For centuries, this happened at the pierhead in all weathers. At one time, it was not just the Newhaven fishermen that were landing their catch but many of the other fishing communities that lined the coast of the Forth, too. Because Edinburgh was a major transport hub, the daily catch would then travel to other parts of the country.
With the coming of the railways and steamboats, these fishing villages found they had improved direct access to other more profitable markets and trade at Newhaven started to dwindle. An enclosed Newhaven Fishmarket was conceived by Henry Dempster, known as the Ancient Mariner and a native of the village. He proposed that this would revive the area’s fortunes. A wholesale system was created and fish was sent here daily by rail. Newhaven prospered once more.
The main building was constructed in 1896 on reclaimed land immediately adjacent to Newhaven Pier on the eastern side and was surrounded by a setted roadway. It has a cast iron frame with red sandstone twin gabled ends and timber boarded 27 arches along its east and west sides gave access to its interior. The central bays on the East and West elevations have timber gablets with tapering finials and clocks set in their apexes. Immediately outside the main building at set intervals were three large stone washtubs for the purposes of washing and scrubbing the fishboxes clean. The floor level of the Fishmarket building was elevated to enable fish boxes to be loaded more easily onto carts.
Opposite the main Market shed ran a series of 14 wooden huts painted in Battleship Grey and with a saw-tooth roof. Some were used as sales offices, some as porters’ worksheds. The first one was used by the workforce in which to have their break.
It was said that the sales offices had a tiny opening window on the front such that money could be handed in but could not be handed out!