Newhaven, pp.439-440.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   NEWHAVEN, a quoad sacra parish, a considerable fishing village, and a harbour on the frith of Forth, 1 mile west of North Leith, and 2 miles north of Princes-street, Edinburgh. The parish was erected by authority of the presbytery of Edinburgh in 1838, and, as to population, consists chiefly of the village, which is situated, quoad civilia, in the parish of North Leith. Newhaven had, in the 15th century, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and was designated from it, in a style characteristic of the period, “Our Lady’s Port of Grace.” A small part of the outer wall of the chapel still exists in the burying-ground, in the centre of the village. James IV., who patronized the ecclesiastical erection, encouraged the coeval formation of a village, made it the site of a dockyard, and conferred upon it certain burghal privileges. The town-council of Edinburgh, becoming jealous of the consequence which it promised to attain, and exercising the same selfish and grasping policy which prompted them to enthral Leith, and purchase the royal charter of Musselburgh, bought, in 1511, from James V., the village and the harbour, with all their pertinents and rights. As a haven, formed, named, and patronized by the Crown, and possessing greater depth of water than Leith, and as the site of accommodation both for the building and the harbourage of vessels, it might early have rivalled and superseded Leith; but it was crushed into insignificance by the policy of Edinburgh, and – so late as the epoch a few years ago of the disruption of the municipal power of the metropolis through insolvency, and the completing of a grand effort to form a suitable harbour for the great commerce of Mid-Lothian – it has been permanently condemned to lose the fruit of its natural advantages in consequence of the difficulty of removing the great house and warehouse establishments of merchants fixed at Leith. Yet, though it continued for a long period to be a mere residence of fishers, with a rude and miserable pier, it has, in modern times, greatly increased in size, and acquired several marked elements of importance. By an arrangement between the trustees of the Fife ferry and Government, a very substantial low-water stone-pier was erected, enclosing a commodious harbour for wherries and fishing-boats, and accommodating the numerous steam-vessels which ply, at all hours, between the two sides of the frith. Other steam-vessels, and even those of the London and Edinburgh steam company, avail themselves of this pier; but, its end being nearly dry at low water, they can rarely lie alongside to take in or discharge, and receive advantage from it chiefly through the troublesome medium of boats. About 500 yards west of the stone-pier, a chain-pier was constructed in 1821, by Captain Samuel Brown of the Royal Navy, at an expense of £4,000. It is upwards of 500 feet long, and 4 feet wide, extends to a depth at low water of from 5 to 6 feet, and serves for the use of steam packets to Stirling, Queensferry, and various other places above and below Leith; yet it comes far short of affording sufficient accommodation for either the number or the bulk of steam-vessels which frequent the harbours of Edinburgh. Upwards of a mile to the west is the new and better pier of GRANTON: which see. In the vicinity of the chain-pier are the terminus of the Edinburgh and Newhaven railway [see article EDINBURGH], and a considerable number of villas and sea-bathing cottages, feus of the Trinity-house of Leith, and bearing, in common with the pier, the name of Trinity. In front of these buildings, and at the east end of the village, the beach dips down into excellent bathing-ground, and is the grand resort of pedestrian bathers from Edinburgh. Newhaven promised at a time not long past to rise into a summer-retreat of aristocrats and capitalists, and, to a trifling extent, it has this character in its outskirts; but it has become jilted and forgotten in consequence of the sprightly attractions of its rival, Portobello. The body of the village is ungainly, irregular, noisome, abounding in exterior open staircases, rude and untidy in its houses, and redolent of the offals of fish and every sort of nuisance in its streets. Yet it has some inns and profusion of public-houses, and possesses some note as a resort of the citizens of Edinburgh for fish-dinners. Two great thoroughfares connect it with Edinburgh; the one by the villas of Trinity and the village of Canonmills, and the other by Bonnington and Claremont-street; and both are scoured almost every hour by coaches and omnibuses, which connect the metropolis, through the Newhaven ferries, with most districts in the north. The village, as to its political position, is included within the parliamentary and municipal boundary of Leith, and, as to the relation of its harbour to the custom-house, belongs to the port of that town: see LEITH. – The inhabitants, in spite of the filth which surrounds their abodes, are an industrious, hardy, and thriving race. They have for centuries formed a peculiar and exclusive community, all more or less mutually related by marriage, and rarely intermarrying with others than natives of the village. The males are mostly all fishermen, weather-beaten and athletic, and so trained from youth to spend most of their waking hours on the sea, that they are expert in nothing but handling the sailing-tackle and the net. Their wives, and daughters, – well known in Edinburgh, and partially known by report throughout Scotland, as “the Fishwives of Newhaven,” – are a sturdy corps of Amazons, so distinguished by peculiar habits as to be quite a study to the observer of human nature. They partake all the broad features which mark the character of their sisterhood of FISHERROW [see that article], and share with them the trade of supplying the markets of Edinburgh and Leith with fresh fish. But they possess additional features which are less apparent in the Fisherrow women; and, during two-thirds of the year, they have exclusively the trade of supplying the capital with oysters. They carry, in their creels or huge willow-baskets, loads quite as heavy as any borne by their rivals; they entirely equal them in the masculine character of their strength and habits; and when their husbands or fathers are detained from the sea by tempestuous weather, they coolly assign them female domestic duties, and go themselves in search of employment to earn the means of household support. When provoked, they exhibit a rude power of tongue, a coarseness and seaman-like vulgarity of abuse, which rival those of their Billingsgate contemporaries. They are so celebrated, too, for their exorbitant attempts at extortion, – very frequently asking three or four times the sum for their goods which a skilful purchaser induces them to take, – that other trades, when annoyed by purchasers cheapening their wares, or offering a much lower price than has been demanded, are in the habit of exclaiming, “What! would you make a fishwife o’ me!” Yet they are honourable among themselves, and peaceable and orderly as members of the general community; and though a very hard working class, and accustomed, in keeping with their habits and pursuits, to eat and drink in the style of city carters and porters, they do not indulge in an excessive use of ardent spirits. They dress in a manner at once coarse, costly, and peculiar, – sufficiently tidy when viewed in connexion with their occupation, and not a little interesting to the lover of the picturesque. Inconsequence of their having to support their heavy creels with the whole muscular power of the head and neck, they wear no head-dress but a napkin, and have attached to their loads a broad belt, which they rest across their forehead when moving, and let slip over their head when about to exhibit their merchandise. They usually wear a jerkin of blue cloth, and, on their neck and bosom, several fine neckerchiefs; and they wrap themselves up in a profusion of petticoats of different stuffs and colours, two or three being regularly adjusted on the person, and others so contorted into twists and bundles below the waist as to produce a strange bulkiness and grotesqueness of appearance. – Newhaven gave, at one time, the name of Viscount to an English family of the name of Cheyne, who never had any property in its vicinity. Charles Cheyne of Cogenho, in Northamptonshire, became, in 1681, the first Viscount Newhaven; and his son, who died in 1738, was the second and last. 

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