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Notable Dates and Brief History of Portobello with original Photographs by Elaine Ferguson:

1297 Sir William Wallace found shelter in the Figgate Whins
late 1700s 1700s the small village of Figgate sprung up on either side of the road that stretched from Musselburgh, skirting past the ancient village of Restalrig, up to the busier thoroughfares of Abbeyhill and Holyrood road
Circa 1742 "Puerto Bello Hut" built by Willaim Jameson(sometimes referred to as the "Father of Portobello") and occupied by George Hamilton
1760 William Jameson built a brickworks
By 1765 The brickmaking was established by William Jameson. These bricks now form the backbone of Edinburgh's New Town.
1767 William Jameson built a new house, Rosefield, in Adelphi Place
1770 Westbank and Waverly potteries started
1780's William Jameson built a harbour close to the mouth of the Figgate Burn
1785 "The Tower", summerhouse built by James Cunningham and the Brighton Park sundial
1790's Portobello beach was provided with bathing machines
early 1800's Shopkeepers and other businesses grew up in Portobello to weld the inhabitants into a township community
1806 Major Tulloch and Captain McKay fought a duel on Portobello sands
1806 A regular stagecoach from Edinburgh to Portobello started to run 3 times a day for 10p per passenger
27th Oct 1808 Foundation stone was laid for Portobello Old Parish Church
1822 King George IV passed through Portobello up "Kings Road"
1825 Portobello developed its own market
1833 Portobello had its first police constable
1846 Portobello Railway Station Opened
1850 First water pipes laid in Portobello for a public water supply
1860 The inauguration of the Promenade. Built from Bath Street to Melville Street under the name of "The Prince of Wales Terrace"
circa 1870 Promenade drinking fountain built
23rd May 1871 Portobello pier opened. It was built at a cost of £10,000
1875 First tram run from Edinburgh to Portobello
1877 Portobello cemetry opened
1878 Portobello first town hall opened
Nov 1883 The first provost of Portobello elected
1st Nov 1896 Portobello became part of Edinburgh
1901 Portobello indoor baths opened
1914 Portobello's second town hall opened
1917 Portobello pier demolished
1919 Harry Lauder knighted
1st Oct 1921 Celtic Stone cross unveiled outside Holyrood High School. It is a memorial commemorating the people of Duddingston who fought and fell during the First World War
30th May 1936 Open air pool opened
1936 Westbank pottery works closed
16th Oct 1939 War time air raid over Portobello
1950's Promenade drinking fountain closed due to vandalism
1964 Portobello Railway Station Closed
Mar 1979 Open air pool closed
Apr 1998 Portobello indoor baths re-opened after refurbishment

During the 12th century the area of Portobello and Figgate was part of the forest of Drumsheuch and was a favourite hunting ground of King David I. In fact it was while out hunting in the forest that King David narrowly escaped being attacked by a white deer and as a token to God for his brush with death he erected the Palace of Holyrood in 1128.

Right up to the mid eighteenth century there were no dewellings between Jocks Lodge (anciently called Jokis Lodge) and the seaside village of the Joppa Salt Pans. Then in the 1700's the Village of Figget sprung up and became a rendezvous for smugglers and a haunt of highwaymen and robbers. The lands of Figgate at this time were considered to be of little value and were generally used for grazing cattle by the farmers of Duddingston.

A few years after the 1745 rebellion George Hamilton built Porto-Bello House which stood on the ground now covered by the Town Hall. It was this dwelling that later gave Portobello its name. At this time a stage ran twice a day from Edinburgh to Musselburgh and it appears that George Hamilton converted his cottage into a rest for weary travellers. His was the only cottage in the area up to around the mid 1700's.

Around the year 1763 Mr William Jameson , the son of a celebrated Edinburgh builder, feu'd about forty acres from Baron Muir, at a rate of around £3 per acre per annum. He found that there was an underlying deep bed of clay in his land which was ideal for brick making. His first excavations for clay were made where Pipe Street and Bridge Street now stand. This in turn led to the building of workmans cottages in the neighbourhood and so many of the older areas of Pportobello can be found near to Pipe Street and on the High Street in the area of the Blue Bell Inn.

By 1764 William owned 3 brick works the main one being at Brickfield, and by 1779 all the works were producing in excess of 3 million bricks per year. On this highly profitable business William became very wealthy and in 1767 built himself a new dwelling which he called "Rosefield House". The house stood in an extensive and beautiful park which today is know as "Rosefield Park" in which some remnants of the old house can still be seen.

Bridge Over the Figgate Burn in Rosefield Park
Ruin in Rosefield Park

The map below shows where Rosefield House stood as well as number of other dwellings in "Portobello" or "The Village of Figgate" at around 1783. Click the map to enlarge.

Village of Figgate in 1783

When the Village of Figgate became known as Portobello is unclear, but by the late 1700's it was a thriving community providing employment for the many workers in the brickworks owned by William Jameson. And so the village of Portobello was founded at the estuary of the Figgate, or as it used to be known Ficket Burn. On the right is the Figgate Burn today as it winds its way through the Figgate Park.

(The burn forms the western boundary of the area. The name Figgate was probably a corruption of the Saxon word for a common pasture for cattle or cattle-gait. )

Figgate Burn

Shortly after Mr Jameson had built Rosefield House a number of other superior residences appeared in the area. One of the most unusual was built by Mr Cunningham in 1785 and the remains of which can still be seen at the foot of what is now Tower Street. It was built as his summer house and commanded one of the best views in the kingdom.

Mr Cunningham's Summer House
Sundial In Brighton Park

The above Sundial originally stood at the west gate of Mr Cunningham's summer house and now stands in "Brighton Park".

 

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