Leith Local History Society

Leith Nautical College

The former Leith Nautical College
The former Leith Nautical College
Photo: D King; Date: 25/06/2012

I joined the Radio Department of Leith Nautical College in August 1963 after spending 3 years with Ferranti following 5 years in London teaching, mainly Marine Radar Maintenance. The London course, I believed, was the best and most up to date in the UK. Leith Nautical College in 1963 was something of a culture shock as its facilities were poor in comparison. LNC had started as the Leith Navigation School on 20th September 1855 in the Mariner’s Church in Commercial Street. In 1903 it moved into purpose built premises also in Commercial Street when its name became Leith Nautical College. By 1963 it was locked in a pre-war mode; it had failed to adapt to the changes cause by WWII and its aftermath. Premises were cramped, there was no library, no common room for either staff or students, no staff work rooms. Equipment was the minimum needed to meet Government requirements. The Prospectus proudly announced the College had one oscilloscope – an important diagnostic tool. In contrast, in London, student had one oscilloscope for every two students. Support staff was minimal, for example, there was no technician available to the radio department. Typing required a term’s notice even for class exams. Each lecturer had his own classroom where he was expected to teach 30 hours a week. In London the maximum had been 22. There were no staff workrooms for preparation and marking was expected to be done at home in one’s own time. Of course there were no female staff or students, girls were thought unsuitable for marine courses of any sort.

This changed after 1965 when a new principal was appointed. All departments gained new heads replacing the old long-serving heads who had reached the age of retirement – excellent men in their day but hampered by financial constraints and a lack of foresight. Gradually LNC came into the 20th century and more and more facilities were added. In 1977 the college had outgrown the premises at Leith and moved to a new site at Milton Road, a building planned by the staff of the College. With the Merchant Navy College built simultaneously at Greenhithe on the Thames there were now two superb modern facilities for training MN officers in the UK. Sadly the winds of change were blowing in government and internationally. Britain no longer ruled the waves. The world’s biggest Merchant Navy was in decline. Only 10 years after opening both colleges were closed. The LNC building was transferred to Lothian Region and became the Milton Road campus of Jewel and Eskbank College, a Further Education college – so ended the training of Deck and Marine Engineering officers in Edinburgh.