top of page
  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Photo detective

If you’re anything like me, it’s been difficult to work out what day of the week it is during this lockdown. There are a few points of reference. We’re lucky enough to get a doorstep milk delivery Monday, Wednesday and Friday, which helps. And the recycling goes out on Wednesday, bins on Friday... but that’s about it. It’s a bit like trying to pin down dates of old photos. As with all aspects of family history, it’s about detective work and looking for clues.

If you moved home a couple of times when you were growing up recognising the different houses or gardens can be useful. Key events help – weddings, christenings, birthday parties, particular holidays etc.

We had many family holidays in our caravan and I’m lucky that, on the whole, my dad dated his slide photos so I can be fairly accurate as to how old I was when various pictures were taken (left to right, 1960, 1964 and 1967).

Fashion clues

When going back further, beyond living memory, fashion helps. Clothes worn in wedding photos in 1905 are going to be very different to the 1920s!

My husband has been on a mission this week to date some old photos he’d taken with his trusty Box Brownie camera. Unfortunately, no people featured in the pictures (well, not clear enough to see properly, anyway) so estimating by age wasn’t an option and the subjects in the photos weren’t wearing period dress, as they were steam engines!

Train spotting

He was trying to establish when he’d taken a photo of a locomotive called Powderham Castle. But his special steam locomotive photograph album, which spans several years, only recorded the name and number of the engine, never the date the photo was taken!

He’d been a train spotting enthusiast between the ages of about 10 and 14, which narrowed the field a bit, and in this instance, the station had been noted, and was Shrewsbury, where he was a regular visitor.

The vital clues

After much deliberation, a date was finally established, using a little bit of local knowledge from a fellow enthusiast on Facebook and two critical photographic clues, one in the photograph above and the other in photos taken on the same day.

Firstly, the roof of Shrewsbury station was dismantled over a two year period between 1961 and 1963, and it's clear from the above photo that this work is underway. So it could be any time between 1961 and 1963.

The second clue is in these photos above, taken outside the station from a path running alongside some railings, leading to the engine sheds. It transpires that the said railings had been replaced with a concrete wall in 1962, nailing the year as 1961. Great detective work, eh?

And for those of you keen to know the identity of the locomotive in the right hand photo, I'm reliably informed it's 1024, County of Pembroke.



Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Apr 25, 2020

You’re very welcome, Richard. Glad you enjoyed the post! We’re hoping all those fabulous heritage steam railways survive the lockdown as they’re so special at keeping such memories alive.


Richard Tearle
Richard Tearle
Apr 25, 2020

Wonderful piece of research, well done Mr P! Ah, but I remember those days where the thunder of steam was like a symphony to our young ears! My own area was the ECML through the north London suburbs and the few photos I ever took are sadly all gone. But, it has to be said, at such a young age, full details did not seem important! Thank you for evoking those memories ....

bottom of page