It’s a Shore thing – some things you maybe didn’t know about Leith’s Shore.

With a wealth of history, Shore – as it is officially called Shore and not The Shore – in Leith is now a place to wander and take in a restaurant or bar (or two). It certainly has changed in the last 30 years, with award winning restaurants including one having a long held Michelin Star, though I can remember a couple of these gentrified places having a much grittier past. I’m looking at you King’s Wark amongst others !

Mary Queen of Scots returned to Scotland in August 1561 and landed here. She may have visited Andrew Lamb’s house in Burgess Street – which as you can see is a superb building to this day – around the corner but most probably went to her mother Mary of Guise’s house on Rotten Row, now known as Water Street.

The Water of Leith enters this area and slowly makes its way into Leith Docks beyond, but the tidal nature of the river has been slowed dramatically due to the modern dock gates. Previously this whole area was determined by tides and the movements of ships and their supply and repair was done during the natural ebb and flow.

The need for dry dock repair facilities was ended when the Leith Dry Dock at the rear of Sandport Street and adjacent to Ronaldson’s Wharf was built around 1771. This dry dock, the first in Leith, was built by John Sime and his son in their yard next to Glasshouse Quay.  It was made a Scheduled Monument in 1994 by Historic Environment Scotland but you can’t see it unless you give the area a very close look.

Leith Shore from Sandport Dry Dock

The ‘lugs’ or mooring rings can still be seen from the old dry dock but the dock itself has been filled in.

The dock runs in a South East to North Westerly direction and is approximately 70m x 20m x 20m in size. But the most interesting thing for any visitor to see is the wall at the back of the Sandport Street tenement building that lie adjacent to the dock.

Rear of Sandport Street tenements from Sandport Dry Dock, Leith

There is an intentional architectural indentation in the wall where the bowsprit from any large vessel in dry dock could sit. This would allow for very large vessels to be repaired.

Also of interest adjacent to the dry dock is the last remaining boundary wall from the Innes and Grieve bonded warehouse. This is an interesting chapter in the history of Leith in the First World War. On the night of 2nd April 1916 two German Zeppelin airships L14 and L22 dropped a number of bombs on Leith and Edinburgh.

Remaining wall of Innes & Grieve

As the airships moved along the Water of Leith, bomb number 11 hit the bonded warehouse and it was engulfed in flames. At 11:30pm there were no workers within so lives were not lost in this building as unfortunately occurred in other buildings struck nearby.

The wall of Innes & Grieve from the site of Sandport Dry Dock, Leith.

But Innes & Grieve did lose the whole warehouse at the cost of £44,000. A substantial sum in 1916. Due to the fact that their insurance did not cover aerial attack, their insurance failed to pay out too. A lot of their best selling whisky Uam-Var  (from the Gaelic Uamh Mhór meaning large cave) went up that night.

The Grand Old Scotch Uam-Var

Sadly though, lives were lost in the Zeppelin raid on Leith in both Commercial Street and Bonnington Road. The annual report on Accidental Deaths and Fatal Casualties for the Leith Police year ending 31st December 1916 was presented by Chief Constable John MacLeod and showed these two fatalities on the night of 02/04/1916. It was the first time ever that bombardment from the air had been listed.

From Annual Report of Chief Constable John MacLeod of Leith Police in 1916

So the next time you walk down Shore in Leith, have a look over to the west side of the river and try to pick out these little bits of history from not too long ago.

Edinburgh Walks ( have a unique guided walk from the centre of Edinburgh into Leith. Contact Edinburgh Walks on [email protected] for more information.