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The Cambridgeshire Photographic Record 1904-1942

By Mike Petty.

[We are most grateful to Mike Petty for permission to use this text, which appeared in "Vanishing Cambridgeshire", Mike Petty, Breedon Books Publishing Co Ltd (2006), ISBN 10: 1859835325 ISBN 13: 9781859835326]

The Survey

In 1904 the prestigious Cambridge Antiquarian Society embarked on an exciting new venture which was to see its members journey from the high chalklands of Ickleton to the fens of Whittlesey:

"In view of the continual disappearance of interesting features in the country, through natural decay, accident, or wilful destruction, the Council have decided to undertake a photographic record of Cambridgeshire. A collection of permanent photographs of places and objects in Cambridgeshire will be formed and placed under suitable custody in a museum where it can be consulted for purposes of research, while a selection of the views will also be publicly exhibited from time to time".

The Cambridge Antiquarian Society had been founded in 1840; its earliest purpose had been the study of the history and antiquities of the university, county and town of Cambridge and the collecting and printing of information relating thereto. But as Dr A.H. Lloyd recalled in his Presidential Address in October 1931: It was soon found that the appetite of the community ranged beyond the local antiquarian and archaeological interests and the Society enlarged its declared objects to enable it to supply lectures upon those subjects relating to any part of the world.

He explained: "Cambridge University at that time had no such lectures, but the Disney Professorship of Archaeology was founded in 1851 and Readership in Classical Archaeology in 1883 and the holders of these offices promoted lectures covering a world-wide range. After the First World War the creation of a Faculty of Archaeology and Ethnology and the establishment of a Tripos had largely relieved the Society of the duty of bringing to Cambridge information regarding extraneous archaeology. The Society was free therefore to give increased attention to its more particular object of the study of local history and antiquities and it might well devote its energies intensively to the fulfilment of the ideals of its founders 90 years ago." [Cambridge Antiquarian Society Proceedings (PCAS), vol.33.]

The Photographic Survey owed its initial success to Dr Frank James Allen, a retired Professor of Physiology at Birmingham University, who became its first Secretary. He had a special interest in church towers and spires, contributing two papers on the subject in 1909 and 1911, illustrating his lectures with lantern slides he had taken himself.

By 1906 the photographic record numbered 76 prints, 22 from Dr Allen, 20 from Scott and Wilkinson the commercial photographers and 17 presented by William Hayles, a carpenter who lived and worked in Union Road, New Town. Hayles was a member of the newly-formed Cambridge Photographic Club with whom the Antiquarian Society was co-operating. They sought prints of archival quality as the 1907 report commented: Many of the amateur photographers have important negatives but since the owners do not use either of the permanent processes of photographic printing it has not been possible to obtain prints suitable for the record. Some hundreds exist and it would be worthwhile to ask owners to allow permanent prints to be made from them by a professional, the expense to be defrayed by a fund to which the Cambridge Antiquarian Society and the Cambridge Photographic Club might contribute. The Record expanded its role, purchasing copies of some of the earliest street scenes of Cambridge taken by Arthur Nicholls in the 1860s.

Various displays were given to increase interest, but by 1909 Dr Allen was finding himself under pressure: The Secretary, having been extremely busy during the past year had not been able to collect any new prints for the Record. He had however taken a number of negatives and several have been taken by other workers from which prints will be obtained in the near future. He hopes to arrange for an exhibition some time during the winter. Others did not share his enthusiasm and many members of the Society met his appeals with indifference.

Photographic surveying, like much else, was severely disrupted by the outbreak of War in 1914 and Dr Allen took on the responsibility of Secretary to the Antiquarian Society itself, a post he held until 1931. Shortly afterwards he returned to his home town in Somerset leaving his photographs behind him in the Record he had established.

In 1925 the Cambridge Antiquarian Society revived the project, and determined to make a fresh attempt to obtain a representative photographic record of the county. An appeal was circulated to all members of the Society and to all people who were considered likely to be interested. It set forth the kind of pictures which it was proposed to collect, including buildings of every description, domestic and ecclesiastical, earthworks, bridges, industries, both ancient and modern, ceremonies, flora & fauna.

They again sought the co-operation of the Cambridge Photographic Club, and a Joint Committee was appointed to set the work on foot. It comprised the Society’s President (then Mr M.C. Burkitt), the Secretary, Mr J.H. Bullock, Dr Louis Cobbett, Dr William Mortlock Palmer & Dr H.P. Stokes while the Cambridge Photographic Club was represented by their President, Dr Robinson, and by Mr Parker Smith, Mr William Tams and one of the Secretaries, Mr R.T. Bellamy. Dr Palmer, who was a member of both bodies, was appointed Chairman, and Miss E.S. Fegan was subsequently elected as Secretary to the Committee.

At its first meeting the Committee outlined its objects:

(1) to create a permanent pictorial record of the Cambridge district.
(2) to draw up a list of subjects, representations of which should be included in such a regional survey.
(3) to collect, classify and store in the collection;
(4) to house the collection in the University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and to be accessible to members of both Societies.
(5) the Librarian of the Museum to be asked to be Curator of the collection.
There would be a card catalogue of the photographs with a duplicate catalogue at the Headquarters of the Photographic Club.

The active work of the Committee was to consist in taking, or causing to be taken, photographs; ascertaining the actual existence of negatives and old prints, and causing photographs to be made from them. Both groups voted money to provide photographic paper. The prints were to be definitely only for record purposes, and copyright and right of reproduction could be reserved by the owners of negatives or prints.

They had soon collected 761 photographs and 75 negatives with many more promised. Half of them had been taken by one man, J.H. Bullock – and how much more might be done with others of such calibre! The Cambridge Photographic Club instituted a Photographic Record Class for its autumn exhibition, the photographs going automatically to swell the collection, & organised its summer excursions to promote the Record, photographing Duxford and Barrington one year, and targeting Balsham, Over, Swavesey, Toft and Whittlesford the next.

A selection of photographs was shown at Antiquarian Society meetings in the hope of making the aims of the Committee more generally realised and enlisting further support. Dr Palmer stimulated much interest in the work through lantern-lectures to the Cambridge Photographic Club and to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society & also addressed the Annual Meeting of the County Federation of Women’s Institutes to appeal for their help in collecting material. He addressed the Summer meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute in 1927, demonstrating how rich the county was in ancient and historic relics, a presentation interrupted with frequent applause.

Dr Palmer’s ambition was to get a print of every cottage in Cambridgeshire worth looking at, or of interest for any reason. He appealed for members resident in the county to send in any prints they happen to possess. Pictures of past or present industries, such as those of the woad mill which had been donated by Sir R. Biffen, the flint-knapping industry, turf-cutting, and so on, should all find their place in such a collection as theirs ought to be.

A Sub-Committee was appointed to examine and select prints and negatives offered. By now the earlier insistence on top-quality photographs had been dropped; Palmer stressed that one need not be a great photographer in order to help on the photographic record and showed some of his own lantern slides, poor photographically, but important as records. They would accept any print, however bad, as long as it represented an object no longer in existence. They welcomed any size of print or negative, large or small, but preferred ½-plate or postcard size & he urged members to go to any village shop and buy as many different picture postcards of the village as they could – particularly those issued before the war.

It was one thing to take photographs, another to record what had been snapped. Care should be taken to be exact in the name of the village, street or place or to follow the example of Mr J.H. Bullock, who numbered his prints according to the number of the plot on which the building stood, as given in the large scale Ordnance Survey map. Sadly this example was seldom followed and many prints contain sketchy information as to where and when they were taken.

An appeal was made for volunteers to be responsible for whole villages & several were allocated. But the majority of the photographs were taken by a small core of enthusiasts who travelled out into the surrounding countryside on expeditions of exploration with their cameras and tripods. Dr Palmer and J.H. Bullock often travelled together, sometimes photographing one another at work and Douglas Reid’s motor car, registration number EW 4131 finds its way into a number of the pictures. Together they journeyed from the high chalk lands of Ickleton to the fenland washes of Whittlesey and obtained pictures of virtually every village in Cambridgeshire.

The survey continued to expand; the report for 1936 acknowledging more than 700 prints from Mr J. H. Bullock, photographs and lantern slides from the late Dr A. H. Lloyd, photographs of Ely from Lady St John Hope, prints and negatives from Mr Brindley amongst others. It now contained over 5400 prints, of which 907 had been given during the past year. Cambridge itself was now undergoing tremendous demolition and rebuilding but it was regretted they had no photographs of areas of Peas Hill, St Andrew's Hill and Petty Cury which would probably be redeveloped during the coming year.

Much of the work of accessioning had been undertaken by Dr Mary Scruby, who had tackled and cleared up difficult problems which had been shied at by her predecessors.

During 1938 the Record gained a further 404 prints, 7 watercolour sketches, 26 photostats and 117 negatives. A series of photographs of the old houses and yards on the west side of Bridge Street was given by Mr Bullock and many town and country views by Dr Cobbett. About 100 photographs of Great Chesterford were given by Mr G. H.S. Bushnell. The Society diversified by offering a prize for a water-colour sketch in the Borough of Cambridge; 12 entries were received and the prize went to Miss B. Pickering for a sketch of the junction of Fitzroy Street and Burleigh Street taken from the roof of Laurie and McConnal’s Stores. The competition sketches and a series of 38 studies of the old Yards of Cambridge painted by Miss M. C. Greene were exhibited in the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and were visited by about 200 people.

The Record suffered a serious blow with the death of Dr William Mortlock Palmer in 1939. His energy had infused new life into the survey, and to his continued interest and exertions its success was mainly due, wrote CAS President Louis Cobbett, himself a major contributor to the survey.

The Report for 1942 shows that the Record grew steadily though slowly during wartime; prints, postcards and a watercolour sketch were received during the year. Mr G.H.S. Bushnell sent a series of prints of Ickleton and Hinxton churches and Miss K. M. Murray views of Oakington and Girton Churches. The total number of prints was now over 7300 and new gifts were always welcomed.

But the appeal seems to have gone largely unanswered. Although a number of prints were submitted by Canon Bywaters in the 1950s the Photographic Record ceases to feature in the annual reports of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society until 1968-9 when the Librarian, J.G. Pollard noted that modest additions were still being made as the product of his own travels in the Shire. But wider coverage was desirable and he appealed for colour transparencies, the modern equivalent of the lantern slides of the start of the century.

Subsequently the Cambridge Antiquarian Society’s Photographic Record was transferred from the Museum; the glass lantern slides were deposited at the County Record Office, Shire Hall. The prints were lodged in the Cambridgeshire Collection in the new Lion Yard Library, together with an extensive collection of negatives, many of which have never been printed. Both collections have been listed and indexed and have been scanned for this current selection of photographs.

The Photographers

More than 150 contributors are recorded in the annual reports of the Photographic Survey, including a number of ladies. Some people donated single postcards, others covered a group of parishes while Mrs F.L. Harlock bequeathed a large number of glass negatives of Ely dating back to the 1860s, one of several such donations of that city.

Frank James Allen

Frank Allen first came to Cambridge as an undergraduate at St John's College in 1875. The son of a cheese dealer from Shepton Mallet he obtained a First Class degree and went on to further training at St George's Hospital London before becoming Professor of Physiology at Birmingham University from 1887-1899. He then returned to Cambridge and joined the Cambridge Antiquarian Society where in 1904 he became secretary to the new Photographic Record.

Allen was an expert on church towers and spires, contributing two papers on the subject in 1909 and 1911 illustrating his lectures with his own lantern slides. In 1914 he took on the responsibility of Secretary to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society itself, a post he held until 1931. Shortly afterwards he returned back to his hometown in Somerset leaving his photographs behind him in the Record he had established.

James Henry Bullock

James Henry Bullock was a Cambridge man, born in Wheeler Street in October 1862. He attended the Perse School and Trinity College before making a career as a printer and a reputation as a Town Councillor with special interest in education. He joined the Cambridge Antiquarian Society and served on its Council, acted as Excursions Secretary and gave much advice on the editing of the Society's ‘Proceedings’.

He was one of the Executive Committee when in 1925 the Society decided to revive their Photographic Record. He became its most prolific contributor, taking care to annotate his pictures with details of date and place. On his death in 1949 his widow presented the Society with a large collection of prints and negatives which comprise the backbone of the survey.

Frederick James Bywaters

Canon F.J. Bywaters was a vicar who served the parishes of Haddenham, Sawston and Willingham between 1926 and 1964 when he retired to live in Trumpington until his death a few years later.

He contributed to the Photographic Record during the middle 1950s. Although most of his photographs show churches there are a number of mills and cottages that caught his eye. He also bequeathed a collection of historic photographs of Willingham.

Louis Cobbett (1862-1947)

Dr Louis Cobbett was a distinguished pathologist and bacteriologist. He attended Trinity College and became House Surgeon at St Thomas' Hospital in London. He returned to Cambridge in 1892 and became demonstrator of pathology for a year. In 1900 Cambridge was faced with a serious outbreak of diphtheria of which Cobbett produced detailed studies & in 1902 he was appointed scientific investigator to the Royal Commission on Tuberculosis. From 1906-7 he was Professor of Pathology in the University of Sheffield and in 1908 appointed Professor of Pathology at Cambridge University, a post he held until 1929.

Cobbett was an enthusiastic and prolific contributor to the Photographic Record, travelling throughout the county and around the town. He also found time to pursue his interest in the history of the Cambridge area with papers on Saxon grave stones, Ickleton church, Duxford and Ely. He served as President of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in 1939.

Charles Harold Evelyn-White (1850-1938)

Charles Harold Evelyn-White was appointed Rector of Rampton in 1893, a post he held for 37 years, during which he transformed the building. He was a noted antiquarian and a prolific writer - including one book on Cambridgeshire churches compiled when he was 61 years old which involved him in a great deal of cycling -and was editor of the ‘East Anglian, or Notes and Queries’. However he fell out with the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in 1900 and set up another - the Cambs & Hunts Archaeological Society which he ran almost single handed for 6 years, although he still contributed various pictures to the Photographic Survey. In 1930 he retired to Felixstowe but was brought back to Rampton for burial eight years later.

Henry Castree Hughes

Henry C. Hughes was an architect with a passion for windmills, lecturing on the subject to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in November 1928. At that time the sight of numerous fen drainage mills were still fresh in people's memory. Two of them still stood, a small one at Wicken fen and a large mill at nearby Soham Mere. This latter was owned by Cambridgeshire County Council though Hughes’ hope that this might be preserved for posterity were to be dashed when the “dangerous structure” was subsequently destroyed by dynamite.

Other mills were disappearing year by year, the long periods of idleness caused by a lack of wind allied to developments in other forms of milling were making the antiquated machinery uneconomic to work and repair, though some were being preserved as museum pieces.

Hughes went on to survey the existing Cambridgeshire windmills, touring the county taking photographs of several of the surviving monuments of a bygone age which he added to the Antiquarian Society's Photographic Survey where they are filed in a separate sequence along with others taken by enthusiasts.

Herbert Samuel Johnson 1881-1971

Herbert Johnson started his career as a craftsman with Bell and Son of Gloucester Street, setting up his own business just after the Great War in the loft of a two-storey wooden building in Emery Road, where he was joined by Mr C. Bailey to found ‘Johnson & Bailey’. They moved to Norfolk Street and later Coldham's Lane becoming by his death in 1971 one of Cambridge's ‘big five’ building firms.

Herbert Johnson was also an enthusiastic photographer who amassed a copious library of Cambridge scenes which had changed during his lifetime. A few of these he contributed to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society's photographic record in 1930. They are in the form of stereoscopic prints, producing a 3-D effect when seen through a viewer. His subjects ranged widely from street scenes of Petty Cury, Market Hill and Sidney Street to derelict cottages at Cherry Hinton. He also photographed Midsummer Fair in 1929 including ‘The world's fattest girl’ where he snapped the shutter moments after the showman had exhibited to the crowd ‘one of the lady's more intimate garments of enormous size’.

William Mortlock Palmer 1866-1939

William Mortlock Palmer was born in 1866 at Meldreth. In 1881 he was apprenticed to Alderman Campkin, chemist of Rose Crescent, working thirteen hours a day making millions of sticky brown pills and selling penn'orths of hair oil before sneaking off to the Public Library in Wheeler Street to pursue other researches. Palmer entered Charing Cross Hospital as a student chemist and developed his knowledge of medicine before taking an appointment of ship's surgeon with the P & O Navigation Company. During the long days at sea he devoted himself to Cambridgeshire local history, compiling the first of his many publications. In 1900 he settled as the village doctor for Linton and the surrounding villages, journeying many miles on horse, dog cart, bicycle and later a somewhat erratic motor car, often taking antiques in payment for services rendered, until his retirement in 1925. Somehow he made time to continue his local history studies and lectures publishing numerous articles in a variety of magazines, newspapers and journals. He became an M.D. of Durham in 1907 and in 1935 was awarded an Honorary M.A. degree by the University of Cambridge.

When the Cambridge Antiquarian Society relaunched its photographic record in 1925, Palmer’s energy and drive was instrumental in ensuring its success. He commissioned Linton photographer Edgar Morley to accompany him on his travels around the county & bought his own camera with which he took many pictures of Linton, Melbourn, Meldreth, Shepreth, Kingston & other villages. His snaps may not match the technical quality of many of his contemporaries but nevertheless constitute a unique record of the area. He died in 1939 and the Photographic Survey ceased soon afterwards.

Douglas Gavin Reid 1881-1934

A distinguished graduate of Edinburgh University Douglas Reid spent over thirty years as a demonstrator at the Cambridge School of Anatomy. He was devoted to his work and the author of several authoritative medical books. But it is as a photographer of the fenland landscape that he is perhaps best remembered.

Amongst the photographs belonging to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society are a series of boxes of negatives taken between 1929 and 1934. They record areas of the fenland taken when he was resident at Grange Road, Cambridge and - apparently - driving a convertible motor car registration number EW 4131 which finds its way into some of the photographs. A reliable vehicle would have been essential to journey to many of the far-flung areas otherwise inaccessible. On one expedition he came across a group of gypsy caravans on Turf fen, between Chatteris and Doddington which provided him with some interesting snaps. On another occasion he came across flooding near Whittlesey with water right across the road with only pollarded willows and telegraph poles serving to mark the route. His fenland photographs are a unique record of the area.

Percy R Salmon, 1872-1959

Percy R Salmon was a photographic prodigy. The son of a Cambridge policeman he started photography as a hobby as a lad of 12 and in 1891 won the Cambridge Camera Club cup for the best set of five photographs taken in and around the town. Later he studied in Paris and travelled the world with his camera, contributing to nearly all the English and American newspapers and magazines. Many awards were to follow. He became a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1898 and an Honorary Member in 1947, 20 years after he had retired to live in Melbourn. There his interest in photography continued with many lantern lectures illustrated by his views, and his journalist skills were exercised as village correspondent for the "Cambridge Independent Press". Amongst his many writings was a contribution to the 1911 edition of "Country Home" in which he turned his attention to various Cambridgeshire cottages.

Percy Salmon died in August 1959 at the age of 87. As well as his contributions to the Photographic Survey many of his other lantern slides and negatives have been deposited in the Cambridgeshire Collection

William Tams

William Tams played cricket on Parker’s Piece with the famous Hayward Brothers, Tom and Dan; as a young man he became butler to the Master of St John's College. But he is remembered for the hobby that became his business - photography. About 1905 he published a series of postcard views of Cambridge that are as clear and crisp today as they were when first produced. By 1912 he had established himself as a professional photographer & became official photographer to the University of Cambridge, taking college pictures and photographs of documents. In 1916 he was elected President of the Cambridge Photographic Club to whom he lectured on technical subjects as well as regaling them with his account of a visit to a coal mine and by 1938 was producing colour transparencies. Tams represented the Club on the Photographic Survey committee & contributed some of his postcard views.

Rex Wailes 1901-1986

Rex Wailes started his lifetime's work in 1923 when as an engineering apprentice in Lincoln he was approached to undertake a survey of the county’s windmills.. Two years later he joined the Newcomen Society for the Study of the History of Engineering and Technology and was encouraged to collect and collate data and make photographic records of the interiors as well as the exteriors of mills. It was in that year that Wailes photographed Cambridgeshire windmills with views of Fulbourn, Willingham & Soham being his first to be added to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society's survey. More followed next year. In 1950 he contributed an article on the Cambridgeshire mills to the Newcomen Society's Transactions followed four years later by his best-known book "The English Windmill". By then the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings had formed a Windmill section to which he became honorary technical adviser. By his death in 1986 he was acclaimed as the most distinguished man of his time in the study of windmills and watermills, both nationally and internationally.

The Topics

Cambridge Town 1904-1942
Cambridge pictures were to be arranged in various categories:
River Cam: boathouses, boatyards, ferries & bridges
Churches
Inns
Interiors of houses, inns etc
Celebrations –fairs etc
Mills – wind & water
Streets, roads & lanes
Yards and courts
Cambridge University ceremonies, museums and laboratories
Cambridge University colleges

Cambridgeshire Subjects

Cambridgeshire pictures are arranged by place. A committee of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in February 1924 drew up a list of topics to be covered. 1

1 Churches and other places of worship,
2 Monastic buildings
3 Houses
Cottages and barns
4 General views of streets
5 Village greens
6 Watermills and windmills
7 Dovecotes, sundials, stocks and pounds
8 Ancient earthworks, Roman Road and ancient trackways
9 Old customs and ceremonies
10 Rural occupations
11 Characteristic landscapes
12 Notable trees
13 Fords and bridges

The Society’s collection of over 2,700 glass lantern slides may be consulted at the Cambridgeshire County Record Office at Shire Hall, Castle Hill, Cambridge. The files of photographs and thousands of unprinted negatives are housed in the Cambridgeshire Collection at the Central Library, 7 Lion Yard, Cambridge, who would welcome modern equivalent views.

For more information on the Cambridge Antiquarian Society please write to The Secretary c/o The Haddon Library, Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Downing Street, Cambridge.

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