The street takes its name from Constitution Hill, which stood on the site of the current Assembly Rooms. The road was only completed in 1800, at that time being built as a bypass from Bernard Street to Leith Walk, avoiding the crowded and twisting medieval streets of old Leith. The street at that time was causewayed, rising around two metres above natural ground level. Buildings which predate this now have their original fine ground floor rooms buried at basement level.
Constitution Street was to form part of the Edinburgh Trams network and much preparatory work was carried out but the Leith section of the project has been postponed with no date given for completion.
On 9 January 1823 the last two men executed for piracy in Scotland were hanged at the north end of the street (near what is now Tower Street). The two men were Peter Heaman from Sweden and Francois Gautiez from France. They were found guilty in the summer of 1822 of capturing the brig "Jane", en route from Gibraltar to Brazil, killing its master and stealing 38,000 Spanish dollars. The crowd witnessing this event was given as a huge 40 to 50,000 persons. One account says their bodies were afterwards awarded to Dr Robert Knox for dissection. A second account says they were buried where executed. Two bodies were discovered during an archaeological dig at the north end of the street in approximately the correct area in the summer of 2000, possibly validating the latter claim.
South of Bernard Street, the most notable building is the classical Assembly Rooms, the former Leith Exchange building.
The churchyard belongs to South Leith Parish Church The churchyard was only used for burial from the mid 17th century, earlier interments being inside the church, beneath the parishioners usual seating position (or threaded in the rafters if you had a balcony position). The churchyard is split into trades: maltmen (brewers); porters; mariners etc. reflecting the layout of altars within the church in pre-Reformation days. In 2009, an excavation linked to the construction of Edinburgh Trams unearthed several bodies just outside the churchyard wall.
- Plan of Leith 1777
- Grant, p. 243.
- Dictionary of Scottish Architects: Dickson
- Grant, James A. Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh: Its History, its people and its places. VI. London: Cassell & Company.