A lament for a once great Britain

Friday, February 5 2010

The photography of Phill Davison

Manchester’s Mayfield Station. Photo by Phill Davison.

(Click here to see details of licensing. Click on image to see the rest of Phill’s Mayfield Station set on flickr.)

Phill Davison’s photographs leave me reeling. He presses all the right buttons. As a kid, if I saw a tunnel, I had to go down it. Slate mine, sewer under construction, disused railway tunnel – it was all the same to me. If there was a way in, I had to explore it.

Phill not only photographs the insides of various long-abandoned tunnels, he also creates stunning photographic essays of railway tunnels that combine his pictures with historic  photographs when the Beeching axe had yet to swing. And Phill’s pictures are very, very, good. His album on myspace of the four Standedge Tunnels is one of the best pieces of industrial archaeology photographic documentation that I have ever seen.

His flickr set of Manchester’s Mayfield Station reminds me of my own childhood explorations of the derelict warehouses at Brentford Dock and the railway works at Woodford Halse. Alas at the time, I didn’t take the photographs that would have been a valuable historical record today.

There is a lighter side to Phill’s work too. His Poppleton railway garden and little trains and the tongue-in-cheek The hunt for the ghost engines of the strategic steam reserve are a welcome injection of Monty Python humour into what otherwise is a very sombre journey.

And Phill’s work can be very black, his myspace album on The Leeds Tramways and his set on flickr exploring Healey Mills Marshalling Yard left me angry and frustrated with the way government officials and politicians have bent Britain’s transport policy to the whims of bankers and oil barons.

Does Phill’s work deserve any criticism? His photography none at all. It is simply stunning. Although I do have a couple of minor quibbles. The graphic design of his myspace albums is a bit garish and while exploring them last night I managed to exceed his bandwidth allowance on photobucket which he uses to host the photographs that he features on his albums. Phill would be well minded to move onto a well tried blog engine like wordpress.com.

So how best to explore Phill’s enormous collection of photographs? You could choose the sensible way – go to his flickr home page, then go down a level and look at the index of all of his collections, choose a collection which appeals, see the sets that comprise the collection and finally browse through the chosen set. Or you could do as I did – put on a favourite music album, make a cup of tea, open a packet of nibbles, go to Phill’s home page and press the button marked slideshow. Public health warning – this could blow your mind.

I wanted to give Phill the final word.

The once vast marshalling yard at Healey Mills closed in the winter of 2009.

Healey Mills occupied a 140-acre purpose built site with 57 miles of track. When work began in 1959, it was necessary to bring in three quarters of a million cubic yards of landfill to level the site.
The River Calder was diverted into a new channel to the south of the yard. Four bridges had to be constructed to carry tracks over the river.

The yard contained 120 sidings, at the west end there were 14 reception sidings. There were 50 main sorting sidings and 25 secondary sorting sidings; 15 staging sidings and 13 departure sidings. In addition, three sidings were provided for internal services.

The footbridge that provided safe access for the staff to the centre of the yard, consisted of lattice girders, recovered from the old 120ft span footbridge which formerly crossed the lines at the north end of Darlington station.

Today the yard stands silent and overgrown. The only trains to occupy the once busy sidings are condemned locos, and rolling stock awaiting there last journey to the scrap yard.

More photographs:



  1. Fantastic Phill! Your photographs bring so many levels of interpretation to the viewers eye and mind! Never tiresome and with each new photograph a new experience, imagination, facts and humour bring a breath of fresh air to all those that view your work!!

  2. SSR – one of the great urban myths. I recall reading about this in Issue One of Steam magazine in 1979 and thinking “what a load of hokum”.

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