This week on my blog I’d like to share a family story, but also encourage you to save your family archives for posterity, because once they are lost, they can never be recreated.
My grandad Eric was such an epic dude. He was the youngest of seven children, but he was born with a disability which deformed his spine and ribcage so that he always had one noticeably shrunken shoulder and one shrunken lung. The story I heard about his birth was that his mother (who died aged 52 after suffering 14 strokes) saved him from being euthanised by his father and the midwife at birth.
His father and the midwife were convinced that a baby with such disabilities couldn’t live long, and would only suffer. Eric’s mother didn’t care what they thought; she locked herself in the larder with her new baby (one family account claimed it was for a week, but I have questions about the practicality of this) and in doing so she changed the lives of a whole other generation of children.
Grandad Eric, you see, became a school teacher, and eventually a headmaster. His devoted mother died when he was 17 and he rattled around at various jobs (like me he worked in a call centre, a library, and a bookshop) until he qualified to teach.
Eric died prematurely in 1989, but as a family we’re only just beginning to look through his personal archives. In amongst them are the usual items which are of interest within the family, but probably not outside it (a ticket stub from our visit to my favourite museum; postcards from his mum apologising for taking his ration book on holiday by mistake; his brown wool beret) but there are some hidden gems which I think anyone but an archivist might automatically throw out.
Grandad Eric was a talented photographer and had dreams (which were sadly never realised) of turning pro. The photography world’s loss was his pupils’ gain because he took the most heartwarming school photos I’ve ever seen. I’m sharing them here publicly for the first time in the hope that the subjects find them and are glad to see them.
If you’ve been left a collection of photographs or film which you don’t want to keep why not take them to your nearest public archive? In the case of these school photographs the local public archive might want to hang on to them in case former pupils are researching their school. Old photos of your nan’s visit to Windsor Castle in the 1970s? Send them to an archive! They’d love to see some more evidence of what the place looked like before the fire. Photos of random Victorians who you have no idea who they are or where they are? Why not send them to a costume archive to inform their historical dress researchers?
In short, don’t throw away old photos, because once they’re lost they can never be replaced. Now, without further ado I give you the best school portrait photos of all time: