Shrubhill Tram Depot, June 2013

Written by  on June 3, 2013 

Anyone who’s been to Edinburgh in the last 5 years couldn’t have failed to notice the mayhem caused by the new tram “system” being built. (I put “system” in quotes because I’m not sure one single truncated line really counts as a system anymore). If you talk to the locals about it you’ve got a good chance of learning some new swear words. But what’s much less visible now is Edinburgh’s original tram system… there isn’t a lot left of it at all.

The extent of the old network puts the new one to shame. It had numerous lines extending all the way to Corstorphine and Colinton in the west, and through Portobello to Musselburgh and Cockenzie in the east. Many of the major routes in the city centre and surroundings had a tram service. At times, parts of the network were run by different companies and using different technologies – for a while passengers travelling from Edinburgh to Leith had to change from the cable-hauled Edinburgh trams to the electric Leith trams at Pilrig.

Part of the old tram depot at Shrubhill by Leith Walk survives. So while the rest of Edinburgh took advantage of the lovely weather on Sunday to head to the Meadows Festival or Portobello Beach, a few of us went for a nose around.

There was once a huge building here that housed the depot as well as the engine that hauled the tram cable before the system was electrified in the 1920s. Most of it has now been demolished and all that remains are two sections of the building at the back as well as the strikingly tall chimney, but you can still see the line of where the roof used to be on the walls at either side, showing how far the building originally extended.

The old tram system ceased operation in 1956. After that the building was a bus depot for a while, and finally a museum housing one of the tram cars, until it was finally abandoned in the 1980s. As you’d expect from a building in the middle of a city that’s been derelict for so long, it hasn’t fared well. Most of the floor inside is strewn with thick broken glass that once formed the roof and windows, a lot of greenery has found its way in, and the rooms have mostly been gutted, though a few fixtures are still in place. A faded sign on the gate warned of CCTV cameras, but I’d be amazed if the place even still has an electricity supply to run them from.

Although the bright afternoon sunshine coming through the gaps in the roof made for some interesting patterns of light, I suspect a dark stormy night would suit the place better.

There is also a basement level underneath one of the floors, accessed by a staircase that can’t be quite as dodgy as it looks since it did manage to take my weight. Down there, a network of brick lined tunnels extends for quite some distance. The other building doesn’t seem to have a basement – there are holes in the floor but they are quite small and it looks solid underneath.

In the street at the back of the depot are two of the original tram wire poles – one attached to the wall and this freestanding one – possibly the only ones remaining in Edinburgh.

I’m not sure what the site is being used for just now or what will become of it in the end – there have been plans to build houses and then a hotel here at various times in the past decade, but nothing seems to have come to fruition yet. I read somewhere that it’s being used for storage by the current tram construction contractors, but it seemed pretty empty when we were there.


7 Responses

  1. Mike Marwick says:

    Fascinating – especially the old cable access tunnels. The building was not used as a museum though – almost correct! That was a modern building built adjacent to Leith Walk where number 35 was housed. It developed structural faults and was demolished. The tram – shamefully – has been “gifted” to Crich. It should have had pride of place along with the newly restored Edinburgh Horse tram number 23 and the former cable tram 226 which awaits restoration. On lamposts, this is probably a sole survivor of this type, although tram lamposts exists in different forms particularly the length of Melville Drive, four at the foot of the Mound, a few in St Andrew Square (one even opposite the new mega-tram post) – and “rosettes” exist in a few locations. There is on on the corner at Bruntsfield, one next to the Playhouse Cinema and no doubt a few others. Glasgow on the other hand left all theirs in place, as did many cities (Perth, Aberdeen). Great page – well done. Fascinating stuff!

  2. Donaldson says:

    How did you get it? Is there a bit where it is easy
    To access?

    • gcat says:

      It was pretty easy to get inside when we were there… but when I passed it a few months later it looked as if it had been better secured, so I’m not sure what the situation is now.

  3. JP says:

    looks awesome 😀

  4. Richard Bossons says:

    Fascinating, and sad. Was it my imagination or has this place been used for staging Festival shows? I recall going to a ‘tram shed’ to watch (or rather take part in as the audience was involved) a four hour epic performance of the Greek Trilogy by the Romanian director Andre Seban in 1992.

    • gcat says:

      It’s possible that it was Shrubhill… I haven’t heard of it being used as a festival venue before, but I can’t think of any other tram related buildings in Edinburgh that it could have been.

  5. Bill Brown says:

    There are four tram rosettes owned by a lad in Corstorphine, who has one of them on the side of his house!!

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