Newhaven's Two Railways

— #6 Hawthornvale

Overview The Community Newhaven’s Two Railways Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop

The Age of Railways was as transformational to Victorians as the Digital Age has been to the modern Elizabethan era.  Newhaven, in its heyday, benefitted from not just one but two railways, one running to the east and and one running to the west of the village.

The Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven line

The railway proved to be a double-edged sword for Newhaven being popular with its fishwives as it saved the weary trek up to the city and allowed them to travel further afield to find new customers.

However, the significant development of the railway system on the east coast of Scotland also meant that other fishing villages were able to send their fish directly south to English markets to the detriment of the traditional open-air fishmarket at Newhaven Harbour.  This was not reversed until a purpose—built Fishmarket building and an organised wholesale structure was implemented in 1896.

As the amount of passengers using ferry services from Newhaven to Fife, Stirling and even Orkney, Shetland and London increased, better provision for embarkation was required.  In 1822, a new chain pier was constructed slightly west of the village which benefited steam powered ferries with deeper drafts. In the late 1830s, a new railway line was proposed to bring passengers to and from Edinburgh to the Chain Pier departure point.

In 1838, a foundation stone was laid for a terminus station beside the chain pier.  Construction of the rail line was prolonged and not without incident but in 1842, the Edinburgh, Leith and Newhaven line was opened, at first employing horse-drawn carriages but very quickly steam trains were used.  Despite the enormous cost of its construction, the railway was financially successful and popular.

When the Duke of Buccleuch developed Granton as a harbour, the line was extended to there. This, however, brought ferry services to Fife from Newhaven Harbour to an end.  From Granton, a special train ferry was commissioned, The Leviathan, a world first, that would carry trains over the Forth to Burntisland, Fife. It operated until 1890s when the newly opened Forth Bridge took all the passenger traffic and the line closed.

The Caledonian Railway

The other railway that ran close to Newhaven was the Caledonian Railway — the ‘Caley’. Built in 1848 to provide connection between Edinburgh (Princes Street) and England, it has an interesting history.

However the germane facts relating to its impact on Newhaven begin in 1861 when a freight line to Granton and to Leith, carrying mainly coal and limestone, was opened drawn by the attraction of the docks at these two destinations.  The spur to west of Leith, which skirted Newhaven running parallel to Hawthornvale, ended at its terminus of Leith North, now Ocean Terminal.  The Caledonian Railway tried to build a passenger business, even to the extent of constructing a second platform at Newhaven Station on Craighall Road.  However that part of the business was never viable due to an agreement struck by the Caledonian Railway with Leith Town Council to ensure the Council’s backing of the new line.  It was agreed that the cost of the Edinburgh-Leith fare would never be more than its rival, the North British Railway Company (NBR) which due to the higher costs of maintaining the Caley line proved to be a serious financial burden.

Popular with the fishwives of Newhaven as they went about their business, the booking office had a special window just for them and a dedicated carriage on the train not, it should be said, out of respect for these hard-working fisherwomen carrying the creel but more out of regard for fellow passengers. The ticket office of Newhaven Station is still in use to this day as office accommodation.

Newhaven Station was closed in 1962 and the freight-only lines fell into disuse in 1967 (to Granton) and 1968 (to Leith East goods yard).

A network of defunct rail tracks in Edinburgh has now been established providing opportunities for safe exercise — walking, jogging, cycling.