Trinity House Leith

Trinity House Leith

Trinity House Leith is located at Kirkgate in Edinburgh.  Established to help the maritime community, it is now a maritime museum. The Georgian style building has a fascinating collection of maritime artefacts.

Originally the building was a guildhall customs house and centre for maritime administration.  The building also later served as an almshouse and hospital.

The Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters was set up in 1380 to collect dues from those ships arriving with goods at Leith.

Mariners often faced poverty in old age, so Trinity House was set up to support elderly and infirm mariners.  The dues also went towards providing for widows and orphans of lost or captured sailors.

Inevitably there were disputes over the tolls collected.  Levies were taken by collecting ‘prime gilt’, a tax on goods loaded or unloaded from the Port of Leith.  In 1566 Mary Queen of Scots confirmed the right of the Incorporation to collect these dues, making it mandatory for shipowners to pay.  This became a blueprint for other Trinity Houses around the country. 

Leith Trinity House

In 1680 the Masters and Mariners appointed a professor to teach navigation to the apprentices of shipmasters.  Trinity House became the governing body for pilotage.  Licensed pilots became qualified to work around the Forth and coast of Scotland.   Most of the pilots at the time were fishermen from Newhaven. Their education was funded by Leith shipmasters.

By collecting light dues, Trinity House began to maintain the early coal-fired lights in the Forth by the 17th century.

In 1710 the school moved to the King James Hospital on the grounds of South Leith Parish Church.  In 1806 the school moved to a new building on Leith Links.  Leith High School later became Leith Academy.  On its management board were three members of Trinity House. 

On 29th June 1797, the Corporation of Trinity House of Leith was granted a Royal Charter.

In the 18th century, the land known as Trinity Mains was bought near Newhaven.  This later developed into the suburb of Leith and district of Trinity.

In 1855 Trinity House, with other local organisations, founded the Leith Navigational School.  This was held at St Ninian’s church in Commercial Street, also known as the Mariner’s Church. The Scottish Education Department took over the school’s control in 1903 and it changed to Leith Nautical College.

By the 19th century, Trinity House was planning and funding new lighthouses.  These included Bell Rock, Fidra and the Isle of May Lighthouses.

In 1816 a new building replaced the old Trinity House building. 

By 2004 Trinity House of Leith had been placed in state care and is now maintained by Historic Scotland.

Trinity House Leith is now a maritime museum. It has a fine collection of paintings, maps, charts, models, training tools, and artefacts relating to the maritime history of Leith.

It is possible to arrange a visit which must be made by prior appointment.