Great Junction Street
Great Junction Street is a street in Leith, on the northern outskirts of Edinburgh, Scotland. It runs south east to north west following approximately the southwestmost line of the old city walls around Leith. While some sections existed c.1800, it was not planned as a continuous road, reaching all the way to Ferry Road from the foot of Leith Walk, until 1860. Its main function was to serve as a bypass to the narrow and busy medieval streets of Old Leith to the north east. It was aimed at commercial traffic rather than pedestrian use, and arguably that can still be felt today. The trams of the early 20th century were discontinued in 1956. There were plans to reinstate a modern tram link, connecting Edinburgh Airport and Newhaven. This was not to run along Great Junction street as it formerly did, but there was to be a tram stop at Constitution Street at its south-eastern end. However the trams are no longer planned to run beyond York Place in Edinburgh.
The street was the site of a triumphal arch which was constructed for the reception of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842. Great crowds attended this despite the heavy rain. Prince Albert added to the general merriment of the occasion by observing that he supposed that this was just a Scotch mist.
The street was traditionally Leith's main shopping street. It has been somewhat depressed since the late 1970s, and contains many low-grade modern shopfronts, but still remains relatively vibrant.
People from Leith often refer to Great Junction Street as Junction Street, omitting the Great part. North Junction Street lies at its extreme west end. It is connected to the area known as the Shore via Henderson Street.
Although typified by tenements the tenements in their own right are not necessarily typical. Great Junction Street has an abnormal number of flat-roofed tenements. These survived the ravages of the Scottish weather due to their novel construction; three inches of horse hair and tar (strong, flexible and impervious). These roofs normally survive well until tackled by Housing Repair Grant projects, which invariably replace them with felt, not appreciating the duarability and value of the original roof.
Other buildings of note are the old Leith Provident building of the Leith Co-operative Society with its dome supported by large lead pilasters making it a local landmark. The central warehousing (east of Cables Wynd) was built originally as a wine vault overlooking fields to the south. It was bought by Crabbie's whisky and served as a bonded warehouse for most of the 20th century, being greatly expanded on its west side. Crabbie's Green Ginger was made in a small modern building on the east side (now demolished). The warehouse also served to mature many of the famous whiskies, which largely came to Leith to mature. This building was internally labelled in rows for Talisker, Laphroaig and so on. Following sale to United Distillers it was closed down and has now been converted to flats.
On the south side of the road, Junction Place, shows where a collection of public buildings formerly stood. "Fire Engine House", stepping into the street midway, was a horse-drawn fire service, the gates opening onto the narrowest part of the roadway. It linked to "Fireman's Row" now a gap site to the north side of Junction Street, and known to most Leithers as the Relax Supermarket site. At the very end of Junction Place stood Leith Electricity Generating Station, a surprisingly domestic scale building erected in 1895 to provide electric street lights, but having a bronze plaque to explain its creation. On the west side Dr Bell's School of 1839 operated the Madras System of Education. Behind it, Leith Swimming Baths (now restored) linked to the Public Baths (i.e. rows of enamel baths) and Laundry (both now demolished to create the Victoria Swim Centre). The baths were in use until the late 1970s, due to the high number of Leith dwellings lacking bathrooms up to that time.
In 2002 the very unusual but very out of character Telectra House was demolished and replaced with housing. This had been built (between Cables Wynd and King Street) in the early 1960s for the Scottish Co-operative Society ("The Co-op") also sometimes called St Cuthberts. Despite a late call to list the building as a monument to Modern Architecture this was blocked due to high asbestos content in the building.
A plaque on the corner of King Street marks it as the now demolished birthplace of Sir John Gladstone of Fasque, father of William Gladstone the future Prime Minister of Britain.
King Street leads through to the eastern sections of Leith Hospital: the cholera isolation block and nurses home on the east, the Queen Vistoria Diamond Jubilee block on the west.
Taylor Gardens is the small pocket park at the west end of Great Junction Street.
It was formed in 1920, following the demolition of South Leith Poorhouse. Unusually for the period, that was not the end of Leith's poorhouse: a new poorhouse was built at Seafield in 1923, converted to a military hospital in 1939, then a normal hospital, the Eastern General, in 1946. It in turn was demolished in 2008.
The Taylor Gardens park was created as a setting as part of a project to expand Leith Hospital, immediately to the north. In an Act of 1919 all local authorities were obliged to erect war memorials. There were strict guidelines on their form. Leith appealled to the authorities to request that a new wing be built on the hospital instead; specifically a children's wing. This was agreed, but clearly cost a lot more in terms of public subscription. The wing, which faces Taylor Gardens, therefore reads "Leith War Memorial" along the top, with various military badges and emblems also carved. Since the hospital's conversion to housing in the early 21st century, a new plinth has been erected in Taylor Gardens in order to lay wreaths on Remembrance Day.
On the north-west side of the gardens (on Mill Lane) stands a two-storey building dating from 1822. This was built as a school for the poorhouse, with boys on one floor and girls on the other. This was the first free education provided to females in this area. It was replaced by a new pair of schools (one for girls one for boys) further along Mill Lane, in 1838. These were built by Sir John Gladstone of Leith, William Gladstone's father. This connection led to the first-mentioned ex-school being named "Gladstones".
Opposite Taylor Gardens is an area of Scottish Special Housing Association (SSHA) housing erected in 1981. This replaced an area cleared as slum housing as part of a Comprehensive Redevelopment Area designated by the Council.
The north-east corner has a plaque to the Siege of Leith in 1561.
The enamel street number plates were created by students at Edinburgh College of Art as part of a practical design exercise.
The Ebenezer Church formerly in the centre of the street frontage was demolished but rebuilt as a new church on Bangor Road.
- Jennifer Veitch, "Great Junction Street, Leith", Edinburgh
- James Buist, National record of the visit of queen Victoria to Scotland, 1842
- Stephen C Dickson, Council Grants Team, reports on various Leith projects 1984 onwards
- Stephen Dickson, private photograph collection
- Report to Edinburgh Planning Committee 01/03453/FUL, Stephen C Dickson