It was referred to by its residents as “The Lane”. New Lane was once known as “Sou’ Raw (South Raw)” and the oldest members of the original community may still occasionally refer to it that way.
They started building the New Lane in the 1820s as the eastern-most boundary of Newhaven. It was roughly a hundred yards long and ran north to south as two parallel rows of cottages facing each other ten yards apart. The ridge skirting the beach that sloped down to the Main Street closed off its southern end. To the west, the Fishermen’s Park separated it from the rest of the houses huddled around the Main Street and harbour.
The homes were built in adjoined blocks of four two-roomed houses, two above and two below with an outside stair giving access to the upper houses. A small wooden bannister and balcony kept the stairs safe and you could look north over the balcony, down to the sea. A small incline in the middle meant that the blocks at the top of the lane were set slightly higher than those at the bottom.
It was a bonny street, open and airy with terracotta pantiled roofs and white-washed walls making it an obvious subject for photographers and postcards. If you look at successive series of postcards you can see when piped running water came to the lane. The earliest cards show an open balcony on the north side of the cottages which later becomes replaced by the external toilets which were attached at that end.
Around that time, the final building in the lane was built. It was a three storey tenement, the Pottinger building, on the south-west corner of the western row of cottages. It contained 7 two-roomed houses and 3 single apartments.
Gas lighting also came to the street around the same time — again evident in the central gas lamp halfway up and visible in old postcards.
When first built, the Lane was well liked by the fishermen and the Forth’s river pilots who came to stay there. Fishing gear and nets could be stored in the attics and there was a clear view down the lane to the sea. Boats could be hauled up onto the beach on the the other side of the main street and the seafarers could look out to sea from their balconies, watching the traffic sailing up and down the Leith Roads — a busy channel in the River Forth.
It was always a sociable space, particularly at the foot. There was a shop on the corner and the pavement was broad where it joined Annfield. Children played games there and during the 19th and early 20th centuries there were always lots of children running up and down. They were well supervised — someone or other would be looking out over the balcony or down the lane.
Most Newhaveners were always curious and often nosey. Some of the pilots would even challenge people coming into the Lane asking who they were visiting and what their business was. The original Neighbourhood Watch!
With the general improvements in housing conditions after the First, and particularly, the Second World War, it became clear that the houses in New Lane were no longer of an acceptable standard for people to live in. The first building to go was the last one to be built, the Pottinger building, which was condemned as unfit for human habitation in 1947. It was emptied and demolished by 1950 but it took another twenty years before Edinburgh City corporation started to tear down the original four-in-a-block houses.
The council had been seeking to improve housing stock throughout the city and settled upon Newhaven as a project in the 1970s. Rather then refurbishing sound buildings, it chose to demolish. Sir Basil Spence was chosen to design a replacement housing scheme and started with the Lane and environs. It was a reasonably tasteful replacement with blocks of houses looking similar to the ones they replaced.
Yet somehow New Lane managed to retain, as it still does, the sense of society it always had. And Newhaven Heritage is working to preserve and promote as much of the good and kindly culture that the village exemplified throughout its existence.