The History of Leith

February 11, 2011

Shipbuilding and Engineering in leith 1956

Apart from ship repairing work which is shared by certain other local firms, shipbuilding in the Port of Leith, if we except the fabrication of small boats, yachts and suchlike, rests in the hands of one firm, that of Messrs Henry Robb Ltd., whose Victoria Yards are situated at
the West Pier.
In these it carries on most successfully and progressively this extremely important type of industry so long and honourably associated with Leith, for, as far back as the early years of the
sixteenth century King James IV granted a charter to nearby Newhaven embraced in the Port of Leith under the name of ” Our Ladye’s Port of Grace,” wherein it is reliably claimed that he built his most ambitious project which he named the Great Michael. It was constructed of the stoutest oak, and was of the then amazing dimensions of 240 feet long and 36 feet beam; his object in launching it being to counter, as far as his resources might admit, the growing menace of the expanding maritime power of the ” auld enemy ” south of the border. Leith was also early and notably in the field whenever
the iron, steam-propelled vessel became a practical proposition, for, in the year 1837 the Port attained to quite a measure of fame by constructing within its borders the S.S. Sirius, justly renowned as an outstandingly successful pioneer of steam transatlantic voyaging.
Forerunners of Robb’s at the West Pier were, among others, the firms of Cran & Somerville, of Hawthorn and of Ramage Gf Ferguson, each of
which had notable productions to their credit before they gave over.
The firm of Henry Robb Ltd. started operations in the year 1918, mainly with the intention of undertaking every kind of ship repair work,
but in 1924 Hawthorn’s yard was shut down, and by negotiation Robb’s secured the premises thus vacated for merging with the Victoria premises.
Some two years later Cran & Somerville followed Hawthorn, and the berths they had owned were also incorporated. Finally, in 1933, the concern of Ramage & Ferguson ceased its activities and left
the way clear for the absorption of their premises too.

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