Edinburgh Bookshelf

Old and New Edinburgh Vol. VI


Leith] BUILDING OF THE WESTERN DOCKS. 283 I Government advanced A25,ooo to the city of Edinburgh on security of the future dock revenues, imd on the 14th of May, 1801, the foundation-stone of the wet docks was laid by Robert Dundas, of Melville, Deputy Grand Master, in absence of Charles, Earl of Dalkeith, Grand Master of Scotland. An immense concourse of masonic brethren and spectators attended this ceremony, and the procession left the Assembly Rooms, and proceeded along the quay to the southeast corner of the first dock, where the first stone was laid. When the procession reached that spot, the substitute Grand Master, after the usual formula, placed in the cavity of the stone a large phial, containing medals ?of the first characters of the present age,? coated with crystal, and two plates, whereon were engraved inscriptiohs so long that they occupy each half a column of the ChronicZe. A salute of twenty-one guns was fired by the squadron in the roads, under Captain Clements, R.N., and the militia formed the escort for the Grand Lodge ; and the Dumfries-shire militia and other corps stationed in Edinburgh and its vicinity contributed largely by their manual labour, being employed by companies, and even battalions, in the excavation and general formation of these docks, the first of which, called now the old dock, was opened to the shipping in 1806 ; and in the preceding year a further sum of A;25,000 had been advanced by Government on the dock property. The Western, or Queen?s Dock, begun in 1810, was finished in 1817, the suite being at a cost of about Az85,ooo. These two are each 250 yards long, and IOO wide, with three graving docks on their north side, and all protected from the sea by a retaining wall of enormous strength, composed of vast blocks of stone. The third, or largest dock of all, designed to reach nearly,to Newhaven, was then projected; but this and all kindred matters which accorded hith the magnificence of Mr. Rennie?s design, and the intentions of his employers, the magistrates of Edinburgh, were thrown into abeyance during his We by a total failure of funds. On the occasion of the jubilee of the 25th of October, 1809-the anniversary of the accession of George 111. to the throne-the foundation-stone of what was named ? King George?s Bastion ?? was laid by the Earl of Moira, in the north-west angle of the western dock, amid a magnificent assemblage, and followed by a procession, including all the tnagnates of Edinburgh, escorted by the troops and volunteers, under a grand salute of heavy guns, fired by the crew of H.M.S. Egeria, on the west side of the basin, followed by a general salute of fifty rounds from all the shipping in the roads, and, as the Sots Magazine has it, ?the acclamations of twenty thousand people ;? and a grand banquet was given in the Assembly Rooms, George Street. The gates of the old dock were renewed, and the sill deepened in 1844. The Western, or Queen?s Dock, when the George Bastion had been built, was for some years mostly used by the naval service for repairing and fitting out In 1S25 the city of Edinburgh borrowed from Government A240,ooo more on security of the dock dues (after there had been a proposal to sell the whole property to a joint-stock company, a proposal successfully opposed by the inhabitants of Leith) j and after Mr. W. Chapman, of Newcastle, hadmade surveys and plans for further improve ments, as the result of his report and of subsequent voluminous correspondence with Govemment on the subject of a naval yard and store yard, it was decided to extend the eastern pier about 1,500 feet, so as to have an entire length there of 2,550 feet, or more than half a mile. The ceremony of driving the first pile took place on the 15th of August, 1826, the fourth anniversary of the landing of George IV. at Leith, and was made the occasion, as usual, of an imposing demonstration. All the vessels in port were gdy decorated, and the various public bodies, accompanied by three regimental bands and escorted by Hussars, proceeded from the Assembly Rooms to the end of the old pier, where the Dock Commissioners and Lord Provost occupied a platform. The Provost having cut a rope, and allowed a heavy weight to fall upon the upright pile, wine, oil, and corn, were placed upon it, and the company then embarked in a tug and crossed to the other pier, where the same ceremony was repeated, and a banquet followedl A western pier and breakwater were next erected, to the extent of r,Soo feet, terminating within 200 feet of the other. The insolvency of the city of Edinburgh in 1833 led to important re-arrangements in connection with the management of their now valuable docks ; and by virtue of an Act of Parliament passed in 1838, the care of the docks and harbour was vested in eleven Commissioners-five appointed by the Lords? of the Treasury, three by the city of Edinburgh, and three by the town of Leith. In the winter of 1838-9, Messrs. Walker and Cubbitt, two eminent engineers of London, were sent down by the Lords of the Treasury to undertake jointly the duty of providing their lordships ?with such a plan as will secure to the Port of
Volume 6 Page 283
  Enlarge Enlarge  
Leith the additional accommodation required by its shipping and commercial interests, including the provision of a low-water pier.? These engineers, after a careful survey, failed to agree in opinion, and recommended three different plans-Mr. Walker two, and Mr. Cubbitt one. The details of only that to which the Lords of the Treasury gave preference, and which was one of Mr. Walker?s, need not be stated, as they were never fully carried out, and in 1847 a Government THE EDINBURGH DOCK, LEITH. The Victoria Dock was formally opened by the steamer RoyaZ Yiciorid (which traded between Leith and London), which carried the royal standard of Scotland at her mainmast head, but there was no public demonstration, In 1860 the Harbour and Docks Bill passed the House of Lords on the 19th of July. This Act cancelled the debt of about ~230,000 due to the Treasury for a present payment of ~50,000, The passing of this measure, and its commercial imgrant of L135,ooo was obtained for a new dock by the new Commissioners, under whose care the entire property continued to prosper, while trade continued to increase steadily; thus the accommodation for shipping was further enlarged by the opening in 185 2 of the Victoria Dock (parallel with the old dock), having an area of about five acres, with an average depth of twenty-two feet of water. Here berthage has constantly been provided for the London and Edinburgh Shipping Company?s fleet,-.and for most of Currie and Co.?s Contineatal trading steamers. It was contracted for by Mr. 3 9 , of Scarborough, who finished the piers about the same time as the dock; but the Victoria Jetty was not constructed till 1855. portance to Leith, was celebrated there by displays of fireworks and the ringing of the church bells. In the lapse of a few years after the opening of the Victoria Dock, the trade of the port had increased to such an extent that the construction of a still larger and better dock than any it yet possessed became necessary. Thus the Commissioners feIt justified in making the necessary arrangements with that view. Consequently, in 1862, Mr. Rendell, C.E, London, and Mr. Robertson, C.E., Leith, in accordance with instructions given to them, submitted a plan, by which it was proposed to reclaim no less than eighty-four acres of the East Sands (the site of the races of old) by means of a gxeaf
Volume 6 Page 284
  Enlarge Enlarge     Pictures Pictures