British photographic history

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Barnardos statement: moves to preserve historic photographic archive

Following the controversy generated by the news that Barnardos was looking to divest itself or destroy its photography archive following digitisation the charity has issued a press release setting out its own position and intentions. BPH reproduces it below without comment and welcomes the level of interest shown in ensuring that the archived is preserved. BPH looks forward to a successful conclusion of those discussions. 


Barnardo’s is digitising more than 200,000 images from its unique photographic collection - dating back to the 19th Century - in a move to make it more accessible and protect its historical value.

This forms part of a bigger preservation project through which the charity ultimately intends to bring the entire archive, which has around 500,000 original images, together in one location.

The children’s charity is currently working with the National Archives to determine how best to do this and is also exploring where the archive might be housed in future.

The move is part of a regeneration scheme to modernise the charity’s headquarters in Barkingside, Essex. Until a decision is made on the permanent new home for the whole archive, Barnardo’s is seeking an arrangement with the company which is digitising its oldest images, that need to be kept in a climate controlled environment, to look after them in the short term. The remainder of the archive, which does not need special storage, will stay with Barnardo’s archive team for the moment.

Senior assistant director of children’s services Sara Clarke said:“Barnardo’s has a proud heritage of transforming the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the UK which reaches back nearly 150 years. 

“Our photographic archive is an important piece of social history which we want to make more accessible whilst protecting its historical value.

“We are excited to be making use of 21st Century technology and we have been inundated with offers to host the precious originals following the digitisation process, the most promising of which we are now exploring with interest.

The prints are thought to represent the largest private collection of images in the country and is unique as it concentrates on one subject matter; children in Barnardo’s care. It includes a very rare ambrotype image of Dr Barnardo with children.

Barnardo’s will be having discussions with some prestigious organisations which have expressed interest in hosting its archive; a decision on its final destination will be announced next year.

Notes to editors

The earlier albumen prints were, according to records, likely to be the photographer’s own reference files as many were annotated with a number and in many cases, the child’s name.  The prints were pasted chronologically in a ledger, the binding of which disintegrated.  In addition Barnardo had his own narrow albums with three images per page.  He kept these for personal use to show visitors, parents and police.

The archive is currently available to researchers, academics, descendants of people in the photos and Barnardo’s children who are featured in the pictures. The archive is not available to the general public and some images are subject to privacy restrictions.

Ambrotype photographs are typically shiny in appearance and are created as negatives on a piece of glass and then transferred to a black background.

For more information on the history of Barnardo’s and the work we do today click here.

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