Cambridge’s lost photo archives


A detailed response from Cambridgeshire historian Mike Petty MBE

“When the Cambridge (Daily) News moved offices from St Andrews Street to Newmarket Road most of the original glass negatives and prints were dumped. One photographer, John Carter, defied instructions by saving score of prints which he took to his home on Milton Road. I sorted through these, scanning the most important images before his files were added to the Cambridgeshire Collection.

After the move to Newmarket Road in the 1960s negatives were filed at the News where they currently remain. There are folders recording what was photographed when. The News library indexed the contents of each issue on catalogue cards. They also selected and filed the more important prints in a series of folders arranged by place or topic.

There has been no Librarian at the News for a number of years and the work has not continued. The files are now somewhat disorganised, the index cabinets are now empty. Local World, the new owners, have arranged for a number of the photos to be published on the Rex Features website where they can be viewed. Many of the photos – including the more recent ones – have been scanned on to the internal News database which is accessible to their journalists.

For the rest of us the best way to locate images is through the newspaper cuttings files maintained at the Cambridgeshire Collection or listed in my Cambridgeshire Scrapbook 1897-1990 on the link. If one can identify that a picture appeared on 4 Sep 1974 then one could check the photograph log to identify the negative reference, then track down the strips of negatives in the filing cabinets. The problem is then how to acquire prints – effectively this would mean scanning the neg itself. All of this is time consuming at a time when journalists are extremely stretched – and of course there are no librarians. Currently the future of all that material is currently uncertain – it seems that history might be about to repeat itself

In 1988 I compiled the News centenary volume and was given permission to access their library, something I have continued to be able to do. This involved scanning many hundreds of images. Recently I have been working through the prints and certain of the negative files to record the more important . I have also discovered a few of the original glass negatives that survived that initial move. The discoveries have been added to my Illustrations catalogue, part of which is online at the site. Do contact me if there are particular items you need.”

C&P from LostCambridge on Facebook.

Any thoughts on how we as a city could go about digitising and making these more accessible beyond ‘raise money and throw it at the problem’?


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