Industrial Heritage at Leith's Old West Dock

During early 2019, AOC undertook a programme of excavation at the Leith Old West (Queens) Dock on behalf of CALA Homes and the City of Edinburgh Council Archaeology Service in advance of a residential development. During the works we encountered a substantial amount of structural remains associated with activity within the Old West Dock and surrounding area from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Excitingly, these structural remains appear to reflect the historic mapping evidence.  

In the SW corner of the proposed development site, a well surviving section of the northern edge of the Old West Dock wall was observed as depicted on the 1804 Ainslie and later maps. This wall extended across 42m of the southern end of the trench.

Within the central area of the excavation, a line of timber quay posts were revealed along with a significant portion of the main bastion wall, measuring 20m in length. Based on 1822 map evidence, the bastion wall is thought to have continued further than the current surviving structural remains would suggest. However, it is possible that truncations to the western end of the length of the wall may have occurred prior to modernisation in the mid to late 1800s.

Bastion wall and culvert at western end, and timber quay posts related to bastion wall

Left: bastion wall and culvert at western end Right: timber quay posts related to bastion wall

Close to the boundary of the site, the western dry dock visible on the 1849 OS Town Plan was observed, complete with various repairs, indicating its prolonged use without extensive modification.

The dry dock that was uncovered on the eastern side, however, had been extended north from its position on the 1849 OS Town Plan and survived almost intact, apart from some upper truncation. This spectacular feature is visible on the 1876 OS Town Plan and comprised a large sandstone structure with curving walls at its northernmost tip.

North tip of Western dry dock, and northern exterior of Eastern Dry dock

Left: north tip of western dry dock. Right: northern exterior of eastern dry dock

Various other structural remains were present across the excavation area relating to episodic changes in the way the dock area was used such as an apparent major infilling of the area, possibly coinciding with multiple later additions constructed above and south of the bastion wall, including structures such as walls and culverts.

The excavations at the Queens Dock have given us keen insight into the development of the once thriving docks at the heart of Leith. The record created from the excavations, coupled with the mapping evidence hints at a long history of development and redevelopment of the area.

Overview of the Western and Eastern Dry Docks during excavation

If you would like to explore the maps of the area to see some of the impressive dock structures referred to above, you can do so via National Library of Scotland

The excavations at the Queens Dock were sponsored by CALA Homes.