Whilst walking around Edinburgh and its northern neighbour Leith you pick up clues to different times.
You would have thought the Councillors of Edinburgh city and their counterparts in the then separate town of Leith would have got along and that laws and facilities would have been the same, with them being such close neighbours. But, no…..
Leith had traditionally been run from Edinburgh Council, but by Acts of the U.K. Parliament in 1827 and 1833 Leith became a separate burgh from Edinburgh. This allowed Leith to make their differences with Edinburgh clearer. Leith ran their own Police and Fire Service, a separate criminal court, Town Hall and Councillors and more importantly, had their own bye-laws.
But two instances really bring home the difference between the two places.
The Bier Hoose bar was formerly known as The Boundary Bar and stands on the old boundary line between Leith and Edinburgh on the main street called Leith Walk opposite the top of Pilrig Street. As you can see from the above picture, there are three double doors (the middle one is open here) which are in line with the building. There are additionally two entrance/exit doors sunken into the shopfront. These two sunken doors were very important for this public house.
The door closer to Leith (below the sign Bier) was subject to Leith Liquor Licensing Laws. However
the door closer to Edinburgh was subject to the City’s Liquor Licensing Laws. So the same bar had two liquor licenses from two Licensing Authorities. Not a recipe for success? Well things went well until the end of the drinking day. Because Leith revellers were allowed to drink half an hour later than their Edinburgh friends, so ‘time’ would be called on the Edinburgh side of the Boundary Bar and everyone who wanted to keep on drinking – i.e. everyone – would move round to the Leith side of the bar. This all changed after the highly controversial plebiscite of 1920 to bring Leith under the jurisdiction of Edinburgh. Although Leithers voted by a 6:1 majority to stay separate, amalgamation took place with Leith and Edinburgh bye-laws became coterminous.
Another discrepancy between city and town was the public transport system.
Up until 1899 the entire stretch of Leith Walk between both Edinburgh and Leith could be travelled using the horse-drawn tram service, even though cable drawn trams were introduced into Edinburgh from 1888. It was in October 1899 the Edinburgh’s transport authorities decided to lay cables to the boundary with Leith. It took Leith another six years to withdraw their horse drawn trams, with the decision being made to introduce electric trams. So from 1899 what became known as the ‘Pilrig Muddle’ was introduced.
Edinburgh had introduced cabling throughout the city to pull its trams and Leith did not follow, introducing another form of traction. Travelling from Leith to Edinburgh or vice versa meant getting off your vehicle at the boundary – by the Boundary Bar – and getting on the next service to complete your journey. Of course, people travelling the opposite direction had to do the same and it caused a lot of stress and heated argument. This could not continue. The Pilrig Muddle ended in 1922 when Edinburgh relented and became electrified too so the service could run on one system.
Edinburgh and its trams still have a love hate relationship. The new tram system from the Airport only started a few years ago but the initial plans to take it into Leith were not followed through and it terminates presently near the top of Leith Walk. Maybe in the near future we will see that system run into Leith as promised and stop a similar muddle for those wanting to get from the Airport into Leith without the requirement to change in the City Centre.
For walks in Edinburgh and Leith, please contact Edinburgh Walks on firstname.lastname@example.org