Where is it?

No 4

An Accident  -  Where is it?


See 11 below

Smeaton Colliery, Dalkeith

October 8, 1958

An Accident, possibly in Edinburgh  -  Where is it?

  Edinburgh Evening News  This photo was taken by an Evening Dispatch photographer, but may never
have appeared in the  paper.  The Evening Dispatch and Edinburgh Evening News merged in 1963.

Thank you to Rodney Marshall for providing this copy of the photo.


October 2005

The photograph above was sent to me by Rodney Marshall, Luton, Bedfordshire.  Rodney says:


Rodney Marshall
Luton, Bedfordshire, England

"There are no details on the back of the photo other than the word 'Edinburgh'

The photograph was thrown out from a local post office and saved by an employee.

Where might the photograph have been taken?"

Please e-mail if you can help to answer this question.


Thanks to all!   This question has now been answered.

But you will have  to scroll a long way down this page to find the answer!


October 2005 onwards

  Thank to all for the comments below:


John Stevenson


-  It could be the railway yards at Haymarket with Herdman's flour mill in the left hand corner.  The lighting standards were of the type used by the railways.

-   It could be Edinburgh Dock at Leith Docks, close to the grain silo at the east end of the dock. 

-   It would probably have been newsworthy enough to be covered by the Scotsman, Evening News and Evening Dispatch - worth a check.


John Hadden


with further comments from John Stevenson

-  It is a Morris Minor Van, the classic 'posty van'.  The letters XN  in the registration number is a London code.

Agreed:  The vehicle would have been registered around 1953-55.  -  John Stevenson

-  Looking at the rest of the scene, is it possible that the van caused an accident that derailed these wagons? If not then (and this is a bit of a long shot) could the wagons possibly have been toppled on purpose, like in a repair yard?

-  I understand that there may have been a repair yard for wooden wagon  at Seafield.  This would support John Stevenson's point about the east end of Leith Docks. However, the wagon towards the left of the pile looks like it may be a steel body.

Reply:  I have now noticed that the building to the left is on raised ground from the tracks which rather discounts Leith docks .      John Stevenson

-  I had noticed the ground level bit as well, but I don't know the Edinburgh railway yards very well. However, it reminded me of Millerhill marshalling yards which used a gravity method of changing over the wagons (ie let them run off a hump).

That could be it !  The wagons went up, from memory,  an approx fifteen foot incline before being shunted into sidings.  As an apprentice engineer at Henry Robb's, Leith (1948/53), I worked there for a couple of days helping fit  hydraulic  equipment which HR had  built for the pit.  -  John Stevenson


Douglas Beath



-  If it was in Edinburgh, a news report would probably have caught my eye.  As that didn't happen, perhaps it was while I was doing national service Sep. 1955 to Sep. 1957.

-   First check was for a number on the steam breakdown crane  -  none to be seen.

-  The accident scene was not a level crossing on a country road.  Those are definitely yard tracks,  but the background seems too unbuilt-up to be Haymarket.

-  With trains being propelled by a loco in the rear, and unattended rakes of wagons rolling  from the hump, Millerhill  or any other gravity marshalling yard would never have any (internal and private) road crossing except at the narrow extremities.

-  What would a Post Office van be doing in the yard?  I never knew Millerhill, but surely the admin building had easy safe access from the public road?

- Those coal wagons are empties, so could be in for repair as suggested.

-   More questions than answers  -  Sorry!

Thank you for the following comments which led to the final answer.

The comments below were sent in January and February 2006,


Roger Cooke

Dorset, England

The Yard

I've just come across your photo of the wrecked Morris Minor van and derailed wagons, and whilst I cannot identify the location I can certainly provide some additional information especially with respect to the crane.

1) As a railwayman, I can state categorically that suggestions that the wagons have been derailed on purpose (eg for maintenance) are absurd.  The presence of the Morris leave no doubt that a train struck the van and derailed

2) The lamp standards do indeed suggest very strongly that this is a railway yard of some kind, and a large one at that.  It does look as though it might be a hump yard, and Millerhill has to be a favourite contender.

The Crane

3) I can at least identify the crane for you, with absolute certainty.  It  is a 36-ton capacity steam crane, works number 3310, built by Cowans Sheldon of Carlisle for the North British Railway in 1914 for a cost of 3290.

When it entered service 1914, it was allocated to Edinburgh St. Margaret's depot and probably carried the NBR number 971.  It was taken into LNER stock in 1923 and renumbered 971567 (at some stage it also carried the number 770517).

In 1948 it was taken into BR(ScR) stock, and was renumbered RS1062/36.  Throughout the whole of this period however it remained allocated to St. Margaret's, Edinburgh.

In March 1962 it was transferred to Thornton depot, and subsequently moved to Dundee (West) depot in 1967, before finally being withdrawn from Carstairs in 1979.

In June 1979 it was sold to the Scottish Railway Preservation Society and is, I believe, now stored in working order at Perth.

When RS1062/36 was transferred to Thornton it was replaced at St. Margaret's by a more modern crane of larger capacity (which is actually now preserved by the Great western Society at Didcot near Oxford).  This crane in turn was transferred to Edinburg Haymarket in 1966 (I believe upon closure of St. Margaret's).


So, if the accident occurred prior to March 1962 it was most likely in the Edinburgh area.  If it occurred after March 1962 it was probably in the Dundee area, since if it had been nearer to Edinburgh the replacement crane would have attended.

Hope this helps!

Roger Cooke,  Feb3, 2006. 

Please see 5. below for the date of this photograph.

  -  Peter Stubbs


Malcolm Paul

Newcastle upon Tyne, for the obtaining the following reply from

Christopher Hogan

Hon Editor, Post Office Vehicle Club

The Post Office Van

A fascinating photograph!  Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

The van is OXN 81 (GPO serial number 50120), part of a batch of 680 Morris Minor mailvans registered NYH 498-999 and OXN 1-178.  They were registered on 22nd April 1954 but delivery extended through 1954 and into early 1955. 

We hold the GPO records for most mailvans from 1950 to 1985; the card for OXN 81 is missing suggesting that something "happened to it".  We also hold the licensing sheets (GPO vans didn't have individual road fund licences but carried Crown Exemption Certificates) for most mailvans - this lists London County Council as having been advised of sale or break-up of OXN 81 on 8th December 1958.  This date is much earlier that normal withdrawal of these vans - they generally lasted until 1963 or 1964.

The record card for a later Morris Minor - UXH 285 new on 16th October 1958 shows it to have replaced 50120 (accident).  UXH 285 was based at Dalkeith in Head Postmaster Edinburgh's area with the van maintained at Carlton Road in Edinburgh.

Location and Date

The GPO did use rail transport for the movement of its vans certainly until the early 1960s but that would only be for long distances such as delivery from Birmingham or possibly for repair at one of its repair depots.

The picture doesn't show either of the types of truck used for such movements (Lowfits or Lowmacs) and I think we can discount the possibility that the mailvan was being transported anywhere by rail.  (It would have travelled into the local workshop at Carlton Road, Edinburgh for inspection, servicing and maintenance).

By a process of elimination, it looks as though there was a mishap at one of the freight yards in the Dalkeith area in which the mailvan got hit by the derailed rake of trucks sometime just before 16th October 1958.

Christopher Hogan,  January 30, 2006. 

Dalkeith is about 2 miles to the south of Millerhill railway yard, the 'favoured contender' for this accident in Roger Cook's answer above.

 - Peter Stubbs:  February 3, 2006.


Patrick Hutton



If this accident was  October 1958 or earlier (and it appears to have been - see 2. above) then maybe it is less likely to be at Millerhill.

Monktonhall Pit opened around 1962, and I'm pretty sure there wasn't any railway yard at Millerhill before the pit.  I have seen photos from the now closed road that ran to Musselburgh, and there used to be just two tracks there.

The general view looks tatty. And, as others have said, there needs to be a level crossing.

I'm still intrigued by the large-ish building to the left. I must look up some books - maybe it's the washery at Smeaton? Ramsay pit at Loanhead?

Patrick Hutton,  February 6, 2006. 


Christopher Hogan

Hon Editor, Post Office Vehicle Club


"The working area of a Dalkeith van would have been pretty restricted and as Loanhead has its own van, it isn't likely to be there."

Christopher Hogan,  February 6, 2006. 


Douglas Beath



"Working in British Railways Outdoor Machinery Section in Glasgow in 1958,  I recall mention of Millerhill,  so it would have been under design or under construction then.   I didn't visit it.

Also, I have before me a (Bartholomew) map published by Edinburgh Corporation Transport as a bus services map dated 1961-62.   It shows  "Marshalling Yards (Under Const.)".  Hard alongside the southwest corner is  "Monktonhall Colliery".


Patrick Hutton



"I'm 99.9% certain the Post Office van accident is at Smeaton. The building in the left is part of Dalkeith Colliery - I think it is the loading hoppers for the railway wagons.

There was a level crossing between the BR lines and the NCB yard. The Smeaton Coal Preparation Plant is away out of shot to the right. I have a reasonable (if long) shot of the yard in 'An Illustrated History of Edinburgh's Railways', Smith and Anderson, page 78, which also shows the distinctive double lamps of the yard lights.

At the  far end of the station yard a level crossing (of a simple form) can be seen across the lines running to the preparation plant, with at least one brick shed with chimney close to the crossing (see to the right of the accident photo). The long vertical black line (drain-pipe?) on the colliery building can be seen clearly in both the book and the accident photo.

In Hadjucki's book 'Haddington Macmerry and Gifford Branch Lines' there is a reproduction of the BR Sectional Appendix 1969 stating:


"NCB sidings. -  Lifting Barriers are provided at the the level crossing at the entrance to the branch.  A National Coal Board Crossing Keeper, when he is in attendance, will operate the barriers and will control the movement of road vehicles over the crossing.

When there is no Crossing Keeper in attendance the barriers will be operated by road users. Trainmen must keep a good lookout when approaching the crossing and be prepared to stop in the event of any obstruction."

I wonder if this wording had been revised as a result of the accident?

I also asked the local papers, and got an interesting reply from Roy Scott of the Dalkeith Advertiser, as per below. Since he couldn't find the accident in the paper then it seems fair to assume the GPO driver got away safely.


"I've check our backdated files from May 1958 and it contains no reference to an accident involving a GPO van and a train; indeed, no accident involving trains or GPO vans.

I have, however, looked at the picture and can only suggest that if the accident did occur in the Dalkeith area - and simply went unreported in the paper - then the most likely site is at Rosewell.

In the 1950s Midlothian had only a few railway routes still operating. As there are no buildings in the background, this could only narrow it down to Rosewell, Hardengreen and Millerhill, all of which had marshalling yards/extensive sidings.

However, Millerhill was not generally accessible and so there would be no reason for a GPO van to be there. There is a possibility it could be Hardengreen at Eskbank, on the outskirts of Dalkeith.

 Nowadays the area is extensively built up, but it could be that in the 1950's there was a lot less building. However, again I would be puzzled why the GPO van would be there as there was no road through the Hardengreen yards.

Which leaves me with Rosewell, if, indeed, the accident took place in Midlothian. Rosewell was a station on the Edinburgh to Penicuik and hence Peebles line but by the 1950's and early 1960's the extension to Penicuik had, I believed, ceased and trains terminated at Rosewell.

This left a large marshalling/sidings area in open country, stretching towards Leadburn and Penicuik.  If I am correct, Rosewell railway station would have been behind where the picture was taken, only a short distance away. The station also stood by the road linking the village of Rosewell and town of Bonnyrigg with Roslin and Penicuik.

There was certainly a level crossing by the station over the road. There is a possibility that the van could have been crossing the crossing when it was struck by a train making for the sidings and the impact was such that it was pushed away from the road into the open area seen in the picture.

The fact that the Dalkeith Advertiser does not record a fatal accident suggests that the van had either broken down or stalled on the crossing and that the driver was not in the vehicle at the time."

However, I must stress that the site of the accident and the reasons for it are purely conjecture. While based in Dalkeith, the van could have been temporarily being used anywhere in the Edinburgh area or could have been travelling into Edinburgh for some reason.

Roy Scott,  Editor,  Johnston Newspapers Lothian

However, the photos that I do have (not many) of Rosewell don't seem to 'fit' the accident.  I'm 99.9% certain the Post Office van accident is at Smeaton."

Patrick Hutton,  February 9, 2006. 

Patrick Hutton is correct about the location.  See 11 below.  -  Peter Stubbs


Christopher Hogan

Hon Editor, Post Office Vehicle Club

Date of Accident

"In those days the GPO held vehicles in pools pending allocation.  (Remember OXN 81 was licensed in April but wasn't used until the end of 1954) Once the accident took place, there can't have been much doubt that the van was a write-off as the chassis was bent (the GPO held spare Morris Minor bodies so it could have been re-bodied if the chassis had been sound) so it was only the period going through the bureaucracy to get a new van allocated and delivered.

The workshop would have inspected the van and declared it a write-off, told Head Postmaster Edinburgh who would have reported same to the Regional Motor Transport Officer (again in Edinburgh).  He might have sent an inspector to check the van before declaring it a write-off and reporting same to the Chief Motor Transport Officer in London whose Allocations duty would have allocated a new van on 16th October and arranged movement to Edinburgh.

This could all have happened pretty quickly so I'd put (and this a guess), a window of early September to say 9th October for the accident. 

It's possible that the GPO warned off the newspaper publishing the photograph as it was very sensitive to such photographs being published.  The GPO was a government department (heading by the Postmaster General) and its vehicles enjoyed Crown Exemption from prosecution for accidents.  If it was the postman's fault, then it's possible the Scottish Public Relations Officer of the GPO got involved.  Only a theory, I must stress.

I'm just surprised that nobody can identify the location which must, as I've said before, be in a pretty small area around Dalkeith."

Christopher Hogan,  February 9, 2006. 

Christopher Hogan is correct about the date.  See 11 below.  -  Peter Stubbs

Final Answer
(I thought it would be!)

March 2006


Smeaton Colliery


When and Where?

An Accident, possibly in Edinburgh  -  Where is it?

This accident occurred shortly before 8am on Oct 8, 1958,  at a level crossing connecting a farm road with Smeaton Colliery, Dalkeith.  Dalkeith is about seven miles SE of Edinburgh.

Report in the Press

Below is the Evening Dispatch report of the accident.  The Edinburgh Evening News Oct 8 and Scotsman Oct 9, also carried brief reports of the accident.


A Post Office driver was trapped in the cabin of his van and dragged along upside down for 150 feet after collision with waggons near Dalkeith today.

Three of the waggons were derailed and the van ended up across the rails on its roof, a total wreck.  But the driver, George Harrison  escaped with only minor bruises and shock.

"It was a miracle" said colliery worker, William J Brown who was one of the first on the scene.

The accident happened shortly before 8am on a level crossing connecting a farm road with Smeaton Colliery, Dalkeith.  The van was delivering mail to the colliery's preparation plant.  As it went over the crossing it was caught by waggons which wee being shunted.

At the side of the railway, workers in the colliery smithy stood watching the smithy operations.  Then 17-year old Thomas Dixon, 25 Dean Town Avenue, Dalkeith shouted "There's an accident."


The men rushed up the embankment and found Harrison trapped in his cabin.  Said Mr Brown of Whitecraigs Gardens, Dalkeith:  "His right trouser leg was ripped and his left foot was jammed.  We freed it and he climbed out himself."

"His first concern was for the mail.  He actually ran about collecting the scattered mail and packages and refused to go to the first aid centre for treatment until the last package was found."

As the workers tried to release the van driver, Brown handed over a knife to cut a boot from Harrison's foot but they managed to treat him without it.  Harrison, after treatment at the first aid centre was allowed home.

Evening Dispatch:  October 8, 1958, p.1



On page 8 of the Evening Dispatch on October 8 there was a photograph of the accident, not so dramatic as the photograph above.

The caption read:  A post office driver escaped with minor injuries after his van had been hit and dragged 150 feet by rail waggons at Dalkeith today.

Front Page of the Paper

The Evening Dispatch usually published photos of accidents on its front page.

However on October 8, its page 1, headline and photo, related to a report in the Italian paper 'Il Tempo' - headline: "PIO XII E MORTO".

In fact this report of the Pope's death was a little premature and the Italian papers carrying the news were later seized by the police.  The Pope died the following day, October 9, 1958.

Peter Stubbs:   February 15, 2006


Reply 11. above turned out
not to be the final word on this subject!




Malcolm Paul

Newcastle upon Tyne

Thank you to Malcolm for details of how to find where Smeaton Colliery was. 

Old Maps

This Old Maps web site below will show:

-  an 1854 map of the area

-  a modern map of the area

-  an aerial view of the area

Type the grid reference 334670,668580 into the search field, then click on either of the two map names that appear.  Then use the 1,2,3,4,5 buttons beside the magnifying glass to zoom-in or our, or the other buttons on this line to see the modern map or aerial view.




John Wilson

Dalkeith, Midlothian

Thank you to John Wilson who wrote

George Harrison

"What actually happened was that the post office van stalled on the crossing.   It wouldn't start again and by the time George saw the train coming it was too late to get out.

I can confirm all is true regards the accident being at Smeaton Colliery, etc as my family and I lived with George Harrison at 5 Woodburn View, Dalkeith for many years until my father died in 1964.

George was my fathers uncle although my sister and I also called him uncle as their ages were similar. George retired from the post office and died in 1985 aged 78."

John Wilson, Dalkeith, Midlothian:  Message posted in EdinPhoto guest book:  September 4, 2009.




Andy Arthur

Meadowbank, Edinburgh

This photograph of the accident at the level crossing created a lot of interest from 2005 onwards, culminating in the definitive answer 11 in February 2006.

I was not expecting to receive any more messages, but this photo still seems to be generating interest:

Andy Arthur now writes:

A Dalkeith Colliery

"I have a small bit of information to contribute on this photo:

An Accident, possibly in Edinburgh  -  Where is it?

"There is a building creeping into the shot in the background on the left. That building is the pithead of one of the Dalkeith Colliery drift mines.

It's a boxy, steel framed building filled with brick and concrete panels. You can see it on this page of the RailBrit web site.  You can see pitched roofs of the Smeaton Station buildings in bottom left of the above photo and some colliery buildings over on the right. (The inverted triangle is the exhaust from the fan house.).

This site of this colliery is now overgrown.   It has a cycle path running along the central track bed and a travellers' caravan park over to the right where the colliery baths / administrative buildings were.

Looking at the old 1:2,500 map for the site, the level crossing appears to lead only into the colliery, so assume that's were the van had been going when the accident occurred.

Andy Arthur, Meadowbank Edinburgh:  October 30, 2014



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