Trashed . . . Bombed . . . Buried . . . and Beautiful!
A treasure trove of glass plate photographic negatives recording life in 1930s Londonderry is to go under the hammer, almost half a century after being saved from the wreckage of a house that was blown up by a bomb during the troubles in Northern Ireland.
The hoard was discovered in 1969 after the explosion ripped through the empty house in the Waterside area of the city, blowing out a wall of the property and bringing down part of the roof. A member of the army team sent in to search the wrecked property found the boxes of glass plates hidden under the floorboards.
“The search team’s initial thought was that the boxes – which were sealed and tightly wrapped in plastic – might contain ammunition,” said auctioneer Paul Cooper. “When it was found that the contents of the boxes were glass negatives everybody lost interest. Nobody came forward to claim them and they were eventually handed back to the soldier who recovered them.”
The five boxes contain 68 quarter plate glass negatives covering almost every imaginable aspect of pre-war life in the in the area: Public events, bands, parades, marches, youth activities, factory scenes, harvest festivals, dances, celebrations, major funerals and even country sports activities.
Mr. Cooper, a director of Scunthorpe-based auctioneers CJM Asset Management, which has been instructed to sell the collection, said: “They’re clearly press photographs and our research indicates that they’re a missing part of the photographic archive of the Derry Standard, the local newspaper that closed down in 1966.”
“Much of the archive was famously rescued from a skip after being dumped by builders who were renovating the newspaper’s old premises a couple of years after the closure. Those plates are now part of the Derry Library’s Heritage Collection. However it is known that some negatives were lost before two local men realized what was happening and mounted their rescue operation.”
“Quite why the plates were so carefully hidden under the floorboards of the Waterside house is a mystery. As far as we can see there is nothing in terms of the content of the photographs that would require them to be hidden – and at the time they were not regarded as having any value. Incredible as it now sounds, newspapers all over the place were trashing this old stuff because of the storage problem it was creating.”
Mr. Cooper added: “Despite being trashed, bombed and buried, the plates remain in very good condition. We’ve had a number of them scanned and printed and we were bowled over by the photographs. They really are a quite stunning record of the people and places and life in the city more than eighty years ago.”
The collection is to go under the hammer in an online auction that is scheduled to end from 6pm on Tuesday December 5th. The auction catalogue is available at cjmasset.com. The public viewing sessions for the auction are on December 1st (1pm-4.30pm) and Monday December 4th (10am-5pm) at the CJM Auction Centre on Dunlop Way in Scunthorpe.