Guild?s office, St Giles?s Church. ? Edinburgh, March I zth, 1800.? These details are not without interest now; but it is remarkable that the materials should have been brought from the coast of Fife, when the quarries at Granton had been known for ages.
Volume 6 Page 282
  Shrink Shrink   Print Print