British photographic history

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Barnardo's archive 'up for grabs' or destruction (UPDATE 3)

20 July: One of the oldest, extant, dedicated photographic archives in the world, the Barnardo's photographic archive, currently housed in Barkingside, East London is under threat. Following its digitisation the archive will be transferred to another organisation or will be destroyed.

Over the next few months, Barnardo's will be having its entire photographic archive digitised in Manchester. Due to space issues at Barnardo's, the organisation will then destroy the original images unless an archive or museum can be persuaded to save these important historic documents. The material consists of about of shelving around fifteen feet in length holding archival boxes about 8 inches deep and about 20 inches high. The pages from the original admissions ledgers have been cut out and placed in archival plastic sheets.

Dr. Thomas Barnardo began photographing the 'waifs and strays' that came into his care at his first childrens home in Stepney causeway as early as 1875, employing two photographers, Barnardo preceded most prisons and asylums by seeing the benifits of photography for institutional record keeping. He soon came into legal trouble for faking the condition of the children for the purposes of publicity. 

The importance of these beautiful images - not just to photographic history but to the study of archive practices and British social history - cannot be overstated. It is imperative that their material importance is upheld and that they do not simply become yet another archive solely made up of a smattering of zeroes and ones.

There are certain stipulations regarding the public use of images of children within their care and the images would be subject to a 100 year privacy rule but would still be accessible for private and/or scholarly work.

If you might know of an institution, archive, museum, group of people or persons that would be willing to help save this archive of historical importance please contact the head archivist at Barnardos.

Read more about the Barnardo archive here:


Update 1: A petition has been launched to 'save' the archive. Click here to view and sign. The petition addressed to Culture Minister Maria Miller has been signed by over 1000 people. 


Update 2: Barnardos has commented publicly for the first time. It says it is 'confident it will find a destination for 500,000 historic photos'. 

Update 3: According to Amateur Photographer magazine over forty offers to house the archive have been received.  

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Comment by Michael Pritchard on August 21, 2013 at 5:29

Barnardos published sets of lantern slides for fundraising so it's likely that the eBay set is one of these - so not part of the archive.

Comment by Bobbie Carnegie on August 20, 2013 at 22:48
Recent Ebay Sale of 'Antique Barnardo's Magic Lantern Slides'
I see that a set of 21 antique magic lantern slides were up for sale on Ebay on 20/08/2013 (at 20.56:47pm BST). The slides were titled as "VINTAGE, ANTIQUE, 21 PHOTOGRAPHIC, MAGIC LANTERN SLIDES, DR BARNARDOS". Please note Ebay link below and attached pics...
What surprised me was that some of the slides - when I accessed the Ebay online picture refs of the sale - clearly had written on them "This is property of Barnardo's". I endeavoured, unsuccessfully, to bid for said 'antique Barnardo items' which I would have donated to PETT Archive & Study Centre in Gloucestershire...
I have asked advice of a certain Martine of Barnardo's who, I understand, is one of those responsible for Barnardo's photo archive's present digitisation in 'Manchester'.
I so hope this Ebay sale isn't evidence of 'leaking' of artefacts from an archive that isn't properly monitored. Otherwise, this leaves me such a cussed, suspicious old codger who suspects ill in every quarter.
Comment by Bobbie Carnegie on July 31, 2013 at 0:54

There's digitisation and digitization. Already asked in online documented concern is 'who is turning the photos digital'? (Yes, we know it's 'Manchester', but...) Does 'Manchester' know what it is doing in terms of the handling of damageable material if indelicately and disrespectfully handled? Is each item being scanned at appropriate high resolution within a scanning format that insures utmost digital preservation? Or does 'Manchester' merely mean a commercial or college or university outfit has been dumped with loads of un-catalogued boxes of old photos where indifferent office clerks are lumbered with an onerous scanning task they, with respect to their, otherwise, general diligence, have no internal, reflective emotion to do their very best to see that each-and-every Dr. Barnardo waif and stray has his and her photographed spirit dutifully, if digitally, resurrected - insuring 'our darlings'* receive tender loving care all over again?

*Quote associated with Dr. Barnardo

Comment by Michael Pritchard on July 30, 2013 at 13:24

See Update 3: Barnardos have received 40 offers to house its archive. 

Comment by pete.boswell on July 28, 2013 at 9:48

While the debate and concerns over the concept of 'digitise and destroy' is a valid one. Lets not lose sight of the fact that Barnardo's have shown initiative by having this valuable archive digitised in the first place. Many larger (and wealthier) organisations and institutions continue to avoid the need for greater access to the collections and archives that they are the custodians for. More often than not these records remain inert in storage and beyond access for the majority of the interested general public.

Comment by Michael Pritchard on July 28, 2013 at 6:02

Angela - Destruction was a very real threat and, as you have been watching, you will be aware that the original posting which was made by an individual working in the archive was removed at Barnardos request, despite it being originally approved. A revised version was posted by BPH. Yes, the word 'destruction' grabs attention but in this case it was quite legitimate to use it and it was certainly not a tabloid ploy.

I contacted Pete and a number of other curators on the 19/20 July when the posting first went live and I believe various institutions are in contact with Barnardos. I cannot comment on whether LoB is pursuing it.  Had the matter not been raised here it is possible that those institutions would not have become aware of the threat. 

I would hope in due course we will hear that the archive has been deposited with another institution. More widely, the Barnardos archive raises questions of wider importance over the role and value of archives in third sector organisations, the digitisation of photographs, and the proper disposal of archives.

My personal view is that had Barnardos approached this in a different and open way then it could have been used as a good news story for it and used to support its current charitable objectives. Hopefully the story is now at a point where it is moving from a negative one and on to a positive one but that does does not justify removing what has gone on to date. It is important that historians and archivists remain vigilant as the Barnardos story is not an isolated case and I am sure we all know of archives and important material that has been lost over the years.

Comment by Ian L Moor on July 27, 2013 at 15:45

I am responding to this article via Ian Moor's Sign In.  This is Angela Moor I am watching the events on the various linked in forums with great interest.

I quote from 'British Photographic History
One of the oldest, extant, dedicated photographic archives in the world, the Barnardo's photographic archive, currently housed in Barkingside, East London is under significant threat of destruction following its digitisation.
Over the next few months, Barnardo's will be having its entire photographic archive digitised in Manchester. Due to space issues at Barnardo's, the organisation will then destroy the original images unless an archive or museum can be persuaded to save these important historic documents.'

The important phrase to note is 'unless an archive or museum can be persuaded to save these important historic documents.'

I hate to be cynical but this sounds like a leaver or hype possibly both. It certainly got our attention????

I would like to know who, if any, it was at Barnardo's who made that original statement. Not the sort of thing to engender sympathy for an organization that depends on public donations to pursue its mission.

Let's not go into unreality here but let's raise our concerns, the petition is a great idea.

The throw away line destined for destruction is almost biblical I can assure you that it is not British practice to digitize and destroy. (The digitized images will not survive as long as the original have that is for sure but that's another issue) I'm pretty sure that the people at Barnardo's are ethical and caring. 

I also might suggest if any one from Barnardo' is reading this that they approach the New Birmingham Central Library's excellent Photographic Curator Peter James as a possible home for the images. The New Library has a purpose built photographic Archive.

Let's do the best we can for this collection but not emulate the tabloids.


Comment by Michael Pritchard on July 26, 2013 at 10:57

Pete I see the Topfoto project got somewhere:

Comment by Michael Pritchard on July 26, 2013 at 10:55

I see over 750 people have now signed the petition noted above. 

Comment by Nigel Cheffers-Heard on July 24, 2013 at 9:30

The points you make Michael, are eminently sensible. Sadly, in this rather strange situation, the issues of "proper value" and public accessibility can often be mutually exclusive. Merchant banks have the capital to purchase these artefacts as mere investments, and aren't too keen on sharing them with the public. Conversely, museums have as part of their brief making works available to the wider public, but rarely have the funds available to purchase them in the first place. Maybe a benevolent multimillionaire is called for?

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