A rare opportunity to buy a large collection of glass plate photographic negatives and the encouragement of a friend has led to the publication of a fascinating pictorial record of a town’s past.
Trevor and Diana Smith were offered the plates, dating from the late 19th century, by Maurice Palmer and although some of them were, unsurprisingly, in a poor condition they could see they were of Rothwell and decided to buy them.
Diana said: “We decided to buy the collection even though we had no idea at the time how to produce pictures from them. But we knew a man who did, our friend the late John Clew. He told us to buy a scanner and copier that had the facility to convert the negatives into positives and we were up and running.”
The idea of turning the plates into a book came from Malcolm Noble of the Shine project, which projected images on to Northamptonshire churches last year.
Diana said: “He came to look at the plates and said they would make a great book and that started us off. We started in July and it went like a dream.”
Trevor added: “The book also has pictures from our collection, I’ve been collecting memorabilia about Rothwell for about 40 years. Diana produced the book, I just found things when she asked for them.”
The couple believe the photos are the work of Joseph Philemon “Tinker” Smith, who is no relation.
Trevor said: “He kept a hardware shop in High Street, Rothwell, for many years. We knew what J P looked like and found him on quite a number of the plates together with his wife and young family.
“There are also two pictures of his shop front at different times and a few that had been taken in the surrounding area in the High Street.”
The collection also included a handwritten note that said: “Negatives taken for Mr Morrison at Mr R Watts Manor House Rothwell.” The handwriting matches a J P Smith billhead the Smiths have in their collection.
The book contains a selection of the 160 photos in the collection dating from the 1880s to the 1930s as well as items from the Smiths’ own collection. Some of the pictures proved puzzling to place and there are some portraits they would like help putting names to.
Diana said: “We had one picture of Lyveden Old Bield but when we went to visit we couldn’t place it. There was a gardener at the house and he told us we were holding the photo the wrong way round. Once we knew that we could place it.”
J P’s wife came from Welford and the book includes a picture of a barge on the canal as well as a picture of a grand house by a canal that the Smiths think must be near there.
Trevor said: “The book is not intended to be a history book, it is a pictorial record with what we hope are interesting snippets of information.
“We hope the older residents of the town will recognise some of the places and faces and that the younger residents will see a Rothwell they’ve never known. If people think we’ve made any mistakes or they can help with names we’d love to hear from them.”
The couple have printed 200 copies of the book and they are selling well.
Diana said: “Lots of the photos in the book nobody has seen before and we are getting excellent feedback. We’ve even sent a copy out to New Zealand and to Jim Dale in America.
“We’d like to thank Maurice Palmer for offering us the plates, Joyce Griggs and Rothwell Heritage Centre, Clem Marlow, Belinda Humfrey, Doug Deans, Dr R I Froment, Alan Garaghty and, finally, Malcolm Noble for encouraging us to produce it in the first place.”
The World of Joseph Philemon Smith of Rothwell costs £10 and is available from Rothwell and Desborough Heritage Centre, and from Trevor and Diana Smith by calling 01536 418164. Part of the proceeds from the sale of each book is going to the two heritage centres.