Yesterday, someone at work came across a wonderful album of photos from the 1860s. They took one look and promptly threw it into a bin. Minutes later, a forklift truck was due to empty the bin's contents into a large skip, which would then be transported to a plant that pulped paper products and turned them into useful things, like lampshades and road surfacing material.
Luckily, by sheer chance, somebody else was curious enough to pull the album out of the bin and when they saw the contents, they brought it straight to me. As soon as I opened the pages, I knew that this was an exceptional find.
As with almost every album I find, there are no names or places, although judging by the stone walls and dales, I think that it comes from the north of England. There is only one date - 1863 - but even if there wasn't, the fashions are quite clearly mid-Victorian.
This is the England of Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Wilkie Collins.
I apologise in advance for posting so many photos - there are 30 - but the album contained such an embarrassment of riches, that it was very hard to produce a shortlist. I have done what I can to clean the images up on Photoshop, but some were in very poor condition. Nevertheless, even the grainiest or faintest photos have something about them that is fascinating.
Yesterday, a unique collection of historic photos was almost destroyed forever. Today, thanks to the internet (and the keen-eyed person at work), it can be seen by people all over the world. I try not to think about how many other albums and diaries must have been consigned to oblivion.
I'll let the photographs speak for themselves, except to say that the first image has the scariest-looking family I think I've ever seen:
It's a little spooky to think that the old couple might have been born in the 18th century.
P.S - As the response to this post has been so positive, I have acted on the advice of several people and created a Flickr page with these and some other photos from the album. You can find it here.
Sam Jordison was right about the connection with the Lake District - when I showed the album to a friend, she spotted a faint pencil inscription that said Ambleside.
It's great to see how many people have responded to these extraordinary photos. Within two days, the album has gone from near extinction to a worldwide audience and these forgotten lives have touched many people. What's so remarkable about the photographs is that although they are clearly staged, they feature a broad spectrum of subjects and give a real insight into mid-Victorian society.