Playground Photo Mystery Solved!

Children playing on a Kirkby housing estate

Today is the anniversary of Sherlock Holmes appearing in print for the first time. On 21 November 1887, the Beeton’s Christmas Annual was released, containing A Study in Scarlet, a short novel by Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the great detective Sherlock Holmes.

We’re mentioning this because it coincides with some detective work to investigate a mystery of our own. After much sleuthing by Vicky, we are now able to pinpoint the location of the playground shown in these photographs, but first, let us explain the story behind the mystery…

Thousands of photographs of people and places around Knowsley have been donated to Prescot Museum’s collection over the years, but often the donor does not know the identities of people in the photographs or the locations where they were taken: sometimes they have come from the house of a deceased friend or relative, and sometimes they have come from a business where they have taken promotional photographs showing their workers, factory buildings or events.

We are usually able to use our local knowledge to identify the places shown in photographs, but every now and then we come across an image we just can’t quite place. These charming photos are part of a series of black and white photos taken in various locations in Kirkby in the 60s – “new” houses, streets, shops, public buildings, but there are also a few images of locations in Prescot.

We had always believed that these two photographs of children playing had been taken in one of the playgrounds in Kirkby amongst the new housing estates, but we didn’t know which one. We asked our volunteers and regular local visitors to Kirkby Gallery if they recognised the playground, but they all agreed that there had once been lots of parks like that dotted about and couldn’t be sure.

We posted the photos on social media twice, and had four different locations suggested, all from people equally convinced that they were right, with personal connections to the places they named: 4 people agreed it was Copthorne Road, which tied with 4 votes for Henlow Avenue, 3 for Bullens Road, and 1 for Cherryfield Drive.

One person said she knew it was off Henlow Avenue because she’d fallen off the monkey bars and had to have stitches, another said it must have been behind Bullens Road because she knew the girls in the photograph, actually on the monkey bars.

Vicky looked at the four suggested locations on current maps, Googlemaps and Streetview, to compare to the photographs. The block of two-storey terraces and semi-detached houses shown in the photographs were a common design locally; the only detail that could help cement the location was their layout and the three- or four-storey building that is shown in the slide picture, but she was unable to find a long row of terraces backing on to a three- or four-storey building at any of the suggested sites.

Out of nowhere, a surprising fifth location was suggested: Vicky’s Mum was adamant it was Molyneux Drive in Prescot as she recognised someone in the slide photo and identified the taller building as being the back of the shops! Again, after cross-referencing with current maps, the location didn’t seem to match.

Then – a breakthrough! In amongst the series of photos, Vicky found one that had been taken somewhere from the top of a high building, and there was a playground on it! Could it be?

A comparison of the overhead shot and playground photos showed that it was indeed the same playground, with the same pieces of apparatus in the same order – climbing frame, roundabout, monkey bars and slide – all parallel with the long block of terraced houses, with a taller building on the opposite side!

Vicky then used the overhead shot to compare with current maps of the suggested locations in Kirkby again. The three-storey blocks from the overhead shot have since been demolished and replaced with newer houses, there have been some alterations to the remaining houses, but key features remain, such as the three parallel blocks of two-storey terraces, and the staggered run of houses behind. The overhead photograph was taken from one of the tower blocks on Broad Lane, Kirkby.

We can now confidently say that the playground in the photographs was in Kirkby, off Henlow Avenue. The site is now covered by a small group of houses to form a new cul-de-sac called Middlewood. Click here to see the location as it is now on Googlemaps.

Case closed.