Fishermen's Park

— #9 Great Michael Rise

Overview Sir Basil Spence Fishermen’s Park Boatbuilding
Fishermen's Park, taken 1951. PHOTO: Used under licence / collection/1437634.

The Fishermen’s Park was all that was left of the Newhaven Links which originally lay between the Whale Brae and what is now Hawthornvale.  Newhaven and the surrounding lands belonged to the King but were purchased in 1510 by Edinburgh Town Council as it was considered that Newhaven could threaten the Port of Leith’s status as Edinburgh’s main port.

Much of the Links was let by the city for grazing and in 1573 the charge was 30 merks per annum, around £4 in today’s money. By 1595 the charge had dropped to 6 merks, less than £1, as the sea had swept away much of the land. It was so bad that part of this route to Leith was known as the Man Trap because so many people had fallen into the sea. The best remaining part of the Links was the section from the Whale Brae to what we now know as New Lane, shown on early maps as St Peter’s Field.  This would become the Fishermen’s Park.

Early maps of 1804 show that New Lane had been built along with a building in the North West corner of St Peter’s Field.  In later maps a building known as the Admiral’s Office is shown in the south west corner, the land now being owned by the Government and run by the Admiralty.

As early as 1807 there was a proposal to build a Naval Yard on this site. This was still being shown on maps of 1831, but nothing came of these proposals and in fact the land seems to have lain dormant.

At that time there was no suitable place for the Newhaven fishermen to dry or maintain their nets, so a deputation approached the Secretary of the Board of Fisheries to put their case that this land would be ideal for that purpose. An application was sent to the Board of Admiralty who agreed, provided that the Boxmaster (Treasurer) of the Free Fishermen’s Society would accept responsibility for the land. This was agreed and in 1848 they got the park, plus a strip of land to the east of New Lane at an annual rent of £20 for a certain period (not stated!) after which it would drop to £15.

At first the rent was collected from the fishermen by those who had instigated the renting of the ground and this continued for twenty years until the Society took full control.   coeries to pursue their claim to the use of the parks.   In 1870 the Admiralty gave notice that they were to sell the land that they had in Newhaven which included the parks.  This caused some concern to the fishermen and again they approached the Secretary of the Board of Fisheries to pursue their claim to the use of the parks.  This resulted in the Society being granted a 999 year lease on the park for which they had to pay an annual sum of £15.  The lease was signed by the Preses and the Boxmaster on 15th July 1871.  The ground to the East of New Lane was sold.

The Park would have been a busy place in those early days: there were vats for tanning and barking the nets to preserve them; space for over-wintering the yawls; a kippering shed; a blacksmith’s forge; a sailmaker’s loft and a boatbuilding yard.

The Park was gradually used less and less by the fishermen due to changing ways of fishing, and just used as a general village green. The grass was cut and used to line the baskets that fishing lines were stored in to stop them becoming tangled when put into the water, or ‘shot’ — so a tenuous connection to fishing remained!