— #15 Main Street West
The origins of the Armada Stone are unknown. The apparently single plaque was composed originally from two disparate parts. The attribution to the Spanish Armada is due to the upper part of the sculpture bearing the date 1588, the year of the attempted invasion of England. The stone depicts an armed merchantman flying the Saltire, the Scottish flag, at each masthead and the phrase “In the Neam of God 1588”.
Following the abortive attack by the Spanish fleet in the English Channel, the ships scattered only for many to be caught up in a ferocious storm. The escape route for a number of the remaining men o’ war and their support vessels was to sail around the North of Scotland and out into the Atlantic. This was the period of the “Little Ice Age” and the sailors encountered a number of tempests of particular ferocity. Some ships found relative respite in the Forth estuary. It was said that a number of survivors were given a friendly reception by the communities along the Forth. Another version was that the plaque was sculpted to commemorate the actions of the little fishing vessels from these same communiuties to harry and annoy the Spaniards. No-one really knows for sure but, whatever the true reason for the stone, 1588 was certainly a momentous year.
It was reputedly found in the Cramond Burn which fed into the River Almond and brought to Newhaven to be built into a wall of a house for decorative purposes.
The motif is of such significance to Newhaveners, the firm of Henry Robb, the shipbuilders, had a wooden plaque carved and presented to Victoria School in 1944 to mark the school’s centenary. This has now become the unofficial Coat of Arms of Newhaven.
The other part of the stone shows globes, dividers, compasses and a Jacob’s Staff, a type of early navigational instrument. The whole bears a close resemblance to the Arms of Trinity House. Trinity House owned much land in the area to the west of Newhaven known as Trinity. It is suspected that this lower part of the stone came from a lintel decoration over a farmhouse door. It carries the Latin motto “Per vertuti sidera terram mare — Valour guided by the stars can traverse land and sea.”
Trinity House is a charity founded in the 14th Century as The Incorporation of Master and Mariners of Leith and, in 1380 King Robert II granted it the right to levy a duty, called prime gilt, of 12 pennies on each ton of goods landed at Leith. An additional voluntary contribution, called crown money, was also collected. The Incorporation was also known as the Fraternity, and ‘Trinity’ is a corruption of this – not to be confused with England’s Trinity House, which was founded in 1514
Due to the levies charged, the Fraternity became wealthy and purchased farmland to the west of Leith, the profits from which helped to run a hospital. This is presumed to be a fore-runner of the current Trinity House in the Kirkgate, Leith
Whatever the source of this plaque, it has given rise locally to the area being called Armada Square. The garden is tended by volunteers of the Newhaven Heritage Community Gardens.