City of Edinburgh

Newhaven Harbour
©2021 Gazetteer for Scotland

Newhaven Harbour

Now a district of Edinburgh, the village of Newhaven came into being as a ship-building centre and later was a notable fishing port. Located 2 miles (3 km) north of the centre of Edinburgh, on the western margin of the port of Leith, Newhaven retains some of the characteristics of a fishing port and a reputation for fish restaurants. Behind the village is a steep slope that represents a raised beach and runs parallel to the Firth of Forth, connecting Granton, Wardie, Trinity and Newhaven.

Founded by King James IV (1473 - 1513) c.1500 on land he bought from Holyrood Abbey as a royal dockyard to permit the building of much larger ships than was possible at Leith. James built housing for an international workforce, which included French, Dutch and Flemish craftsmen, together with the Chapel of St. Mary and St. James (1505) of which only the west gable remains today.

The most famous ship built at Newhaven was the Great Michael, the biggest of its time, which was launched in 1511 following six years of work. It was 73m (240 feet) in length, 11m (36 feet) in width and had a hull of oak some 3m (10 feet) thick. With a crew of 420, the ship was also capable of carrying 1000 troops. It is said its construction laid waste to all the woods in Fife.

Newhaven was known as the premier oyster port of Scotland from 1572 until around 1890, when they became scarce due to overworking. Herring was the main-stay from the late 18th Century and Newhaven became the fish-market for Edinburgh in the late 19th Century. Photographers David Hill (1802-70) and Robert Adamson (1821-48) made a unique record of the Newhaven fisher-folk in 1843, one of the first uses of photography to record social history.

The Society of Free Fisherman of Newhaven, which remains active today, gained their Royal Charter in 1573 from King James VI (1566 - 1625). Newhaven fish-wives, with their cries of "Caller Ou" and "Caller Herrin", were a common sight on Edinburgh streets from the middle-ages, but the last one retired in 1974.

The area was redeveloped from 1960 by architect Ian G. Lindsay, conserving some properties while creating new ones with some vernacular features and yet others, on the opposite (south) side of Main Street, which can best be described as utilitarian, comprising dismal three-storey grey-harled blocks of flats. To the east, around Annfield and Great Michael Rise, are some better blocks by Sir Basil Spence (1907-76), one of which interestingly incorporates granite cobbles recycled from roads.

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