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Cabinet Print by George Mckenzie  -  John Baillie, Baker, Portobello

Early Days

Until the middle of the18th century, Portobello remained an area of barren heath beside the Firth of Forth, about five miles to the east of Edinburgh, on the King's Highway to London.

The first house was built by George Hamilton in 1755 (and demolished, 1862).  It was named Portobello House, after Puerto Bello on the Isthmus of Panama.  George Hamilton was present when Puerto Bello was captured.

Some elegant houses were added between 1770 and 1830, and a short distance inland, Piershill Barracks were built in 1795.


Early industries included a flax mill, a soap works potteries and earthenware and stoneware works

Portobello Power Station was a prominent building with a tall chimney at the western end of King's Road.  The first section of the Power Station was opened by King George V in July 1923.  The Power Station has now  been demolished.  Eight five-a-side football pitches, an indoor bowling centre and a pavilion have been built on the site.


The first bathing machines were reported at Portobello in 1795, and a Pier with a camera obscura was built in 1871, designed by Thomas Bouch, designer of the ill-fated Tay Railway Bridge.  Tenements along the promenade included Marlborough Mansions, featured on many postcards, demolished in the 1960s.

There was an open air art deco swimming pool with high boards and generating 3ft high waves, beside the power station.  The pool was built on the site of Rosebank Potteries and opened on 30 May 1936.  It was open from 7am to 9pm in the summer months  -  Admission: Adults 6d. 

The pool closed for the duration of World War 2, and was covered in grass as camouflage to avoid bombing of the adjacent power station.  It re-opened in June 1946 and remained open until around the 1970s when both the power station and the Open Air pool closed.

Beside the swimming pool was a 'Figure of Eight' railway, closed in 1957 for 'health and safety' reasons.

Source:  mainly Marjorie Mechie, who has produced a book on 'Old Portobello' illustrated with old postcards


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