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History of Leith Shipbuilding

They Once Were Shipbuilders

With such a rich wealth of maritime history this part of the website will get a lot bigger so please keep checking back to see what's new, thanks.

Shipbuilding at Old Leith

Long, long ago shipbuilding in and around Leith has been carried out since the early 14th century. 

Michael (popularly known as Great Michael) was a carrack or great ship of the Royal Scottish Navy. She was too large to be built at any existing Scottish dockyard, so was built at the new dock at Newhaven,(only a couple of hundred yards from the Leith shipyards of Henry Robb which he started in 1918)  constructed in 1504 by order of King James IV of Scotland. She was ordered around 1505 and laid down in 1507 under the direction of Captain Sir Andrew Wood of Largo and the master shipwright Jacques Terrell, launched on 12 October 1511 and completed on 18 February 1512.

A model of James IV's flagship, the 'Great Michael', made between 1984 and 1986 by George Scammell from Granton, near Newhaven where she was built.

The model was on show at the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre where the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb once stood and prior to Robb the shipyards of Cran & Somerville, Hawthorns and Ramage & Ferguson.


Shipbuilding in (old) Leith

Although the Forth ranks next to the Clyde among Scottish shipbuilding districts, yet the shipbuilding industry in Leith has not kept pace with the progress of the Port. During the first half of the nineteenth century Leith gave promise of being one of the great shipbuilding centres of the country, but the Clyde seems to have drawn the trade away from the Port. It has five shipyards in which vessels up to four hundred feet can be built and engined, but now most work is done in the branch of ship repairing. It has six public and two private dry docks, all thoroughly equipped for cleaning and repairing ships. Vessels can there be overhauled without shifting port, a great convenience and economy.

One of the oldest shipbuilding firms in Leith was Messrs. Sime and Rankin's, which built several warships in the days of the old "wooden walls." Their yard, now built on, was opposite the Custom House, but their dry dock, dating from 1720, and the oldest in Leith still remains, between the Shore and Sandport Street, and now forms the repairing dock of Messrs. Marr and Company.


At the Old Dock gates is the yard of Messrs. Menzies, a firm which has been established for over a century, and which has sent out many fine ships in its day. In 1837 Messrs. Menzies built the Sirius, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, which she did in eighteen days, arriving a few hours before the Great Western, which had set out three days after her. The Sirius ran out of coal, and had to keep her furnaces going with timber and resin. The picture of the launch of the Royal Mail steamship Forth, of one thousand nine hundred and forty tons, from the yard of Messrs. Menzies in 1841-a painting greatly prized by the firm-shows that the launching of a vessel in Leith in those times, like the annual departure of the whaling fleet on its perilous voyage, was a notable event-the day being quite a gala day.

Ship out of Leith Harbour_1800

Leith Built Ships 1816 - 1877 here will feature some of the ships built.


Pharos...Leith 1816. Captain William Logan. One Deck, one mast, sloop rigged, running bowsprite. Built for the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses


Jean of Newhaven...Leith 1822. Captain Robert Carnie. No decks, two masts.


Brothers of Newhaven...Leith1822. Captain James Logan. No Decks, two masts.


Liberty of Newhaven...Leith1822. Fishing vessels all as above.


Glasgow...Leith 1826. Built by Thomas Morton's. Captain Thomas Henry. One Deck, two mosts, schooner rigged with running bowsprite. Square stern, male bust figure-head. Ordered by the Leith, Hamburg and Rotterdam Shipping Co.


Sceptre...Leith 1823. Captain Andrew Stewart. One Deck, two masts, brigantine rigged, scroll figure-head. Built by Robert Menzies.


Mary...Leith 1826. Built by Lauchlan Rose & Son's. Captain Daniel Moors. One Deck, two masts, brigentine rigged with trysail mast and standing bowsprite, female bust figure-head.


Janet...Leith 1819. Captain thomas Chalmers. One Deck, one mast, sloop rigged. Built for the Helmsdale Shipping Co.


Arcturus...Leith 1826. Built by Sime & Rankin. One Deck, three masts, ship rigged, standing bowsprite. better known as a West Indiaman. Her maiden voyage was to be to Jamaica.


Endora...Leith 1826. Captain William Garrioch. One Deck, two masts, snow rigged with trysail, and standing bowsprite. female bust figure-head.


Experiment...Leith 1821. Captain Thomas Aitken. One Deck, two masts, ketch rigged, billet head, round stern no bowsprite. Built for the City of Edinburgh Corporation..

Experiment of Leith as seen in the below picture is perhaps not the same vessel as the one named above-but it does show that ships from long ago were way ahead of their time. She had a Catamaran twin hull arrangement.



John and Margaret...Leith 1827. Built by Lachlan Rose & Sons. One Deck, two masts, schooner rigged, running bowsprite.


Royal Sovereign...1827 .Built by Robt Menzies & Sons. Captain Robert Pussey, One Deck, one mast, smack rigged, running bowsprite, for the London & Edinburgh Shipping Co.


 Gem...1828 .Built by George Smith & Co.One Deck, Two masts, schooner rigged, Female Bust Figure-Head. 59ft x 18ft 5in x 10ft 6in


  Agnes...1828 .Built by Robert Menzies & Son's.One Deck, Two masts, brigantine rigged, mock quarter galleries, female bust Figure-Head. 95ft 6in x 25ft 5in x 17ft 2in

A great many smaller fishing vessels were also built at Leith during this period, vessels with name’s such as Maria, William, Jacobine of Prestonpans, Winchester of Prestonpans the last two were built by Alexander Leckie.

Maria and William were built by George Smith & Co. The fishing vessel Thomas was built by Lauchlan Rose & Sons in 1828. Along with Gleaner which was launched in 1829.


An interesting note about Lauchlin Rose was in the fact that his son (same name) opened up a Lime Juice factory.

Rose's lime juice was founded by Lachlan Rose in Leith on Commercial Street in 1868. at a time when scurvy was the scourge of sailors on long voyages, due to the lack of vitamin C Limes were found to be a great source to keep scurvy away.

From Leith to Dr Pepper's

The following is from wikipedia

Lauchlan Rose (1829–1885), a ship chandler in Leith, patented a method to preserve citrus juice without alcohol in 1867. He had realised that preserving the juice with sugar rather than alcohol opened the product up to a far wider market.

The first factory producing lime juice was set up as L. Rose & Co. on Commercial Street in Leith, Scotland in 1868. This was located adjacent to the Old East Dock built during the Napoleonic War. This aided both the supply of limes (which do not grow in the UK), and its proximity to what was then Scotland's principal harbour for the Royal Navy. The limes at this time largely came from Dominica in the West Indies. In 1893, Rose purchased plantations there to ensure his supply. This was further supplemented by plantations from Africa from the region now called Ghana.

In 1875 the company had grown so much that it built and moved its headquarters to new premises in London (though still retaining its Leith production). In 1940, during The Blitz, it moved its headquarters from the London Docks (a key German target) to St. Albans. After the end of World War II, the company saw its market share in the UK grow.


In 1957, Schweppes acquired the company and operated it in the UK until it purchased Mott’s in 1982. Cadbury Schweppes merged the operations of the two brands in the United States and Rose's US products became domestically produced.

When Cadbury divested its US beverage operations in 2008, Rose's was transferred to the newly formed Keurig Dr Pepper.

From “Reminiscences of the Port and Town of Leith" by John Martine 1888

The Leith Shipbuilders did a large amount of business in the past. Robert Mackenzie & Co was an extensive and well known firm and built many fine ships in its day, which traded around the World. The ships it built were of the kind that the poet Longfellow describes in his poem of “The Building of the Ship”

“Build me straight O Worthy master
Staunch and strong a goodly vessel
That shall laugh at all disaster
And with wave and Whirlwind wrestle”

Sime and Ranken building yard was opposite the Custom House, now built on but there dry dock remains. During the war Mr Sime built for the Government the “Fox” frigate and other war ships.

In 1826 a large West Indiamen named the “Arcturus” was built by Sime and Ranken. Her maiden voyage was to Jamaica under a Captain Ross who had also been captain o the “Isabella Simpson” for Sibbald’s.

Messrs Morton and co yard was where the North British Railway now runs below and on the North side of Junction Bridge. They built many fine ships and were inventors of the patent slip for hauling up vessels for repair instead of placing them in dry dock-a most useful invention.

Messrs Lachlan Rose and Son had their premises above the upper drawbridge which are still in existence.

Mr Anderson’s yard was on the side of the Water of Leith above the Sheriff Brae, where Hawthorn and Co’s engineering works are now. In 1827 he built one of the largest wooden ships built in Leith up to that time. She was sold to London and Liverpool owners and was called the “Gladstones”. He also built the Culloden” a large stout brig for Captain William Leyden and many others.

The launching of a ship in Leith of the past was no ordinary event. They attracted large numbers of people and much rejoicing took place when the good ship decorated with flags slipped easily down the greased way into her native element. A crowd of men and boys on her deck swung her to and fro and christened her sides with a good wash of salt water.


Delta...Leith 1829. Built by Robert Menzies & Son's. One Deck, two masts, brigantine rigged with trysail mast and standing bowsprit,female bust figure-head. 77ft 1in x 22ft 5in x 4ft 7in.


Mabon...1828 .Built by Lauchlin Rose & Son's. Captain John Tyrie, One Deck, two mast's, schooner rigged, male bust figure-head, 72ft 6in x 22ft 10in x 12ft 8in for the Hull & Leith Shipping Co.


 Duke of Buccleuch...1829 .Leith Smack Built by Robt Menzies.One Deck, One mast, smack rigged, Capt William Nisbet. 81ft 3in x 24ft 6in x 13ft 4in


 Duke of Clarence...1829 .Built by Lauchlin Rose. Capt Thomas Spence. One Deck, Two mast's, schooner rigged 59ft 7in x 19ft 7in x 10ft 2in


SS Edinburgh from 1859 built by S&H morton at Leith, from an old painting


Jane Helen...Leith 1830. Built by Anderson's. One Deck, two masts, brig rigged with trysail mast and standing bowsprit,female bust figure-head. 94ft 3in x 25ft 6in x 18ft 8in. 269grt.


Hope of Leith...1830 .Built by Alexander Sime. One Deck, two mast's, schooner rigged, 63ft 7in x 19ft 2in x 11ft.


 Roscoe of Leith...1812 captain William Gavin.One & a half Deck, Three masts, ship rigged, scroll billet, 109ft 3in x 31ft 2in x 6ft 8in, 440grt


 Drummore...1830 .Built by Robert Menzies. Capt Peter Petrie. One Deck, Three mast's, ship rigged 94ft 7in x 26ft 9in x 18ft 6in, 298grt

To be continued


  South Styne double ended ferry at Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia. Launched from the Henry Robb Shipyard at Leith as Ship No 267 1st of April 1938

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