Leith Police Station is within the old Leith Town Hall which was built in 1827/28 as the Leith Sheriff and Police Court at a cost of £3260. Converted to Police and Burgh Offices in 1868 (as Leith was a separate town to Edinburgh) with the addition of the Police cells in 1878 and further refurbishment in 1891/2.
The interior of the building has been much altered, mainly in connection with its present use as a Police Station. But it is the first floor that has been somewhat hidden from the public since 1920. This is a very important date as a plebiscite was held in that year in which the people of Leith voted 26,810 to 4,340 against the proposed merger of Leith into Edinburgh. This result of rejection was ignored and Edinburgh and Leith did indeed amalgamate, making the Burgh Council surplus to requirements and the Leith Council Chambers and Sheriff Court were closed.
But the Council Chambers still exist as if they were still in use. A bit of a time capsule which is open to the public on one or two days a year, normally Doors Open Day and possibly Leith Festival.
As the Town Hall was completed in 1828 a painting of the arrival in Leith of King George IVth painted by Alexander Carse was gifted to the town and placed on the wall of the Council Chambers, where it remains to this day. (Prof. Alice Roberts of Channel 4’s Historic Towns filmed here in September 2020 and it may be included in the programme on 12/12/2020 on Georgian Edinburgh).
The King arrived at Leith in 1822, the first monarch to come to Scotland since Charles II’s coronation in 1651 so this was very special. Greeted by the great and good of the day, including Sir Walter Scott on the quayside at the Shore, Leith the King entered his carriage and heading into Edinburgh. (Not all great and good though, can you see the pickpocket – dressed in red – in the bottom right of the painting?)
The walls also have on display paintings of former Leith Provosts and the ceiling is intricately painted.
My favourite item in the room however is the whistling voice pipe. Maybe for ordering more tea? Lift off the top – a whistle within – and blow down the pipe to the whistle at the other end to pass on your message. Replace the top so that your request can be replied to, with a whistle…….
Sadly the court room furniture and fittings were removed and this is now just an office space. But through an adjacent door where miscreants would be led away on conviction, there still exist the Victorian Police and Court cells.
The cells have not been in use for about 20 years but the scratches and scrapings on the walls and doors are part of a great, though somewhat unfortunate social history.
As an aside, let’s not forget that this is still a working Police Station. The name is famous worldwide due to the the tongue twister – The Leith Police Dismisseth Us.
Reputedly used by Police the world over before the invention of breathalysers to judge the sobriety of drivers, the whole of the tongue twister goes like this;
The Leith Police dismisseth us, they thought we sought to stay
The Leith Police dismisseth us, they thought we’d stay all day
The Leith Police dismisseth us, we both sighed sighs apiece
And the sighs that we sighed as we said goodbye, were the size of the Leith Police.
The exterior of Leith Police Station and the Leith Council Chambers are part of a walk conducted by Edinburgh Walks. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to know more.