Masts from the past at Leith Docks

AS THE new hovercraft between Fife and Edinburgh sped beyond Leith towards its Portobello landing point, memories of a bygone era were left in its wake at the once booming docks.

The area of Leith, and the docks in particular, has seen a transformation like no other in recent times. Once regarded as a rough port town and haunt of prostitutes, it has become one of the trendiest areas of Edinburgh, with the upwardly young mobile flocking to live in the converted warehouses and eat out along the Shore where sailing vessels can be seen berthed alongside the quay.

The days of trains, cranes and automobiles weaving their way around an array of docked ships being loaded and unloaded may have passed, but for Ronald Douglas that may be no bad thing. As the crowded shot of Bernard Street from 1958 shows, Mr Douglas had a lucky escape after his good deed turned into a disaster, when his learner driver, Miss Janet Burton, took a sharp left and ploughed into the docks.

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Luckily for the pair, they were saved by their bustling surroundings, as workmen raced from nearby ships to come to their aid.

Accidents were part of life around the docks, but few stranger than two years later when a goods train veered of the rail lines into the icy Forth in 1960. Yet again locals came to the rescue.

Situated close to the docks, the main station for North Leith was at Commercial Street. The 1960 aerial view of the railway marshalling yard shows the lines as they weave in and out of the now unrecognisable docks. The North British Railway closed the station to passenger traffic in 1947, but it continued to be used for fish, wheat and other freight until the 1970s.

The delivery of such produce wasn't a job for any mere mortal, with some of the bags weighing anything up to 15 stone. Instead, large fixed cranes were commonplace around the dock and were used to manoeuvre the bags from ship to lorry.

In 1968, freight services on the line running along the Water of Leith were withdrawn and the lines uplifted. The closure of the North Station, which was situated in Lindsay Road, close to the Ocean Terminal entrance to Leith Docks, heralded the beginning of quieter times at the Docks.

One of the shipyards that fought bravely to continue was the Henry Robb company. Known colloquially as Robbs, the British shipbuilding company was notable for building small-to-medium sized vessels.

The RRS Bransfield, which was built and launched from the docks in 1970, was a perfect example of its fine workmanship as the picture shows the ship embarking on its maiden voyage from the Forth

Robb's built a large number of naval warships for the Royal Navy, and in 1968 purchased, and amalgamated with the Caledon Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Dundee, forming Robb Caledon Shipbuilding. The yard survived longer than any other until it finally closed in 1983.

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This brought to an end over 600 years of shipbuilding in Leith, with the land once occupied by Robb's shipyard now home to the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, with the Royal Yacht Britannia moored alongside.

The original gateway is preserved in Dock Place, adjacent to the Leith Customs House, as trimmings within the redeveloped Victoria Quay area.

Steel, coal, cement and timber still arrive from countries of the European Union every day, with more than 50 cruise liners passing through each year and large numbers of naval vessels frequenting from all around the world.

All this activity was once complemented by a fleet of fishing boats, seen here moored at the entrance to the harbour.

At the turn of the 20th century, fleets of trawlers operated out of both Leith and Granton, but numbers dwindled steadily as larger ocean-going ships from other ports took over.