Where is it?
An Accident - Where
See 11 below
Smeaton Colliery, Dalkeith
October 8, 1958
Edinburgh Evening News
This photo was taken by an Evening Dispatch
photographer, but may never
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.
The photograph above was
sent to me by Rodney Marshall, Luton, Bedfordshire. Rodney
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
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:
- 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.
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.
with further comments from
- It is a
Morris Minor Van, the classic 'posty van'. The letters
XN in the registration number is a London code.
The vehicle would have been registered around 1953-55. -
- 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.
have now noticed that the building to the left is on raised
ground from the tracks which rather discounts Leith docks .
- 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. -
- 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.
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.
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,
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
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
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
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,
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 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
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,
Please see 5. below for the date of this photograph.
- Peter Stubbs
Newcastle upon Tyne, for the
obtaining the following reply from
Hon Editor, Post Office Vehicle
The Post Office Van
A fascinating photograph! Thanks for bringing it to our
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hon Editor, Post Office Vehicle
"The working area of a Dalkeith van would have been pretty
restricted and as Loanhead has its own van, it isn't likely to
Christopher Hogan, February 6, 2006.
"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".
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
Roy Scott, Editor,
Johnston Newspapers Lothian
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. -
Hon Editor, Post Office Vehicle
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
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. -
(I thought it would be!)
When and Where?
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
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.
VAN DRIVER IN CRASH
ESCAPES BY 'A MIRACLE'
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
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
"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."
TRAPPED IN CABIN
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
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,
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
Front Page of the Paper
Dispatch usually published photos of accidents on its
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,
Peter Stubbs: February 15, 2006
Reply 11. above turned out
not to be the final word on this
Newcastle upon Tyne
Thank you to Malcolm for details of how to find where
Smeaton Colliery was.
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.
Thank you to John Wilson who wrote
"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,
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:
"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
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