Demolishing Fort walls ‘like bulldozing Edinburgh Castle’

A picture from 1951 shows the original military barracks and surrounding wall
A picture from 1951 shows the original military barracks and surrounding wall
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HISTORIANS have railed against plans to demolish the walls of an 18th century citadel in Leith – and likened it to bulldozing Edinburgh Castle.

The lofty stone boundary at the Fort is to be razed to the ground to prevent overshadowing new modern versions of the city’s historic colonies being built on the grounds of the former military barracks.

Large swathes of the 200-year-old defences – constructed by John Paul Jones, founder of the American Navy – will be pulled down while other sections will be lowered from an imposing four metres to around waist height.

The partial demolition is designed to remove the towering walls that would deprive the new 93 homes of light and “create a barrier between any new housing and the surrounding streets”. A council report described them as “not dissimilar to the scale of a prison wall”.

But local historians have branded the destruction of the B-listed walls a “disgrace” and said it would dilute Leith’s 

John Tweedie, chair of the Leith Local History Society, said the wishes of Leithers were being ignored by power-wielders in Edinburgh.

“They would never knock down the walls at Edinburgh Castle so why do it to Leith Fort?” he said. “They have no right to touch it and I’m shocked that it’s taking place. If they remove it they will be removing a significant part of Leith’s heritage.”

Leith Fort was used as the base of the Royal Artillery in Scotland, with soldiers stationed at the barracks until the 1950s.

While most of the original fort’s interior was later demolished to make way for housing – namely the Fort House estate – the perimeter wall, entrance gate and guardhouse were all left standing and became listed buildings.

Leith historian John Arthur said its boundary walls were “extremely important” because they originate from the period of Oliver Cromwell.

“I think this is a disgrace and they wouldn’t do this in Edinburgh,” he said. “I would certainly support any campaign to prevent this.

“When you start forgetting where you came from you have great problems. If you forget your history, there’s a tendency to repeat it.”

And he added: “It’s a vital part of Leith’s past which we are going to lose. A community like Leith doesn’t appear overnight, it takes hundreds of years to develop.”

Cllr Ian Perry, the city’s planning convener, said: “While the wall is of clear historical value, we must balance that against the needs of future residents.

“If left as it is, the wall would act as a barrier between the new housing and the surrounding streets and there may be problems of overshadowing and security. Although parts of the wall will be reduced in height, by leaving the corners fully intact its historic form will remain apparent.”

Heritage body the Cockburn Association said loss of “parts of the wall was acceptable.”