A call has gone out for help to identify thousands of mystery Scottish scenes, finds Sandra Dick.

Some might be the streets we grew up in, country houses passed on the road to somewhere else, crumbling factories where parents once worked or churches where grandparents worshipped.

Captured in black and white, and with many showing streets remarkably clear of the traffic that would soon come, some 5,000 fascinating photographs of Scottish life taken during the 1970s and 1980s have presented Scots with the ultimate lockdown puzzle.

Images taken by staff working for the long-defunct Scottish Development Department have been made available online for the first time by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), along with an appeal to the public to turn detective and help identify the houses, streets and businesses they show.

They may have their work cut out: the new online archive showcases rural and urban Scotland, from Highland crofts and Orkney farms to large housing estates in Fife, city tenements in Glasgow, unidentified town centre shops with old-fashioned signs and equally old-fashioned looking shoppers.

While some may be easy to locate, others are likely to have viewers scratching their heads over where they may be.

As well as providing Scots with a massive puzzle to solve, the collection of images offers a rare insight into what life was like throughout Scotland in years not that long gone by, with pub interiors, fashion trends and interior design choices also captured.

One of the most striking elements of the outdoor photographs is the lack of vehicles travelling on Scottish roads, while others capture everyday elements of life which were familiar at the time but are now long gone – such as one image showing firemen dressed in their yellow waterproofs, shoppers queuing outside their local fishmonger, and children playing in the street on their Chopper bikes.

Lesley Ferguson, head of archives at HES, said: “People will find this collection really engaging. Sometimes history can be too far away, whereas this is history that people will remember.

“Some show buildings and others are just street scenes taken at a time when there were far fewer cars on the road.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know where some of these historic photographs were taken and that’s why we are asking for the public’s help.”

While the images have been digitised and uploaded to Canmore, the online catalogue of HES archives, it was felt it would be too time-consuming for HES staff to sift through the 5,000 unidentified images in an effort to find their location.

Instead it’s hoped that visitors to the Canmore website will come to the rescue and email details of locations and buildings to HES staff. The images will be alternated regularly to allow more photographs to be catalogued.

The unidentified images are among around 70,000 plastic photographic negatives and some printed photographs contained within the HES Scottish Development Department collection, most of which contain information regarding the location where they were taken.

Some relate to the development of Scotland’s New Towns, while others show buildings in a state of disrepair and may be among the last photographs prior to the buildings being lost forever.

Last year alone, over 170,000 items from the HES archives were digitised, among them prints relating to significant archaeological digs and images of excavations at historic sites such as Skara Brae in Orkney and Edinburgh Castle.

They included approximately 14,000 prints digitised from personal research and work by prominent archaeologists such as Dr Euan Mackie, Roger Mercer and Vere Gordon Childe, with the oldest image dating from around 1927.

Mackie’s collection comprises field notes, photographs, drawings and various research material collected during investigations of threatened sites including East Wemyss Caves and the Greenland, Auchentorlie prehistoric rock sculptures.

Much of the collection derives from his 1960s excavation and survey of brochs and duns, notably Dun Mor Vaul in Tiree, Dun Lagaidh, and Dun an Ruigh Ruadh in Lochbroom.

Over one million archives documenting Scotland’s archaeological sites, buildings, industry and maritime heritage are currently available on Canmore.

Ferguson added: “These archives give a unique perspective on civic planning in the 20th century including the development and growth of Scotland’s New Towns, while the images of excavations showcase the sites that helped archaeologists unlock the secrets of Scotland’s past – from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages.

“By digitising our archives, we’re able to make them available to even more people. Digitisation helps us make heritage accessible to all as well as ensuring the long-term preservation of these important documents and photographs.”

• To view a range of unidentified images from the Scottish Development Department archives, click here