as a major port serving the capital city of Scotland has played
a long and vital role in the history of the nation.
From 1560 -61, while her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots was
Queen consort of France, Mary of Guise ruled Scotland as Queen
Regent from Leith. Her Scottish Court was on a site that is
now Parliament Street and her palace was situated on Rotten
Row, now Water Street. In 1560, the Siege of Leith, where Scottish
Protestant lords, alongside troops from England, staged, on
7th May 1560, an attack on her Catholic French garrison, Mary
of Guise was forced into hiding in Edinburgh Castle. It was
there that she died, in June of that same year and the siege
ended. The Treaty of Leith was signed (also known as The Treaty
of Edinburgh) and the dead Queen Regent’s troops returned
Mary, Queen of Scots arrived in Leith from France in 1561 to
take up her ill-fated six-year reign over the people of Scotland.
When she had to abdicate in 1567, the troops fighting against
her and for her son, James VI of Scotland / James I of England,
based themselves in Leith from 1571 – 73 in order to
prepare to attack Mary’s supporters in Edinburgh Castle.
This period of, in essence, civil war in Scottish history is
known as The Wars Between Leith and Edinburgh.
With Oliver Crowell’s forces attacking Edinburgh a century
later, Leith again was at the centre of the action when General
David Leslie, leading the Army of the Covenant, constructed
an earthen rampart as a means of defence. This rampart was
to become the route known today as Leith Walk.
Leith was also central to the historic visit, in 1822, of King
George IV to Scotland. It was the first visit by a reigning
monarch in nearly two centuries and it was decided that the
King would enter Scotland by ship, to the port of Leith. This
diplomatic visit did three things – it increased the
King’s popularity, it turned many of his rebellious Scottish
subjects from anti English radicalism that was prevalent at
the time and, due to Sir Walter Scott’s organisation
of the event, which included much formerly banned tartan pageantry,
it set the ball rolling to elevate the tartan kilt as a dominant
symbol of Scotland’s national identity.
After the Second World War, the docks in Leith, known not only
for being the hub of the port of Leith, but for modest ship-building
and repair went into severe economic decline and the entire
area, like many docks around the UK, became synonymous with
crime, violence and prostitution. In recent years however,
Leith has seen a structured programme of regeneration bring
money and prestige back to the area. The former yacht of Queen
Elizabeth II, The Royal Yacht Britannia, in service to The
Queen from 1954 to 1997, is now a museum ship and resides in
the port at Leith, welcoming up to 300,000 visitors each year.
The Terence Conran designed mall Ocean Terminal, with 85
shops, 6 restaurants and a variety of bars and cafes and
a cinema and spa, sits in what was originally industrial
dockland at the edge of the boundary between formerly separate
ports of Newhaven and Leith. The Scottish Government has
several departmental administrative offices in Leith and
the urban renewal continues with the upsurge of many new
business premises, upmarket bars, restaurants, cafes and
luxury apartment complexes.
Proof, if any more were needed, that the regeneration of
Leith as a modern, fashionable European urban environment
was successful, in 2003, musicians and celebrities from all
over the world descended on Leith for the prestigious MTV
Europe Music Awards.
Once governed by the Town Council of Edinburgh, in 1833 Leith
became a separate Municipal Burgh, with its own provost,
magistrates and council looking after the interests of those
who resided in the area and it wasn’t until almost 100 years later,
in 1920, that due to urban renewal and economic growth that
Leith merged with Edinburgh, despite the wishes of the actual
people of Leith, who voted almost 7-1 against the merger..