The History of Leith

February 14, 2011


FOR a considerable length of time our native land of Scotland has been quite unable to grow anything approaching the quantities of timber which it normally requires, and the ever-increasing industrialisation trends must yearly make its dependence upon imports even more pronounced, if the requirements of industry are to be satisfied in any
adequate degree. Although of later years the Government, through the Forestry Commission, is bent on making a valiant effort to swell the volume of home supplies, there remains, and will long remain, a native dearth which will render it necessary to seek reinforcement from overseas to an ever greater extent.

Formerly our main importations were brought from Northern Russia, the Baltic States, Finland and Scandinavian countries, while at the same time we drew largely upon the U.S.A. and Canada in addition to tapping other far-off places for special kinds which they and our native sources were not capable of producing in bulk at any rate. John o’ Leith
informs us in his Story of Leith that the woods brought from the Baltic and adjacent sources were nearly all of the pine family and known to the trade as red or yellow deal, while red and yellow pines reach us from the North American Continent, and all of these come under the general designation of ” soft woods.” For “hard woods,” e.g., oak, mahogany, teak and ash, we have to turn to the sunnier climes where, in tropical countries, these thrive in quantity within the Continents of Asia and Africa mostly and in Central America as well.
The presence of many and extensive Timber establishments in and around Leith show that trading in this indispensable commodity is of no
little importance to the local economy. Remembering our long dependence on supplies from Northern Russia and the countries of Scandinavia, we can appreciate how Leith, the principal port on the
East of Scotland facing the North Sea and Baltic, has come to be so important a port of entry for the products issuing from their shores and more especially Timber. For Timber is the principal and most important raw material exported from these Northern countries, and it is scarcely surprising that Leith, with its most favourable geographical position, should be wide open for its reception.
Scarcely surprising also, it is to find here so many of the oldest and largest importers in Scotland. : to name only a few, such as Garland & Roger Ltd., D. W. Beattie & Co. Ltd., Park, Dobson & Co. Ltd., Wm. Fergus Harris & Son Ltd. and John Mitchell & Co. Ltd., and reveal further the strength of the local trade. There is also the firm of James Walker (Leith) Ltd. which, besides importing makes a speciality of pressurised creosoting, while that of L. Keizer & Co. Ltd. lays its main emphasis on plywood of every description.
The sawmills are fully equipped with the most modern machinery procurable and with the latest technical developments, and these combine to give excellent service to a large consuming area.
Timber importers and merchants are now free to purchase their softwood supplies from whatever source and in whatever manner is best suited to their requirements since 1951 and in 1953 consumer
licensing was abolished and full liberty to sell regained after the War and post-War governmental controls were removed, and this restored freedom brought trading conditions back to those old competitive
days when this trade was so successfully established and built up to its present dimensions and stability.
During 1955 the quantity of Timber imported into Leith showed a considerable advance over the average of recent years. During that period shipyards were busy and the building programmes for Local Authorities and industrial concerns were exceedingly active. The building of houses for private ownership was also extended and accelerated.
Taking it all round, the outlook for Timber is good and, failing any curb on capital expenditure or Treasury financial restrictions, there is ample
ground for confident optimism.

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