Leith Local History Society

Old Leith Bridge

Old print of three-arched stone bridge
The old bridge at what is now Sandport Place

Date: 18th century

For centuries this three arched stone bridge was the only means of crossing between North Leith and South Leith. In mediaeval times North Leith belonged to the Abbey of Holyrood and the Abbey also owned an area known as “St Leonard’s Lands” on the south side of the Water of Leith. The bridge was built by the Abbey to connect these lands. It also provided a source of income to the Abbey as a toll was charged for crossing the bridge. It is usually claimed that the bridge was built in 1493 but recent research suggests it was built much earlier in the fifteenth century.

The illustration dates from the 18th century. By then the bridge was seen as an obstacle to the development of the harbour. There were shipbuilders operating upstream from the bridge but the need for the finished ships to pass under the bridge limited the size of ship that could be built. It was, therefore demolished and replaced by a ‘drawbridge’ (a bridge that could be raised to allow shipping to pass through) further downstream. That bridge was replaced in the 20th century by a fixed low level bridge.