The History of Leith

March 31, 2008

Resources of the Edinburgh Room, Central Library Edinburgh


Broadsides and Playbills
Census returns
Local Organisations database
Local Plans
Old Parish Registers
Professional Lists
Rolls of Honour
Scottish Record Society publications
Theatre Programmes
Valuation Rolls
Voters Roll


The Edinburgh Room’s extensive range of biographies includes material on:

architects (e.g. William Adam; Sir James Gowans; WH Playfair)
authors (e.g. RM Ballantyne; James Boswell; Muriel Spark)
booksellers (e.g. Archibald Constable; William Dunlop)
geologists (e.g. James Hutton; Charles Maclaren)
physicians (e.g. Dr Elsie Inglis; Sir James Y Simpson)
poets (e.g. Robert Fergusson; Norman MacCaig)
publishers (e.g. Robert Chambers; William Nelson)

There are approximately 16,000 broadsides and playbills in the Edinburgh Room collection, ranging from the 18th century to the present day. See also Theatre Programmes
CD ROMS in the Edinburgh Room

Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday from 1993 to the present
Edinburgh on Disc – An Interactive Architectural Guide
The Scottish People 1840-1940


A census of the UK population, begun in 1841, is taken every 10 years. Records of individuals are made available after 100 years, and show details of names, ages, occupations and place of birth for all people present in the house when the census was taken. The censuses are arranged by parish and street, not alphabetically by name, so it can take time to find the family you are looking for. (Parishes are small local government units which were based on the local church’s area of responsibility).

There are a few indexes available to help with searching: the Edinburgh Room has Edinburgh Census Returns with street indexes for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and an 1891 Census name index for Midlothian. A published name index for 1851 currently covers the Old Town, New Town and the Canongate.

The Scottish library also holds Census Returns for some other parts of Scotland: in the Family History Guide there is a list of areas covered by census returns and old parish registers.


Leith Pilot Annual 1889 – 1901
Almanacks 1742 – 1932
Portobello 1836/37, 1895 – 1914
Special Subjects – e.g. companies, women etc.
Telephone Directories – white pages 1940 to date; yellow pages 1959 to date
Trade and Post Office Directories 1752, 1773 – 1974

The Edinburgh Room’s collection of guidebooks covers most years from 1790 to the present. Many are illustrated, and there are occasionally guides in other languages. These include official guides of Edinburgh Corporation, pocket gazetteers and historical and descriptive handbooks.

The Edinburgh Room’s illustrations collection presents a pictorial review of Edinburgh’s history in prints, photographs, original paintings, drawings, slides and Lantern slides ( 35mm slides can be borrowed), highlighting the events, people and characters, architecture, costume, industry, businesses, shops and transport in Edinburgh.

Special collections of illustrations include:

early 19th century James Skene watercolours
J G Tunny 1854/1855 photographs
Edinburgh Corporation c1922 photographs of housing reconstructions
David Doull 1866/7 portraits
works by Francis MChrystal
James Drummond
Edinburgh Photographic Society
J Ewing
Walter Geikie
Bruce J Home
WH Lizars
Charles S Minto
The Scotsman
J Storer
Edinburgh photographic pioneers such as Hill & Adamson and Thomas Keith.
2000 images of Edinburgh’s Old Town can be viewed on the Internet on the SCRAN website.


The Edinburgh Room holds approximately 300 current and historical journals in the form of:

Annual Reports
Company Information – e.g. Edinburgh Gazette
Edinburgh Literary Journals
Newsletters of educational institutions, local societies and public bodies
Community newspapers provide another valuable local studies resource. Here is a selection:

Broughton Spurtle
Central Times
Currie & Balerno News
Edinburgh Times
Gorgie-Dalry Gazette
Herald & Post
Inch News
Leither North
Edinburgh News
Portobello Reporter
South Edinburgh Echo
Stockbridge & New Town Independent
Tollcross News
Wester Hailes Sentinel


A database of local organisations and their activities in the City is available online. You can publicise your local organisation by completing a form, available from the Edinburgh Room.


The Local Plan presents all the Council’s policies and proposals for the use of land and development in the area it covers. Local Plans must, by law, conform with the Structure Plan which has been approved for the area. In Edinburgh, the 1994 Lothian Structure Plan was approved by the Secretary of State in 1997

.Local Plans have a format prescribed by government regulations. They consist of two documents: a Written Statement covering policy, planned and projected actions and a Proposal map which delineates boundaries of areas and frontages affected by policies. At present there are 8 Local Plans in force in the Council area. A programme to update the Local Plans will result in the Council’s area being covered by 5 Local Plans: Central Edinburgh, North East Edinburgh, Rural West Edinburgh, South East Edinburgh, and West Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh Room also holds previous Local Plans, e.g. Tollcross; Gorgie/ Dalry; Leith; Currie/Balerno.


A varied collection including letters, personal recollections, diaries and minutes.

David Dickson – diary
Newcraighall Miners’ Welfare Institute – minutes
Philosophical Institution – minutes
School Board – minutes
School Log Books

Detailed maps of Edinburgh, both old and modern, are held in the Edinburgh Room and depict Edinburgh as it has been from 16th century to modern times.

Before 1850

Early printed maps rarely show much detail, and may not be accurate but can be helpful for identifying place names and other information.

After 1850

Early Ordnance Survey maps are particularly useful for local and family history, and for many areas are the first printed maps which show any detail. The first survey of Scotland took over 30 years to complete from the late 1840s to 1880s.

Photocopying Maps

Many pre-1940 maps are on microfiche ‘aperture cards’ from which copies can be made. Post-1940 Ordnance Survey maps can be consulted but not photocopied. For reasons of conservation, we do not allow copying from our street maps.

1:10000 Scale Maps

This detailed scale map covers the whole of Scotland and is roughly equivalent to six inches to the mile in scale. The Edinburgh Room holds some of these maps for Edinburgh; the Scottish Library holds some of these maps mainly for the Lothian area, but also for Dumfries and Galloway and Fife.

1:2500 Scale Maps

This is the most detailed scale cultivated land is mapped at and is roughly equivalent to 25 inches to the mile in scale. The Edinburgh Room holds this scale for most of Edinburgh, the Scottish Library holds this scale for most of Lothian, and for some of the Borders.

1:1250 Scale Maps

This scale is very detailed, at roughly 50 inches to the mile,and is only available for built up areas. The Scottish Library hold only a few maps at this scale; the Edinburgh Room has good coverage of the City of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Room Map Holdings

1. An extensive collection of 18th/19th century maps/plans of Edinburgh
2. Post Office Directory Plans for Edinburgh 1828-1953
3. Alan Godfrey reprints for Edinburgh
4. 6 inch and 1 inch geological maps
5. GOAD shopping centre plans
6. Ordnance Survey

1852-55 5 ft to 1 mile
1855 6 inch 1877 5 ft
1892-93 6 inch
1892-95 10 ft
1894-96 25 inch (parts of city only)
1908-13 25 inch (parts of city only)
1908-20 6 inch part only
1914 25 inch
1932 25 inch
1944-50 1:1250
Post 1960 editions- 1:1250 1:2500 1:10,000 1:50,000 1:63,360


Our earliest newspaper dates from 1651, but the collection is incomplete before 1753. On microfilm we hold the Scotsman and the Evening News and some Leith papers – photocopies are possible. There is, unfortunately, no index to either of these papers, but the press cuttings collection is indexed, from the 1930s onwards and provides plentiful information especially for recent events. There is retrospective and current material on: buildings, places, events, health, crime, employment, campaigns, transport, education, environment, biographies, businesses and local government.

Edinburgh Advertiser: 1764-1855 (there are gaps)
Edinburgh and Leith Advertiser: 1825-1826; no 1-63
Edinburgh and Leith Burgh Pilot: Jan 1924-1 Mar 1924
Edinburgh and Leith Observer: Mar 1924-Jan 1939
Edinburgh Chronicle: 22 Mar 1759-30 Apr 1760; no 1-151 (143 missing)
Edinburgh Courant: 1705-1709; 1719-1886; 1867-1869
Edinburgh Evening Dispatch: 1886-1897; 12 Jan 1903; 1 July 1918- 30 Sept 1918; 1886-1897
Edinburgh Evening News and Dispatch: 1963-1967
Edinburgh Herald and Post: 26 August 1989 to date
Evening News: 1873 to date
Leith Gazette: 10 May 1952-30 May 1986
Portobello Advertiser: 1895-1896
Scotsman – 1817 to date

Parishes were small local government units linked to the local church’s area of responsibility. The OPRs are records which were kept by the Church of Scotland and only contain information about members of the Church of Scotland. They form the main source of information on births and marriages before official registration began in 1855 – the earliest records date from 1580. More information about OPRs is available in the library’s Family History Guide.

The Edinburgh Room holds the OPRs for the City of Edinburgh, and the Scottish Library hold some OPRs for other areas in Scotland.


Writers to the Signet


The National Bank of Scotland LTD:Roll of Honour 1914 – 1918
University of Edinburgh: Roll of Honour 1914 – 1919; War Service Record 1939 – 1945:
The Commercial Bank of Scotland Ltd. 1914 – 1918
Roll of Honour of the Royal High School of Edinburgh
Royal High School: War Service Record 1939
1939 – 1945 Roll of Honour of the Royal High School of Edinburgh
George Heriot’s School: Roll of Honour 1914 – 1919
George Heriot’s School: Roll of Honour 1939 – 1945
A Memorial Record of Watsonians Who Served in the Great War 1914 – 1918
The Watsonian War Record 1939 – 1945
The Edinburgh Academy War Service Record 1939 – 1945
War Record of the 2nd City of Edinburgh Battery 1914 – 1918
Old Fettesians Who Served in His Majesty’s Forces at Home and Abroad During the Great War

Printed lists with indexes:

Parish of Holyroodhouse or Canongate, Register of Marriages 1564 – 1800
Register of Marriages for the Parish of Edinburgh 1595 – 1750; 1751 – 1800
Edinburgh Poll Tax Returns for 1694
Faculty of Advocates in Scotland 1532 – 1943
Index to Register of Burials in the Churchyard of Restalrig 1728 – 1854
Monumental Inscription in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard, Edinburgh, 1728 – 1854
Register of Edinburgh Apprentices 1583 – 1755; 1756 – 1800
Register of the Burgesses of the Burgh of Canongate 1622 – 1733
Register of Burials in the Chapel Royal or Abbey of Holyroodhouse 1706 – 1900
Register of Interments in the Greyfriars Burying Ground 1658 – 1700
Register of Episcopal Congregation in Leith 1733 – 1775
Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild Brethren 1406 – 1841; 1701 – 1841
Court of the Lord Lyon: List of His Majesty’s Officers of Arms and other Officials, with Genealogical Notes 1318 – 1945


These include:

Albert Hall
Assembly Rooms
Church Hill Theatre
Edinburgh Academy Theatre
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Edinburgh Peoples Theatre
Edinburgh Repertory Theatre
Edinburgh Theatre
Edinburgh University Dramatic Society
Empire Theatre
Freemasons’ Hall
Gaiety Theatre
Gateway Theatre
Kings Theatre
Lyceum Little Theatre
Royal Lyceum Theatre
Royal Princess Theatre
Southminster Theatre
The Studio Theatre
Theatre Royal
Traverse Theatre
Unicorn Players
University Theatre
Usher Hall

VALUATION ROLLS – from 1914, but not Leith

VOTERS ROLLS – 1832, then from 1856 onwards; none were produced for the war years.

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