Leith Dockyard

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HM Dockyard Leith
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
Leith in Scotland
Site information
OperatorRoyal Navy
Controlled byNavy Board, Board of Admiralty
Site history
In use1720-1877
Installation information
Naval Officer, Leith
OccupantsLeith Squadron

Leith Dockyard was a Royal Navy dockyard located at the Port of Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland. It was established in 1720 and remained in use until 1877 when the dockyard was given over to private shipbuilding company Ramage & Ferguson then later Henry Robb, Limited. They continued to build ships for the Department of Admiralty.

The naval shore establishment was a component of the Leith Station.


Map of Leith Dockyard in 1840

Leith throughout the medieval and early modern periods was the port of Scotland's capital city and consequently of vital importance to the Scottish economy. Leith was the principal gateway in and out of the country. It was the main point of export for eastern Scotland's goods and manufactures, including wool, fish, glass, iron and metal wares, as well as the place where wines, timber, hemp and tar arrived from abroad. Shipbuilding at Leith was established as early as 1720 with the first dry dock in Scotland being built.

By 1794 Leith had no wet dock at all; the harbour consisted of the narrow quayed confines of the mouth of the Water of Leith, the vessels tying up to the quays to load and unload, often three-deep on either bank with the goods passing across two strange decks to reach their destinations. In addition, the river brought silt down to the bar across the mouth of the port, so that access for any but the smallest vessels was restricted to the hours immediately on either side of high tide. As if these problems were not enough, boat-building yards occupied the upper part of the harbour, further restricting access.

In recognition of the need for the improvement of the port's maritime accommodation, locally-born civil engineer John Rennie was asked by Edinburgh's city fathers to design a new dockyard on the most advanced principles. Rennie had already become known for the construction of important canals, including the Lancaster Canal and the Kennet and Avon. His design at Leith was for what became known as the Old East and West Docks, and included the first wet docks to be built in Scotland as well as two dry docks. The work was begun in 1800 and was carried out in two phases, being completed in 1817. The result was a modern, permanently accessible dockyard with accommodation for at least 150 vessels of the size then generally employed at Leith, ie from about 100 to 200 tons. A good impression of the general scheme can be gained from this map dated 1840.

Rennie had also drawn up plans to extend the docks to the west in the direction of Newhaven by land reclamation, but this idea was not realised until the far more recent development of the area at the close of the 20th century. Rennie firstly built the 10.4 m wide, 44.2m long and 7m deep entrance lock with a 4m sill depth and and the East Dock, which measured 228.6m by 91.4m. Between 1810 and 1817 the West Dock was built with the same dimensions.

The development saved Leith from extinction as a major Scottish port, and after the hiatus of the Napoleonic Wars trade continued to boom during the 19th century, so much so that further improvements at Leith followed. Both the Eastern and Western Piers were considerably extended between 1826 and 1829, and the Victoria Dock was added between 1846 and 1852. About 1850, Rennie's original wooden swing bridge at the East Dock entrance was replaced by an iron structure which can still be seen, but the Old East and West Docks were filled in during later development work.

In 1877 the dockyard was privatized to two shipbuilding company's first Ramage & Ferguson until 1934 and second Henry Robb, Limited that was established in 1917. The docks at Leith underwent severe decline in the post-Second World War period.

Administration of the Yard

Officers of the Ordinary

Regulating Captain at Leith

These officers superintended the Impress Service at Leith.

  1. 1763, Regulating Captain John Ferguson.[1]
  2. 1779, Captain Charles Napier.[2]
  3. 1795-1796, Captain Issac Coffin.[3]
  4. 1803, Captain John Nash.[4]

Naval Officer at Leith

  1. 1797. Captain: John Thomas.[5]
  2. 1804-1819, Commander: James Bruce
  3. 1819-1828, Captain: John Day.[6][7][8]

Officers of the Yard

Master Attendant, Leith

  1. 1806-1807, George Patterson.[9]

Master Shipwright, Leith

  1. 1806-1807, Stainer Canham.[10]
  2. 1821-1828, John Hoskins.[11][12]


  1. Cuming, Robert (2019). "Answers for Robert Cuming, merchant, and late master of the ship The Jean and Isabel of Leith, to the petition of Captain John Ferguson of his Majesty's ship The Firm, late regulating captain at the port of Leith". lib.ugent.be. Ghent, Belgium: University of Ghent. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  2. The Decisions of the Court of Session: From Its Institution Until the Separation of the Court Into Two Divisions in the Year 1808. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Company. 1811. p. 6607.
  3. Halpenny, Francess G. (1988). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 196. ISBN 9780802034526.
  4. "The Scots Magazine ..." books.google.com. Edinburgh, Scotland: Sands, Brymer, Murray and Cochran. 1803. p. 507. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  5. "John Thomas, Naval Officer, Leith, to the Board. Part of the Naval yard has been..." discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Kew, London: National Archives UK. September 1797. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  6. Admiralty, British (January 1820). The Navy List. London: John Murray. p. 121.
  7. Admiralty, British (December 1827). The Navy List. London: John Murray. p. 122.
  8. Navy List. 1828. p.122.
  9. Clarke, James Stanier; McArthur, John (2010). The Naval Chronicle: Volume 18, July-December 1807: Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 202. ISBN 9781108018579.
  10. Naval Chronicle. 1807. p.202.
  11. Navy List. Dec. 1827. p.122.
  12. Navy List. 1828. p.122.


  1. Admiralty, Great Britain (January 1814). The Navy List. London: H.M. Stationery Office.
  2. Admiralty, British (January 1820). The Navy List. London: John Murray.