West Port, Edinburgh

West Port
Main Point (composite).jpg
Main Point, the historic junction of the three roads (2nd l. to r.) to Carlisle, Glasgow and Stirling
Former name(s)Wester Portsburgh
Length0.2 mi (0.3 km)
Coordinates55°56′47″N 3°12′00″W / 55°56′47″N 3°12′00″W / 55.94639; -3.20000
west endMain Point
east endGrassmarket

The West Port is a street in Edinburgh's Old Town, Scotland, located just south of Edinburgh Castle. It runs from Main Point (the junction of Bread Street, Lauriston Street, East Fountainbridge and High Riggs) down to the south west corner of the Grassmarket. Its name derives from the fact it sloped up from the town gate named the West Port, which was the only westwards exit from the city when the city walls stood,[1] allowing passage through the Flodden Wall. The port itself was demolished in 1786.

The history of the street

Historic names for the street and area

Wester Portsburgh, as the West Port was formerly known, was the main street through the western part of the burgh of Portsburgh[2] - a burgh of barony from 1649[3] to 1856.[4]

The name West Port originally referred only to the gate itself, but was used for the entire length of the street leading away from the gate in maps from around 1837 onwards.[5] Wester Portsburgh still appeared as the name of the street on maps as late as 1831.[6]

Portsburgh can also be seen as the name for the same street in a map from 1836.[7] However, this does not serve to distinguish it from the eastern part of Portsburgh (Easter Portsburgh), which was still part of the same burgh at that date, the two parts of Portsburgh having their own administrative systems and baillies.[8]

Historic events and famous residents

The north side of the West Port
  • King Charles I entered Edinburgh by the West Port in the year of his Scottish Coronation, 1633.
  • "In 1650, when an English invasion was expected, many houses in Potterrow, as well as the West Port, were demolished by order of the magistrates, that the guns of the castle, and those on the city wall might have free action to play upon the enemy".[9]
  • According to the poem by Walter Scott, "Bonnie Dundee" left Edinburgh by the West Port, though historical accounts state that he left by the Netherbow Port.
  • Porteous riots started with a mob at Portsburgh.
  • James Hogg says in Confessions of a Justified Sinner that he had lodgings in Portsburgh.[10]
  • The West Port murders were so named as many of the victims were tempted back to Hare's lodgings in Tanner's Close, off the West Port, to be murdered.[11] The site is now occupied by Argyle House.
  • The "West Port Experiment" was a model for parochial engagement, conceived by Thomas Chalmers, with a church/school built on the south side of the street to facilitate this.[12]
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