Ordnance Survey large scale Scottish town plans, 1847-1895

PORTOBELLO (surveyed in 1893-4)



Portobello is situated on the coast of the Firth of Forth, three miles east of Edinburgh on the old coast road to Berwick and the south. At the time of the survey, it was an independent town in Edinburgh-shire; it is now part of the City of Edinburgh. The name Portobello is unusual as it has a fairly modern derivation. It comes from the name of a house, called Portobello Hut, which had been built in 1742 by a sailor called George Hamilton. He had been involved in the Battle of Puerto Bello in Panama in 1739, in which six British warships attacked the port, which had been used by the Spanish as a base to harass British shipping. The Portobello Hut was used as a staging post for travellers on the stagecoaches between Edinburgh and London, and Musselburgh and Edinburgh or Leith. Until the beginning of a number of potteries around 1770, the Portobello Hut was the only dwelling in the area. In the late-eighteenth century, the potteries were established and housing developed. ! In the early nineteenth century, Portobello became popular as a seaside holiday town and a number of villas and holiday homes were built. Portobello was made into a burgh in 1833. The population rose sharply from 3,587 in 1841 to 8,684 in 1891.


Town Planning

In the 1890s Portobello had two main streets, the Promenade and the High Street, both running parallel to the shore. A network of small streets lay between these two roads. To the west of High Street, the street pattern was less regular. The railway ran to the west of the town. The potteries appear to have been congregated at the northern end of the town near the small river called the Figgate Burn; water was of course essential for potting.



The Municipal Buildings, which had been built in 1878, were a fine example of the Scottish Baronial type of architecture. An architectural curiosity of the town was a tower built as a folly by a Mr Cunningham in the eighteenth century. It incorporated carved stones from elsewhere, including St Andrews.


Trade and Industry

Pottery was the major industry associated with Portobello. At this period there were three main potteries; Westbank, begun in 1770 by Hillcoat and from 1890 taken over by Peter Mitchell (sheet iv.5.5), Waverley Pottery, which from 1877 was known as A. W. Buchan and Co., and Scott Brothers. The Abercorn Brick and Tile works can also be seen on the survey. To a large extent, the potteries and tile works used local clay sources from the clay beds beside the Figgate Burn, which was first discovered in 1765. Other industries included the manufacture of paper, bottles and a saltworks nearby.


Religious Life

There was a Church of Scotland church built in 1810 in Melville Street (sheet iv.6.11). That church was enlarged in 1878. There was another Established church, a Free church (iv.6.12) built in 1875-7, two United Presbyterian churches built in 1879-80 and 1880 respectively, an Episcopal church built in 1828 and a Roman Catholic church built in 1835 and enlarged in 1878. The survey also appears to show a Congregational chapel (sheet iv.6.11) and a Mission Hall (sheet iv.5.10). The dates of the various churches are a good indication of the growing population.



There were two public schools and several private schools.


Culture and Society

Hot and cold salt-water baths were built in 1806. A pier was built nearby in 1870-1; it had a restaurant and an observatory and was also used for promenade concerts. As well as religious and political groups, there were boating, curling and swimming clubs in the town.





Groome, Francis H. (ed.), 1894-5. The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland; a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical, 2nd ed., (London: William Mackenzie)


Mackay, George, 2000. Scottish Place Names (New Lanark: Lomond)


Smith, Robert, 2001. The Making of Scotland: a comprehensive guide to the growth of its cities, towns and villages (Edinburgh: Canongate)


Wilson, Rev. John Marius (ed.), 1857. The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland or Dictionary of Scottish Topography (Edinburgh: A. Fullarton & Co.)


Edina Website Online Statistical Accounts of Scotland - http://edina.ac.uk/statacc/