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Friday, 22 May 2020

Every Picture Tells A Story

Over a series of blog posts we will be sharing with you what we have been doing whilst working from home, and giving you an insight into some of the interesting collections and items we have come across whilst the Record Office has been closed.

When Cheshire Record Office is open, our Local Studies department works with volunteers to sort, catalogue and improve storage of the Local Studies Visual Collection, and make it available to the public at our search room and online. Since we have been closed, a team of Archives Assistants and a Conservator have continued this work by using an online data editing system at home to add photographs and information to the Cheshire Image Bank.

The Image Bank is a collection of over 30,000 digital images created from original material - photographs, postcards, print slides and negatives – and can be viewed and searched online at CheshireImageBank.org.uk. It also offers over twenty Popular Collections to browse, including the First and Second World Wars, Royal Visitors, Fashion and The Salt Industry. Image Bank content covers anywhere that lies or once lay within the Cheshire county boundary.

This lockdown project has involved writing a brief description of each of the photos assigned to us on the data editor; doing online research to provide further information about each image; adding key words to ensure they will appear in an online search; and providing standardised details of the location, title and date of the images. We have also added extra information to a small number of photos that already appeared on the Image Bank. The Local Studies staff have been adding more key word options to make it easier for people to search the site, and also had the task of moderating our work to ensure accuracy and consistency.

So far, 500 extra images have been added to the Image Bank as a result of this work. A wide range of themes has been covered: industrial, with hundreds of images from George L. Scott & Co and Wolverhampton Corrugated Iron Works, both based in Ellesmere Port; and military, such as a Cheshire Royal Engineers photo album from the 1890s. There is an early album of buildings, people and landscapes by amateur photographer George Davies, who lived in Alderley and took numerous photographs of the surrounding area, and some photographs are of the Duke of Westminster’s Eaton estate; there is a large collection of images from the village of Disley; and some from Macclesfield cover the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s 1887 Golden Jubilee. There are others showing places of interest across Cheshire.

Some of the photographs that have captured our attention include a busy street scene at Chester Cross (c13284) where the buildings are still recognisable but the horse-drawn trams are long gone.

Another is a murder stone from the 1820s (c13248). These were historic markers erected at the site of famous murders to commemorate the victim or warn of the consequences of committing such acts. And this photograph of Disley Golf Club (c08283) was already on the Image Bank but has had further information added - it was taken at the official opening of the club in 1889 and there were 47 pro golfers present when it was taken. 

 
On the industrial side, c13186 shows a group of steelworkers moving a stack of flat iron sheeting with an overhead crane system at an ironworks in the 1920s, and c13164 is of a woman using machinery at an engineering company in the 1950s. Additional information provided on the Image Bank tells us she was using a ‘stator notching machine’, and that George L. Scott Ltd. was an electrical steel stampers company with offices and warehouses in Ellesmere Port. The business later became a general engineering company.

Work on the next two images is almost complete, and they are due to be put online shortly. The first shows the Cheshire Yeomanry in the 1890s, assembling for annual exercises at the Roodee Racecourse in Chester (c13348), and the second is a street parade from around 1895 showing massed uniformed ranks of the Second Cheshire Royal Engineers, who were also known as the Crewe Railway Volunteers (c13213).
















In the very early days of photography, equipment was cumbersome and photographers were usually limited to studio settings, but with the invention of film in the 1880s it became easier and we started to see the rise of amateur photographers like George Davies of Alderley. We have many of his photographs taken from the 1870s to 1890s, including buildings like churches, mills, country houses and pubs; landscapes around the eastern border of Cheshire; and agricultural scenes from ploughing to harvest work. A small selection is shown below.

         
            


This project has posed a few challenges along the way. As well as an unexpected technical issue early on, it has sometimes been difficult to identify the images - so some will have to remain hidden from view until we can do some more research with the originals at the Record Office. There are both opportunities and challenges with the Visual Collection more widely: the collection is constantly being added to with new donations, and there is a large number of uncatalogued photographs in storage yet to be looked at. Potentially, there are thousands more images that could be added to the Image Bank in the future, but it is also a time-consuming and costly undertaking.

Nonetheless, this lockdown work has enabled us to add more images to our Popular Collections section on the Cheshire Image Bank, particularly those on the First World War, Fashion, Eaton Hall and Little Moreton Hall. Some of the newly digitised images will be showcased in the All New Images section, as well as on social media.

The next steps of the project will be to identify entries already on the Image Bank that may require further information (then researching and adding it) and we also have data from more volunteers’ spreadsheets to match to the relevant images online. There is plenty to keep us busy!

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