Overview John Pottinger Whaling and Newhaven Tae a Guider

The Long Climb

The Whale Brae was the main thoroughfare for fisherwomen carrying their heavy creels up to Edinburgh’s New Town and High Street to sell their produce. The baskets on their backs weighed about one hundredweight (50 Kg) when full and the slope has a gradient of 1 in 11 which just goes to show how tough and strong these fishwives were.

The route used to be known as Whiting Road, and  is now called Newhaven Road.  The Fishwives’ 3-mile long walk starts here at its junction with Annfield and Main Street.  Newhaven Road is a long street continuing to Bonnington Bridge over the Water of Leith and Bonnington Toll, an old road to Rosebank Cemetery and Edinburgh. Whale Brae is still surfaced with its granite setts.

From Bonnington Toll — the intersection of Newhaven Road and Bonnington Road — the route turned south-west through Broughton village and thence either to the Georgian terraced villas of the New Town or further uphill to the Netherbow and the Royal Mile.

What’s In A Name?

No-one knows with any certainty how Whale Brae got its name. Tradition has it that a school of 17 pilot whales beached themselves further up the coast and were brought to the brae for processing.  Certainly this phenomenon was known since pre-historic times so need not be discounted.

Imagine looking at the topography of this coastline, as it once was, from the sea.  Stripped of housing, the hill formed by Hawthornvale and this brae might seem to rise like a whale from the ocean. Could this be the reason?

In the late 18th Century, the Whale Inn stood at the west corner of the Brae, and a coach service, the London Fly, left from there. Having a connection to London was not unusual.  Every Wednesday and Saturday, the London & Edinburgh Steam Packet Co. ran a ferry service to London.  This company had offices at Whale Bank at the top of the Whale Brae and in Maitland Street at the west end of the village approximately where Porto & Fi is today.

A collector for the Free Fishermen Society would also stand here at the foot of the Brae seeking donations to help the widows and poor of Newhaven.  

The London and Edinburgh Company's steam ship, Monarch, passing the Bass Rock on her voyage to Edinburgh from London, 21 July 1834, a voyage performed in 37 Hours. Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

Folks Who Live On The Hill

Houses on the west side of Whale Brae had been built around the 1870s but it was not until 1935 that houses were built on the east flank of the street when John Pottinger, a local builder, acquired a strip of land in Fishermen’s Park from the Free Fishermen’s Society.  Although Pottinger & Sons had built many houses in Newhaven and Leith, this imposing red sandstone terrace of houses has stood the test of time.  These house had modern amenities including bathrooms.

The Whale Brae provided another play area for children with its steep slope — an obvious choice for slides in the winter and go-carts (guiders) in the summer. 

3_6036 In the days when traffic was light, the Whale Brae was an obvious place for sledging.
Previous Stop - #10 Victoria SchoolNext Stop -#12 Newhaven’s Back Streets