Trinity House, Leith – Part One


Outside Trinity House – Leith’s Maritime Museum

Today I had the good fortune to be in Edinburgh during the Leith Festival, and Trinity House, as a part of the festival, was open to the public. Whilst not directly related to the Robb Yard, it is nonetheless an important part of Leith’s History and has links with the yard, so I thought an indulgent side-track on my blog would be appropriate.

After a wee wander down The Shore and around the bottom of Leith Walk we found our way to Trinity House, tucked away behind Farmfoods. Groups of 15 were being taken around to see the exhibitions, and we were treated to a film which introduced the history of Trinity House in a gentle and very poignant manner.

Trinity House Emblem (inlaid in the floor of the entrance hall)

Trinity House was established in the fourteenth century, on or around 1380. The charity was set up to support the needs of injured and retired seamen and their families and Mary Queen of Scots conferred on it the right to levy a tax known as “prime gilt” on cargos entering the Port of Leith. The main imports were oil, flax, coal and timber from Europe, Portugal and North Africa. The tax was used to help the seafarers’ charity and also put towards the local churches, having supplied 1/3 of the costs of building South Leith Church and also contributed towards North Leith Church. The timber was taken directly through the specially built gaps in the harbour wall into Timber Bush.

Trinity House was a hospital and a school was run in the vaults. It fell into such disrepair that in 1816 it was rebuilt over the original vaults. John Hay, the master at the time liked a bit of flash, so he commissioned Alexander Dow and Son to design and install the ceiling in the upstairs convening room for the sum of 50 guineas.

The Convening Room Ceiling

The decoration on the ceiling includes ornate plaster friezes showing maritime subjects, and the fact that some sailors are looking at the girls in the frieze rather than the ships raised a good chuckle amongst those of us on the tour at that point.

The Camperdown Fireplace

The only original feature of the 1555 fittings is the Camperdown Fireplace, downstairs in the Master’s Room commemorating Admiral Duncan’s victory at the Battle of Camperdown, and a portrait of him, by Henry Raeburn is upstairs dominating one end of the convening room.

Admiral Duncan

More to follow in another entry…

Copyright: Ruth Patterson 2010


About Ruth Macadam

Great Granddaughter of Henry Robb. School teacher.
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