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Past Times

Old cine film and images of Craigtoun Park takes us on trip back in time

A treasure trove of cine reels, photographs and postcards have conjured up a fascinating glimpse of the glory days of Craigtoun Park.
Graeme Strachan
How the Dutch Village once looked.
A postcard of the Dutch Village and boating pond in 1972. Image: Supplied.

A treasure trove of cine reels, photographs and postcards have conjured up a fascinating glimpse of the glory days of Craigtoun Park.

The grainy images and flickering videos offer a nostalgic and somewhat emotional snapshot of the Fife visitor attraction which was at its peak in the mid-1960s.

A landmark for generations of families since 1948, for many people from Fife and beyond, no holiday would have been complete without a trip to Craigtoun Park.

Visitors were entranced by facilities such as the miniature railway and the Dutch Village on the boating lake which hosted tea dances and concerts in the 1950s and 1960s.

Nothing lasts forever

The council could no longer justify investment when visitor numbers began declining and the once picturesque and pristine white-walled island village was left to rot.

And yet, amid the decay, there were signs of life and no end of potential.

Having already made great strides in reinvigorating the previously ailing park since 2012, Friends of Craigtoun hopes to return the Dutch Village to its former glory.

They want to show funding bodies how important the Dutch Village and park have historically been to today’s visitors and appealed for memories, photos and cine film.

They responded magnificently.

Some of the images and footage had lain untouched for decades.

Patrick, Colin and Bob rowing on the boating pond beside the Dutch Village in 1969. Image: Supplied.

Colin McLeod, 63, of Dundee, shared photos of 1960s and 1970s trips with his father Bob and his friend Patrick from London who used to spend the holidays with his family.

He said: “As my father worked for DC Thomson as night editor of The Courier, he worked in the evenings, so during the day I think Craigtoun was close enough to home for us to be able to visit on weekdays during school holidays, at least after the Tay Road Bridge opened in 1966.

“So my family were frequent visitors to Craigtoun through the 1960s and into the early 1970s.

“I was very young on most of the family visits recorded in the photos, so my memories are hazy but I have a large postcard collection of over 100,000 cards, as well as family photograph albums, and I’m always happy to share images if they can be helpful for initiatives like this.

The trio are photographed enjoying the sights at Fairyland. Image: Supplied.

“I used to love going there as a kid and I think it’s important to preserve these photographs so that future generations can see how things once were.

“The Dutch Village was a most distinctive feature of Craigtoun Park and the potential is certainly there for it to have a new lease of life — which would be wonderful.

Colin and Bob McLeod on the boating pond at the Dutch Village in 1973. Image: Supplied.

“Looking at the photographs brought back many different emotions but these were special holidays and I think you appreciate them more with the passage of time.”

Postcards from the past

Colin also spent time at Craigtoun on holiday with Dutch twins Herman and Paul van Eggelen who also feature in some of the images which have been donated.

Colin also found postcards of Craigtoun Park in his collection which feature the likes of the Cypress Walk, Puffin’ Billy tractor ride, miniature railway and the Dutch Village.

In a pre-social media/pre-camera phone world, these picture postcards were the principal means of exchanging good wishes between family and friends on holiday.

The miniature railway in 1963 in a photograph taken by the van Eggelen family. Image: Supplied.

Some of these Craigtoun Park postcards were designed and printed at the Kingsway HQ of Valentines of Dundee which was the biggest company of its kind in Europe.

They are mostly in colour.

They show the lawns, the trees and the flowers in pristine condition.

A postcard of the open air theatre dated August 1968. Image: Supplied.

Others from ETW Dennis and Sons from Scarborough also feature images of Craigtoun Park including various colour snaps of the Dutch Village and boating pond.

Several others also shared memories and artefacts from decades gone by including Elizabeth Foster from Dundee whose family has visited Craigtoun for over 70 years.

She sent family photographs from 1953, 1978 and 2017 including her two children with her mother beside the park’s Litter Bird which encouraged youngsters to use the bin.

Elizabeth’s children Ruth and Andrew with their granny (Elizabeth’s mum) at the park in 1978. Image: Supplied.

She said: “My dad got a job with Fife Council and we moved to Cupar in 1950.

“Craigtoun was a place we often visited when on holiday in the East Neuk and also after we moved to live in Dundee — I now enjoy taking my four grandchildren there.”

Funding director Henry Paul has been overwhelmed by the response which he hopes will encourage even more people to come forward with more images and videos.

Valentines postcard of the Dutch Village in 1953. Image: Supplied.

He said: “We want to raise awareness of the condition of the Dutch Village with a view of applying for funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund further down the line.

“To do that you have got to prove that this is something worth saving and that’s why we wanted people to send us their memories of Craigtoun Park and the Dutch Village.

“The images and footage we have received has been fantastic — the cine film footage actually left me quite emotional because it took me back to my own childhood.

“There’s no sound on the footage and when I was growing up in Wales we took a cine film of every family holiday and that brought all of that flooding back.

“So these were different times which have been documented but it was wonderful to see the park in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and so many smiling faces.

Valentines postcard of the Cypress Walk from 1958. Image: Supplied.

“But that was clear from the messages we received too  — just how much people loved the park and still love the park and wishing us success with the restoration.

“The only downside was a lack of images or footage from inside the Dutch Village.

“That would be the icing on the cake if we got that.”

A postcard of Puffin’ Billy from 1973. Image: Supplied.

Henry said the fashions might have changed but the main attractions at the park remain pretty much the same although there are now things like go-karting.

“These images show the park when it was at its height,” he said.

“This was an era before people discovered Spain and cheap air travel — when all their holidays would have been at Craigtoun Park and it looked so picturesque.

A Valentines postcard of Craigtoun Park from 1959. Image: Supplied.

“Just look at those Valentines postcards.

“At that stage they had 39 gardeners and 16 apprentices and if you look at the floral displays they are picture perfect.

“It’s a great shame the gardens are no longer of that splendour.”

Could the dream become reality?

Craigtoun Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2023 and 2028 will mark another landmark year as it will be 100 years since the Dutch Village was completed.

“By then we’d love to see that the Dutch Village was acknowledged as needing restored and hopefully will have starting the ball rolling with regards the funding,” said Henry.

“You look at the £8m Silverburn Park and Flax Mill Regeneration Project where Fife Council signed off £2m — that’s the kind of thing we hope can happen at Craigtoun.”

To help the dream become a reality even more memories are needed.

If you have any more photos, stories or cine film or footage of visits to Craigtoun Country Park and the Dutch Village, especially during the 1950s and 1960s, please email or phone 01334 472013.