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The bow tows knew how to celebrate


The single pier, or Stone Pier, which existed until 1878, did nothing to provide this and the shingle beach on which the boats were drawn up had been destroyed, due to dredging by the Leith Dock Commission.

Previous plans submitted to Edinburgh Corporation and the Leith Dock Commissioners had been dismissed and the fishermen’s own self-help scheme to build a breakwater failed due to lack of finance.

Two years after the last of these disappointments, on the 21 October 1874, the Free Fishermen sent a deputation of David Stevenson, John Wilson and James Wilson to speak with Mr Donald Macgregor, MP for the Leith Burghs. He assured them of his fullest cooperation and determination to prepare plans with the Leith Dock Commission and to ask Parliament for a grant of £10,000.

Less than one month after that meeting, an engineer was taking soundings and measurements for the new harbour. In October 1875 plans were exhibited in the village, and a year later building began in earnest when boats were employed to bring stone from Queensferry.

But first the important foundation stone of the west breakwater had to be laid along with due ceremony that such an important event demanded,

It was a sunny day with a slight breeze from the southwest when the Free Fishermen marched along to Bernard Street, where they assembled with the rest of the retinue under the direction of Lodge Trafalgar 223 who were in charge of the proceedings, the laying of the foundation stone being a Masonic Ceremony.

The fishermen were headed by the Midlothian Coast Artillery Militia Band followed by the Freemasons attended by the Edinburgh Artillery Militia band, They took their places as assigned by the Tyler to the Grand Lodge alongside other lodges from the Edinburgh area and wider afield. Also attending was The Good Templar Lodge, Hope of Newhaven.

The volunteer band led the procession along the shore road from Leith to Newhaven, followed by three officials carrying the trowel and mortar which would be used in the forthcoming ceremony, and an antique silver cup, most probably the Texel Cup property of the Free Fishermen’s Society.

Next came 300 Free Fishermen dressed in their ‘go ashores’ wearing their characteristic red, white and blue badge and carrying their banner, model boats and other devices appropriate to their craft. To their rear came the Free Gardeners and Oddfellows.

Finally the Freemasons, of the 243 brethren who took part the greater number belonged to the Lodge Trafalgar accompanied by Mr Donald R Macgregor MP. Their ‘Tyler’, an ancient mariner dressed in blue jersey, duck trousers and white straw hat was armed with a rusty sword, attracting quite a lot of attention.

On reaching Newhaven - decorated with strings of flags, windows draped with bright displays of domestic linen in lieu of bunting - the procession continued to Union Place (now Starbank Road) where they returned to the harbour via steps, to the beach, where a platform had been erected at the shore end of the breakwater for the ceremony.

The platform party included local dignitaries and others, including the architect. The treasurer of Lodge Trafalgar placed a jar containing newspapers of the day and coins of the realm into a cavity in the stone over this was placed a large concrete block.

After the ceremony had been performed, the Dock Commissioners, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, the Provost and Magistrates of Leith as well as those of Portobello, Musselburgh and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce met in Victoria School, along with eight members of the Society and Mr Macgregor to enjoy some cake and wine.

Meanwhile the procession was re-formed and marched to Leith where Lodges returned to their rooms. The members of the Free Fishermen Society, keen to show off to the rest of the city, continued their march complete with banners and model fishing boats up Leith Walk to Picardy Place then, Princes Street the West and back by Queen Street, Pitt Street, Inverleith Row and Granton Road to Granton Pier. Before finally returning along the shore road to Newhaven finishing at St Andrew’s Square (Fishmarket Square).

A few speeches were made and tunes played before the crowd dispersed prior to the final event in the evening.

This was a grand soiree held in the Madras School (the hall to the rear of the Parish Church in Craighall Road). It was a full house with music and song, speeches were made praising Newhaven, its antiquity, and how the day had been a great holiday.

The final word must be given to the Preses, Mr William Wilson, when in referring to the pier said, “since the year 1832 when gentlemen came to get votes for an MP, the harbour was always in their speech when they were addressing the fishermen but none of them were troubled about it after they were chosen. But Mr Donald R Macgregor stood by his promise and saw the harbour built.” ■

Info: Thanks to the NRS for access to their document, Laying the Foundation Stone of the Newhaven Harbour 15 April 1876

The crowd at Newhaven harbour for the ceremony


An ancient mariner dressed in blue jersey, duck trousers, white straw hat and rusty sword, attracted a lot of attention


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