Above: the American depiction of John Paul Jones
Above: John Paul Jones as he appeared in British newspapers
This battery was the beginnings of the construction of a fort at Leith, parts of which survive to this day. The site chosen for the first battery was not ideal, being only twelve feet above the high water mark. The intention seems to have been to prevent the landing of boats rather than to deter the more distant approach of larger vessels; Jones had led his previous attacks on Britain in small boats, leaving his ships safely offshore. Edinburgh lacked any suitable overlooking height within range of the anchoring ground called the Roads of Leith where any enemy ships would have to moor, and the battery at Leith could not elevate their guns high enough to hit such ships. It was not a perfect solution to the problem then, but it was far better than nothing and consolidation of the battery's position went ahead, beginning with the construction of a stout defensive casement to protect it from bombardment from the sea. It was still felt to be too vulnerable however, and the designer of the city's New Town, James Craig, was urgently commissioned to draw up plans for further defences in the form of a fort on the site.
Craig was a civilian planner rather than military architect, and his design reflects this anomaly. The high curtain wall would certainly prevent any casual intrusion, but it was not stout enough to withstand cannon fire and there were no buttresses from which defence of the walls could be properly maintained. Inside the fort, Craig's classical aesthetics produced columned and arcaded stone buildings more suitable for service as schools, libraries or courthouses than as guard blocks and barracks. To the north-east of the fort a terrace of brick-built terrace of houses comprised the officer's quarters, and this became locally known as 'London Row' due to its similarity to the fine Georgian housing then being built in the southern capital.
Above: soldiers and civilians at Leith Fort, c.1910
The fort was finally completed in 1793 and was garrisoned by Captain Rimmington's blue-coated Royal Artillery company. Apart from a Martello Tower built near the pier at Leith in 1810 the fort remained the only defence of this coastline during the long French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It is perhaps as well that the enemy did not test it, for there is little doubt that in the artillery sense the fort was almost useless. By the mid-1790s, brick buildings had even been allowed to be built directly in front of the battery, thus rendering over half of the cannon quite useless. Had an invasion of Leith taken place by any reasonable force in that period, there could have been no doubt about the outcome. In fact just such an invasion was planned at one time by the French and their allies in the (Dutch) Batavian Republic, but that story deserves a blog post to itself and will appear here in due course.
Above: Leith Fort before the flats were demolished
Leith Fort continued in active military use until 1955, latterly serving for National Service training. Upon being decommissioned the site was acquired by the City Council who demolished those buildings not legally protected and in the 1960s built several blocks of low-grade tower housing, still surrounded by the incongruous fort walls and guard houses. The development was not a happy one and social problems there brought notoriety to the area. At the present time the flats are being demolished prior to redevelopment of the site. Details of the nature of the plans are available here: http://www.edinburghnp.org.uk/neighbourhood-partnerships/leith/local-info/fort-house-regeneration/