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Past Times

Here’s why the tale of Monifieth train station is a love story that’s set to run and run

The relocated building has brought the magic of the bygone era of steam to life in films and TV and welcomed iconic locomotives including the Flying Scotsman. reports.
Graeme Strachan
The former Monifieth station is a survivor of the Victorian era. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.
The former Monifieth station is a survivor of the Victorian era. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.

Monifieth’s former railway station spent 90 years in Tayside and went on to become a movie star after reaching its final destination in 1988.

The building has since brought the magic of the bygone era of steam to life in a number of films and TV series and welcomed iconic locomotives including the Flying Scotsman.

The eastbound platform building is still turning heads after 125 years.

And now staff are promising to unveil more plans to develop the station and keep it looking its best.

So it looks as if the storied station building will be ready for its close up for years to come.

A story of survival going back to 1898

The building’s remarkable story of survival since being earmarked for demolition at Monifieth in 1986 is a real-life drama worthy of its own Tinseltown script.

New timber buildings were built at Monifieth around 1898 – with the larger of these situated on the eastbound platform – which were used by scores of people locally every year.

The station was the scene of many family welcomes and partings, including a great many Monifieth men leaving to serve in the armed forces during the First World War.

Monifieth Railway Station in 1984, when it was at risk of demolition. Image: DC Thomson.
Monifieth Railway Station in 1984, when it was at risk of demolition. Image: DC Thomson.

The 1980s saw severe cuts with Monifieth railway station building being closed and boarded up after usage plummeted at its booking office.

By 1984, Broughty Ferry and Carnoustie were the last staffed stations out of the six between Dundee and Arbroath.

By March 1986, all three stations were unmanned, and British Rail notified its intention to demolish the buildings because they were increasingly expensive to maintain.

Mob rule took hold and the quaint station building suddenly became a hotspot for vandalism with a number of attempts to destroy it by fire.

A group of firemen inspecting damage to the exterior of Monifieth Train Station in 1986. Image: DC Thomson.

The building was eventually gifted by BR Scottish Region to the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, which operated the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway near Grangemouth.

The building was carefully dismantled by Masterton of Falkirk.

The components were brought to Bo’ness with a view to carrying out a structural survey to assess the remedial work which was necessary to restore and re-erect the structure.

Monifieth train station welcoming visitors – in Glasgow

Jeff Dagnall from the SRPS Birkhill Group said Central Regional Council was looking for a building for inclusion in its display at the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988.

More than four million people visited the Glasgow Garden Festival where the reconstructed station was named the Heart of Scotland in the exhibition display.

Visitors enjoy visiting the building at the Glasgow festival. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.
Visitors enjoy visiting the building at the Glasgow festival. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.

“Once the festival was over Central Regional Council returned the components in October 1988 and generously agreed to re-erect them at Birkhill,” said Jeff.

“All the internal fitting out was, however, undertaken by the society’s volunteers.

“Much work was then carried out not just on the station itself but also on the line leading up to it by, not only the society volunteers, but also participants from time to time in the Manpower Services Commission programme as well as Army units.

“The first passenger train arrived in the station on Saturday March 25 1989, but the official opening by Jimmy Macgregor took place on Friday May 5 1989.”

The former Monifieth train station building being constructed in 1989. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.
The former Monifieth train station building being constructed in 1989. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.

He drove the train into the platform, breaking a tape across the line.

It broke through the words: “We’ve made it”.

They had.

Early in 1990 the remaining section of the five miles of track was re-laid to provide a connection with the Edinburgh to Glasgow main line at Manuel Junction.

The railway has also featured in a number of films and TV series including The Railway Man with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman and The 39 Steps with Rupert Penry-Jones.

Birkhill took centre stage in Victorian costume drama The Secret Agent in 2016.

The former Monifieth building and platform, as well as one of the line’s steam locomotives and vintage carriages, featured as 19th Century London settings.

Jeff said: “The rural location and the station setting is nice in all weathers. Passengers and train crews often comment on how nice it looks.

“Many tourists get off the train just to take a picture or two of the building and the clay mine display along the platform.

“For the first-time visitor they are actually surprised to see the station looking like a ‘biscuit tin’ Victorian/Edwardian railway scene and feel transported back in time for a short period.

“When sitting on the platform and the wind is blowing in the right direction, the only thing you hear is the sound of the birds and the trees rustling in the background.

The platform has welcomed visitors including this BR-era classic train. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.
The platform has welcomed visitors including this BR-era classic. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.

“It’s a great place to be to forget for a moment all that might be going on in life.

“I have been an active volunteer since 2014, when I read an article asking for volunteers to tidy up the gardens and embankments.

“I was looking for something to do on a Saturday morning, just to destress from my project management work, and what a move it was.

“I enjoyed it so much and continued to look after the station every Saturday.

The Tornado arrives at the Birkhill Station during another visit from a steam giant. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.
The Tornado arrives at the Birkhill Station during another visit from a steam giant. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.

“I eventually decided to take early retirement and now do two days a week at Birkhill, gardening, painting, digging trenches and removing fallen trees, to name just a few tasks.

“There are over 300 volunteers in Bo’ness but, as you can imagine, it is an ageing population and these skills need to be passed on to a younger generation.”

Jeff recalled some of those rail giants which have stopped by at the former Monifieth building over the years including the Flying Scotsman in 2016 and 2019.

The Flying Scotsman pulls in alongside the former Monifieth Railway Station building. Image: Birkhill SRPS Group.

“We have been lucky enough to be visited by engines such as the Flying Scotsman, Tornado, Union of South Africa and many more diesel engines,” he said.

“And then there are steam and diesel gala events which have visiting engines. There was a visit from a proof-of-concept hydrogen train.

“A battery powered and converted London Tube train also stopped at Birkhill.”

More plans to develop the station

So what does the future hold for the former Monifieth station building?

“With most heritage walks of life – improvements and maintenance can only be done by kind donations, grants and deep pockets and the hard work of volunteers,” said Jeff.

“The station building itself is requiring significant maintenance work to the lower exterior timbers and to the canopy, but apart from that its just tender loving care.

“And plenty of paint!

The Flying Scotsman is always a popular visitor at Birkhill. Image: SRPS Birkhill Group.

“It is hoped to open the main room next year as an exhibition room providing information about the old fire clay mine.

“For the station itself, there are plans in development to erect a signal box.

“The existing platform will be resurfaced, the in-progress second platform and footbridge (from West Calder) would also be completed.

“Hopefully once the second platform, signal box and loop line is operational, the station itself will allow for extra passing trains and become a typical branch line station.

“However, the character of the ‘biscuit box’ station building scene will still be there for future visitors to enjoy for years to come.”

Here’s to another 125 years of making memories.

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