Astonishing press photographs capture interwar era Edinburgh

If there’s a finer collection of images showing Edinburgh in the 1930s, I have yet to encounter it.

If there’s a finer collection of images showing Edinburgh in the 1930s, I have yet to encounter it.

The incredible work of Dutch photojournalist Willem van de Poll is barely known at all on these shores - a crying shame to say the least.

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Born in 1895, van de Poll is regarded as one of the most important press photographers ever to emerge from the Low Countries.

As an international photo reporter, he travelled the globe and had his work distributed extensively by the Associated Press.

His job enabled van de Poll to experience first-hand the rugged landscapes of northern Europe and embark on exotic excursions to the furthest reaches of the Far East. He saw the world.

In summer 1938, he arrived in Edinburgh on a mission to photograph two famous locomotives: The Coronation and The Flying Scotsman, both of which feature prominently in the series.

A large number of the images van de Poll took have been made publicly available online by the National Archives of the Netherlands, and what an absolute treat they are.

From looking at his Edinburgh series, it appears that de Poll’s time in the city was brief; a fleeting stop before moving on by rail to tour the rest of Scotland.

Still, they show us the Capital as it was during an era that was seldom captured in such stunning high quality.

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Contained mostly within the city centre, the scenes are almost all instantly recognisable, showing famous landmarks such as the floral clock, the Scott Monument and the castle esplanade.

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Interior shots of Waverley Station showcase van de Poll’s penchant for documentary photography, capturing the hustle and bustle on the concourse and those fantastic thirties fashions.

Speaking of stations, long-lost Edinburgh Princes Street, locally referred to as the ‘Caley’, makes an appearance in van de Poll’s wonderful set. Period motorcars - evidence of the station’s Rutland Street vehicle access - can be seen lined up as a plume of white steam rises from one of the waiting locomotives.

Meanwhile, near the Mound, throngs of passengers wait to board a pair of early SMT ‘luxury’ coaches, one of them London-bound. Holdalls are being secured to the roofs.

Away from the city centre, there are images featuring women working at an Edinburgh whisky bottling warehouse and even a polar bear at the zoo.

Street scenes were a van de Poll speciality, and he does not let us down here. As a viewer, being able to see the well-attired ladies and gents of 1930s Edinburgh as they go about their daily business - and in such high detail too - is just mesmerising.

Unparalleled, however, is the one showing suited gents walking along Princes Street clutching fresh copies of the Evening Dispatch. Their eyes transfixed on the ‘tablets’ of their day, you could almost mistake it for 2017.

You can view the full collection here.