Mysteries From the Past

Sometimes when you view your old photographs and scan them to your pc you stumble upon images that you can’t quite place – locations that you don’t remember. Whilst some places are instantly recognisable, a piece of railway yard or random section of track might not be. And when your records from those distant days have long since been consigned to the ‘got married – need to get rid of stuff’ bin it can be a fascinating journey of discovery. Here are a few of my recent finds that had me scratching my head…

There’s not a lot to go on in this first image – a line-up of Class 20 locomotives and a refuelling point. The initial clue is that the adjacent images showed a Class 27 and a Class 06 shunter which immediately suggests Scotland. The fact that the 06 shunter was at Markinch served to narrow it down to the eastern side of the country not too far from that station – The images were probably taken on a Royal Corps of Trainspotters (actually the Railway Correspondance and Travel Society) visit to the area. Back in the past there was a key locomotive depot at Thornton Junction to the south of Markinch; could it be there perhaps? No, that facility closed in 1965 but a new one opened for diesel traction along with a new marshalling yard (called Thornton Yard) alongside the Cowdenbeath line. It seemed the likely location but when I looked on Google maps there was a shed right where I expected the refuelling point to be! It took a lot of searching through other peoples submissions to Flickr to nail it down – I had the right location. The shed had been built circa 1985, around 5 years after my photo. Mystery solved.
Mystery 20's

This second image spoke about a location that I’d been to quite a few times – Nottingham. But something didn’t quite ring true. The stairs leading down to the platforms looked right. But that ticket hall didn’t have a ‘Midland Railway’ look to it. And then I realised that something was missing – there used to be a bridge carrying a freight line across the passenger platforms in front of the ticket hall at Nottingham. So, not there… Scratching my head I looked at where the shunter was based and found that it was an Allerton locomotive at the end of its life. That opened the possibility of a station in the Liverpool, Manchester, Warrington triangle. Searching through major stations – 3-4 through roads is a pretty big station – I concluded that it could probably be Bolton. Now that was a surprise because I can’t remember going there so it must have been a one time only visit! Confirmation came through other peoples photos on Geograph and Flickr plus the next shot on the film which gave a good shot of a train on the triangle of line just visible beneath the ticket hall. Sadly, the ticket hall (which appears to be of Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway origin) was demolished in the 1980’s as the station was refurbished and made part of an interchange with a bus station. A shame that – it probably should have been given listed status and its absence made identifying the loctation of the photo more difficult. Another one solved 🙂

Back to Scotland for the next, slightly damaged by age, photo. I knew immediately where this should be – Millerhill to the south of Edinburgh. But for Geograph I needed to nail down the actual location on a map – Here’s how it looks on Geograph and you can see where it actually is located on the map within the page. Millerhill yard and its surrounding area have seen many changes since this image was taken. Perhaps the key one was the closure of Monktonhall Colliery, the towers of which are visible through the trees. It was these that made it possible to locate the photo accurately.
26001 at Millerhill

Not all mysteries are a long way from home. I scanned in this photo and it really confused me. I could not read the name of the station as it just wouldn’t resolve out of the film grain. The mix and match unit should have been a clue but didn’t really help because I couldn’t read the number which I could have tracked to a shed and therefore a part of the country. Gradually, light dawned – there was somethin familiar about that dome on the horizon and then other things fell into place. This is Upper Holloway – a station I use very regularly nowadays though I didn’t back then! In fact it is the station as it was in the late 1980’s – a decrepit and depressing place with just an occasional passenger. The train is a Stratford based Metropolitan-Cammell class 101 diesel multiple unit at the front and, almost certainly a Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon class 104 at the back. The changes to the view are many… In the photo the embankment has allotments – some of them tended; others not – which have long since gone, replaced in part by access ramps when the station was modernised. The siding to the right of the through tracks was once a headshunt and loop for sidings to the north of the line but those have long since gone – replaced by the new Holloway Bus Garage – and what remains of the loop has been subsumed by undergrowth. The loop to the right of the tracks is still in use today. This photo was taken from the original station footbridge which, whilst still in situ, has subsequently been closed to the public – presumably for safety reasons. And that domed spire on the horizon which gave the first hint of recognition belongs to the Boston Arms on the corner of Dartmouth Park hill and Junction Road. In the end, the wall held up by rails finally nailed it!
Upper Holloway



  1. what a fun discovery trail Martin, nothing better than a mystery or three!

    • Hi Christine – I love sifting through all these old shots. So much history in them. Just been looking at a shot at St.Albans where the old Rose’s Lime Marmelade factory is in evidence and also at shots taken at Leicester after the roof was removed but before the station was fully rebuilt. It’s why taking photos of the world now is important – in 20 years time it could be very different.

      • yes I understand … such a good thing you have time to do it Martin, and those old photos are not wasted … Roses Lime Marmalade is the standard isn’t it? Luckily I can make a pretty good version now, almost up to Roses!

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