As part of the wider regeneration of Meadowbank, the site of the former St Margaret’s Railway Locomotive Depot and Factory is being excavated and preserved for archaeological posterity.
The Meadowbank site is being redeveloped to make way for a new housing development that will become one of the capital’s ‘greenest neighbourhoods’ by incorporating low-car and low-carbon infrastructure with energy-efficient homes.
Members of the public can visit to view AOC Archeology’s work on the remains of the St Margaret’s Locomotive Turntable between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 27 August. The turntable is one of the earliest examples of its kind and a rare archaeological survival from the early days of British railway development. The approximately 20m diameter structure was the heart of St Margaret’s Works and was used to store up to 14 locomotives at a time awaiting repair.
This free event will give members of the community the chance to experience this part of Edinburgh’s industrial heritage, before parts of the site are preserved and featured as part of the Council’s public green space design for new houses at Meadowbank.
Councilor Jane Meagher, Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work Officer, said:
It seems appropriate, in a way, that we are transforming what was to be one of the most polluted parts of the city into one of the greenest areas of Edinburgh! We’re digging the area because we’re investing in the future of Meadowbank, building new affordable green homes next to our new state-of-the-art sports centre, which has also been built in line with our ambitious goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2030 .
It’s really fascinating to get a glimpse of the area’s past while we’re doing this. Wherever we build in Edinburgh, others have come before us and in this case it’s quite a trip back in time – back to the 1970s when the original Meadowbank stadium was built, to the 1960s, when coal-fired engines had been mostly replaced by power lines and the old locomotive shed stop dates back to the 1840s and the dawn of Edinburgh’s first railway lines.
Council officers are working with local people to see how we might be able to commemorate some of the finds, which I think is fantastic. They hope to be able to keep parts of the wheel exposed and create a focal point for residents moving into the 675 new homes under construction for sale and rent, of which at least 35% will be affordable and a number fully wheelchair friendly. We are also creating community amenities, with space for a new medical practice and shops, at least 14 new posts and seven apprenticeships, active travel routes to Restalrig and over £100,000 in benefit donations community by entrepreneurs to local groups.
Council archaeologist John Lawson said:
The remains of the engine turntable are a rare survival and take us back to the beginnings of our Victorian railways in the 1840s. The turntable used until the works closed in 1967 was part of one of the works of most important locomotive on the east coast of Scotland. Our work with AOC Archeology will not only help us understand both the development of the structure, but will also give us a window into the daily hard work of our railway engineers in the age of steam.
We consider these remains to be of potential national archaeological significance and these investigations will help us preserve and interpret the remains in the new development. We know from our previous consultations with the local community that the history of the old St Margaret’s Works is important. It is therefore a great opportunity for us to open the excavations to the public on August 27th.
Lindsay Dunbar, Field Project Manager at AOC Archaeology, said:
St. Margaret’s Railway Depot and Workshop was Edinburgh’s largest railway depot and for over 100 years, from 1845 until its closure in 1967, it was a focal point in Edinburgh. At its height, the yards could have over 200 steam locomotives on site. The works would have employed large numbers of the local population as engineers and laborers occupying them on site with the maintenance of locomotives and running gear with numerous workshops for truck building, car building, human rights wheel, metalworking, carpenters, painters as well as offices and shops. Much of the activity would have been concentrated around the hub and associated engine hangars. It is amazing to think how this now empty brownfield site was such a hive of industrial activity and these excavations seek to expose what remains of the long, demolished hub that had been crucial to the operation of the depot.
Tony Jervis of the Scottish Industrial Heritage Society (SIHS) said:
St Margaret’s Works was the main railway depot in south-east Scotland. It is therefore exciting to learn that the hub has been discovered and should be preserved for future generations. There are only three surviving railway locomotive hubs in Scotland, the nearest to Edinburgh being at Aberdeen.
John Wilson, secretary of the North British Railway Study Group, said:
It is a remarkable find, reminiscent of 120 years of railway history, which began when the North British Railway opened its line from Edinburgh to Berwick in 1846 and located its locomotive depot and works at what became known as St Margaret’s. As well as occupying an area north of the main line, the machine shed south of the line remained well known until the 1960s.
Access to the public visitor center will be from the gate along the pedestrian entrance to the new Meadowbank Sports Center on the site of what was the old stadium car park. Find the location on Google Maps.