West Port, Edinburgh

The West Port is a street in Edinburgh's Old Town, Scotland, located just south of Edinburgh Castle. It runs from Main Point (the junction of Bread Street, Lauriston Street, East Fountainbridge and High Riggs) down to the south west corner of the Grassmarket. Its name derives from the fact it sloped up from the town gate named the West Port, which was the only westwards exit from the city when the city walls stood,[1] allowing passage through the Flodden Wall. The port itself was demolished in 1786.

West Port
Main Point, the historic junction of the three roads (2nd l. to r.) to Carlisle, Glasgow and Stirling
Former name(s)Wester Portsburgh
Length0.2 mi (0.3 km)
Coordinates55°56′47″N 3°12′00″W
west endMain Point
east endGrassmarket

The history of the street

Historic names for the street and area

Wester Portsburgh, as the West Port was formerly known, was the main street through the western part of the burgh of Portsburgh[2] - a burgh of barony from 1649[3] to 1856.[4]

The name West Port originally referred only to the gate itself, but was used for the entire length of the street leading away from the gate in maps from around 1837 onwards.[5] Wester Portsburgh still appeared as the name of the street on maps as late as 1831.[6]

Portsburgh can also be seen as the name for the same street in a map from 1836.[7] However, this does not serve to distinguish it from the eastern part of Portsburgh (Easter Portsburgh), which was still part of the same burgh at that date, the two parts of Portsburgh having their own administrative systems and baillies.[8]

Historic events and famous residents

  • King Charles I entered Edinburgh by the West Port in the year of his Scottish Coronation, 1633.
  • "In 1650, when an English invasion was expected, many houses in Potterrow, as well as the West Port, were demolished by order of the magistrates, that the guns of the castle, and those on the city wall might have free action to play upon the enemy".[9]
  • According to the poem by Walter Scott, "Bonnie Dundee" left Edinburgh by the West Port, though historical accounts state that he left by the Netherbow Port.
  • Porteous riots started with a mob at Portsburgh.
  • James Hogg says in Confessions of a Justified Sinner that he had lodgings in Portsburgh.[10]
  • The West Port murders were so named as many of the victims were tempted back to Hare's lodgings in Tanner's Close, off the West Port, to be murdered.[11] The site is now occupied by Argyle House.
  • The "West Port Experiment" was a model for parochial engagement, conceived by Thomas Chalmers, with a church/school built on the south side of the street to facilitate this.[12]

Recent history and the modern-day street

  • Portsburgh Church is on a buildings at risk register.[13]
  • The Vennel off the junction of West Port and the Grassmarket was used in the film 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (1969) when Brodie takes her girls on a walk through the Old Town, ending up in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Notable buildings still in existence

Buildings built before the 21st Century

The Art Nouveau Salvation Army Women's Hostel at the corner of the Grassmarket, The Vennel[14] and the West Port was built in 1910 and is C Listed.[15] Edinburgh College of Art, purchased and used the Hostel, in addition to the next-door Portsburgh Church, entered via the Vennel. Planning permission was granted in October 2007 for the two buildings to be changed to serviced apartments.[16]

The name of Portsburgh Square[17] on the north side of West Port is a reminder of the area's older name.

21st Century developments

Dominating the north side of the West Port at its junction with Lady Lawson Street is Argyle House, built in 1968 to designs by Michael Laird and Partners.[18] Long used as local and national government offices, it now houses CodeBase, the largest tech incubator in Scotland, University of Edinburgh offices, along with various other businesses. Cited as one of Edinburgh's 'ugliest buildings', it provides its north-facing occupants with an impressive prospect of Edinburgh Castle Rock, while blotting out the same for anyone at street level.

Evolution House, the newest building of the Edinburgh College of Art stands on the south east corner of West Port and Lady Lawson Street.[19]

Plans have been unveiled for a new building to be constructed on the West Port side of the block between Lady Lawson Street and Lauriston Street, to be called Westport 102.[20] This would be built on the same site as the old Post Office headquarters, which famously collapsed during demolition, leading to several roads being closed in the area for an extended period of time.[21]

See also


  1. Edinburgh and The Lothians - Chapter IX - In and Near the Grassmarket
  2. 'Portree - Pulteney Town', A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland. 1846. pp. 388–396. Retrieved 17 May 2008.
  3. Parliamentary register of Portsburgh being declared a burgh in 1649
  4. Portsburgh Burgh Edinburgh through time | Administrative history of Scottish Burgh: hierarchies, boundaries
  5. Map of The City of Edinburgh, published in 1837
  6. Plan of the City of Edinburgh, including all the latest and intended improvements, 1831 imprint
  7. Kay's plan of Edinburgh, 1836 imprint
  8. [Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Saturday 17 November 1885, Issue 20636]
  9. Ch 38: Bristo and the Potterrow - Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant - Volume IV
  10. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner / Hogg, James, 1770-1835
  11. Coghill, Hamish (2004). Lost Edinburgh. Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-309-X.
  12. The West Port Experiment, Newble.co.uk
  13. Trust targets six derelict properties it wants to see brought back to life - Edinburgh Evening News
  14. Photos and history of The Vennel
  15. Details of the architectural history of the Salvation Army Women's Hostel
  16. Permission granted for change of us for the Salvation Army Women's Hostel to serviced apartments
  17. An old photo of Portsburgh Square
  18. http://www.edinburghinpictures.co.uk/pages/ab/argylehouse.html
  19. Details of Evolution House, built on the corner of West Port and Lady Lawson Street
  20. New vision for post office HQ is unveiled - Scotsman.com Business
  21. BBC NEWS | Scotland | Edinburgh and East | Roads closed by building collapse
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.