Bookseller Steerforth handles a great many old books in his line of work. Often he’ll find old photos and albums amongst the piles of mildewed tomes: snapshots of lost worlds and forgotten lives.
Continuing the series in which he shares some of the more interesting, surprising and moving discoveries, he finds some incredible photos from the 1860s: Victorians who were so nearly lost forever…
One day, someone at work came across a wonderful album of photos from the 1860s. They took one look and promptly threw it into a bin. Minutes later, a forklift truck was due to empty the bin’s contents into a large skip, which would then be transported to a plant that pulped paper products and turned them into useful things, like lampshades and road surfacing material.
Luckily, by sheer chance, somebody else was curious enough to pull the album out of the bin and when they saw the contents, they brought it straight to me. As soon as I opened the pages, I knew that this was an exceptional find.
As with almost every album I find, there are no names or places, although judging by the stone walls and dales, I think that it comes from the north of England. There is only one date – 1863 – but even if there wasn’t, the fashions are quite clearly mid-Victorian.
This is the England of Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Wilkie Collins.
The album contained such an embarrassment of riches that it was very hard to produce a shortlist for my blog – I have done what I can to clean the images up on Photoshop, but some were in very poor condition. Nevertheless, even the grainiest or faintest photos have something about them that is fascinating.
A unique collection of historic photos was almost destroyed forever. Today, thanks to the internet (and the keen-eyed person at work), it can be seen by people all over the world. I try not to think about how many other albums and diaries must have been consigned to oblivion.
I’ll let the photographs speak for themselves, except to say that the first image (above) has the scariest-looking family I think I’ve ever seen.