Nostalgic views of the North

ITwas not only Nostalgic views of the North that John Moreels brought to Morpeth Antiquarian Society’s March meeting, it was the quality of the images and a remarkable discovery.

In 1996, Mr Moreels bought the company and property of Ward Philipson in Newcastle. Since the mid-19th Century, Wards had supplied images for newspapers, promotional material and books, they joined with Philipson around 1900.

As Mr Moreels renovated the property in Newcastle he discovered more than 150,000 negatives, many on glass plates, of images from the North East. Some of the images were taken from earlier engravings and etchings worked by Thomas Bewick and other artists. With the help of volunteers more than 25,000 images have been catalogued and scanned. Attempts at restoration of the slides has given way to recording as many as possible before they deteriorate further.

The collection records the history of bridging the Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead from Bewick’s engraving of the 13th Century bridge washed away in 1771 to building of the various crossings still in place today.

Images of bare-foot children in the 1890s and children cutting each others’ hair before bathing naked under a single cold tap tell us how different life was in those days.

Photographs of Tyne Quay in the 1960s of ships unloading timber, coal and potatoes to rail trucks on the quayside railway as late as 1965 reminded many members and visitors of their own histories.

Sadly no images of Morpeth have yet been discovered in the collection, but, with another 125,000 negatives to be studied, some may come to light.

The evening demonstrated that early technology and clarity of the images produced by skilled photographers in the 19th Century are in sharp contrast to our digital age.

The next meeting of Morpeth Antiquarian Society is the AGM followed by a pooled supper on April 27, at 7.15pm in St James’ Hall.