— #12 Newhaven's Back Streets

Overview Willowbank Row James Street Victoria Place Auchinleck Brae Redevelopment

An Ill-Considered Redevelopment

It cannot be denied that Newhaven in the immediate post-war period was badly in need of redevelopment. Much of the housing stock was unfit for human habitation, lacking modern sanitation and hot, sometimes even cold, running water.

The houses were kept scrupulously clean by the Newhaven housewives. No-one could accuse them and their families of living in squalor. It’s also significant that most houses in the village were owner-occupied and the registered owner was usually the lady of the house!  Newhaven was most certainly a matriarchal society.

Nevertheless, radical action was required to provide modern facilities in these old Victorian houses.

In the headlong rush to modernise in the 1950s and 60s, demolish and rebuild was the order of the day.  Nowadays, it is reasonable to assume that a more sensitive approach would be adopted with perhaps two houses being made into one so that a modern kitchen amd bathroom could be installed.

Indeed, in the initial phase designed by architect Sir Basil Spence his intention was that almost all the existing houses would be retained after improvement (see Route Stop #9). However, Councillors and officials of that time prioritised expediency and cost control in their decision making. The Newhaven that you see here today is the unfortunate result.

Edinburgh Corporation, as the Council was then known, saw it as redevelopment and upgrading; local people saw it as Newhaven’s ‘Clearances’, echoing the Highland Clearances of the mid-to-late 18th century — the forced eviction of inhabitants of the Highlands and western islands of Scotland, beginning in the mid-to-late 18th century.  The effect was the same, for it followed a deliberate Council policy decided upon as far back as during the Second World War in anticipation of final victory.

Houses were condemned and compulsorily purchased and the members of the community were scattered “to a’ airts”.  Neighbours were no longer neighbours; children no longer had contact with their friends with whom they had grown up.

3_9237 The rear of the houses on Main Street have balconies to catch the sun, something that was unavailable in the old street layout.

The Advisory Committee on City Development which produced a report, “The Future of Edinburgh” in 1943, in which slum dwelling (as Newhaven’s houses were described) and its intrinsic overcrowding had to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Amongst its many recommendations, the committee suggested relocating residents in Edinburgh’s “defective cores” and the city’s outlying areas to new housing estates to be built on the edge of town, then reconstructing their former substandard dwellings into modern neighbourhoods.

The 1943 report became the foundation for a report in 1949 by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, a town planning expert, and City Planning Head, Derek Plumstead, who combined their efforts to review and quantify the challenges ahead, making proposals in their report “A Civic Survey and Plan for the City and Royal Burgh of Edinburgh”.   It was effectively Newhaven’s death warrant.

3_9202 The north side of Main Street replicated the forestairs of Old Newhaven ...

One of Abercrombie and Plumstead’s recommendations instructed the city to reduce population “congestion” by breaking up historical local communities and moving them into other areas.  The survey committed to preserving the communities’ character and purpose while reducing the number of people in each and transforming local housing into modern accommodations.

The stress of being forcibly relocated was too much for a number of elderly members of the community, who died within six months or so. So that Newhaven had room to expand, only about one third of the original Newhaveners were allowed to return.  City planners did not want a village, they wanted a suburb.  The village was unrecognisable and would never be the same again.

However, Newhaven Heritage is committed to helping residents, old and new, reshape a self-supportive community and build a sense of belonging into this much loved place.


3_9210 ... which was in stark contrast to the bleakness of the south side of Main Street.