Family, History Society

View of Alnwick near the War Memorial by Jane Coltman
View of Alnwick near the War Memorial by Jane Coltman

The last meeting of the year for Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, Alnwick Branch, welcomed a talk on Snooping On Snaps by Julian Harrop, collection resources co-ordinator at Beamish.

Julian began by outlining the career path that led to his present post. He is enthusiastic about how photographs contribute to our understanding of the past and enjoys the challenge of restoring them.

Beamish Museum has two-and-a-half million photographs, and this is being added to weekly. These have been collected through public donations, mining collections and from various other sources. One collection from ICI of 400,000 negatives was saved from being binned at the last moment.

Also in the Peoples’ Collection are books, trade directories and oral history recordings.

Photographs in the Beamish collection will be of interest to a variety of people, including family historians who are interested in knowing more about the social context of their family.

Photographs provide an insight into social history through clothing, social activity, buildings and occupations, a window on the past which encourages detective work in finding more that is hidden within the image.

Beamish is often able to provide copies of photographs from the collection.

It often deals with badly damaged photographs. The resource department can transform, repair and restore images with the help of digital technology.

Julian illustrated this by showing what fine detail could be seen in a photograph when it was digitally enhanced. For example, a tiny notice on a door becomes legible and it becomes possible to trace the location, approximate date, and even sometimes the names of those in the photograph from trade directories, censuses, etc.

One of the most recent collections acquired is from the 1950s. Julian illustrated how images from it will be used within the new 1950s’ exhibits and buildings, which Beamish is about to add. Its visitor experience will be enhanced with a new cinema, with Wurlitzer organ, a further arcade of shops, a toy shop and a dolls’ museum.

The next meeting of the branch will be on Tuesday, March 6, at Bailiffgate Museum. The speaker is John Yearnshire, talking about Alnmouth and My Family. All Welcome. Refreshments are provided, admission is free to members, with a donation from non-members.