Origin of name: From the British “llaith” meaning river.
Position: The Firth of Forth to the north, Newhaven to the west, Restalrig/Craigentinny to the east and Broughton/Calton to the south. See map above.
Historical Notes: People have lived in the Leith area since at least the stone age. A stone axe was found beneath Laurie Street and a bronze axe has been found in Dock Street. It is known that Leith was a thriving village around 900 years ago, situated where the present day Shore is. By medieval times there were 2 separate Leiths – North Leith which was governed by the monks and abbot of Holyrood abbey and South Leith which was ruled by the lairds of Restalrig. From the middle ages Leith was Edinburgh's port and the Edinburgh merchants enjoyed certain privileges which were denied to Leithers. For example all goods brought in through the port had to be taken to Edinburgh to be sold. This was due to Edinburgh being a free Royal Burgh but the tax and customs privileges only applied to those within the city walls. Although this was common practice for cities throughout Western Europe this started the enmity between Leith and Edinburgh that still exists today. Over time the whole of South Leith passed from the Logan family and Edinburgh acquired complete control of Leith. From 1755 a change in law meant that Leithers were free to trade with the world and things began to look up. In 1833 an act of Parliament gave Leith its independence with its own town council and town hall. This lasted until 1920 when Leith was absorbed into Edinburgh after a public vote which showed the vast majority of Leithers were against the idea.
Today: The docks went into decline after WWII and with it the area but in the late 1980s regeneration began and it continues to this day. Housing wise Leith now has a bit of everything from tenement flats to expensive apartments to high rise council blocks. There is a lot to see from the restaurants & bars at The Shore, to Britannia and the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. Leith Links provides a large park area where the yearly Mela is held and there is Leith Waterworld, many local shops and the Leith festival every June. There are also quite a few historic buildings such as Lambs House and Signal Tower among others.
Did You Know: The Boundary Bar (now City Limits) was half in Leith and half in Edinburgh. When last orders rang on the Leith side people moved to the Edinburgh side as last orders were later.
Leith Walk is only known as that in Leith. The Edinburgh section has many different names along its route.
When Leith and Edinburgh were separate towns in the early 20th century, Leith had electric trams (2nd ones in UK) and Edinburgh had pulley trams meaning that a trip up Leith Walk involved getting off one tram and onto another at Pilrig border.
In 1806 the old wet dock opened. This was followed by The Queen's in 1817, The Victoria in 1852, The Albert in 1869, The Edinburgh in 1881 and The Imperial in 1904. Until then Leith had no docks. The ships came into the harbour and lay alongside the quay wall that lined the riverbank. When the docks were constructed, a large shell covered rock had to be removed. It was known as Shelleycoat and it was said to be the haunt of a demon who wore a strange garment covered in shells.
Links: http://www.oldleither.com/ Lots of info on old Leith