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First photos preserved through Express & Star archive project go live on new website

By Thom Kennedy | Nostalgia | Published:

The first historic photographs to be saved from the Express & Star photo archive have been digitised and made available to the public via a free website.

March 22, 1979: Fight against closure. Samuel Walker, a pump attendant at the British Steel plant in Bilston.

Around 3,000 images of the history of the industrial past of the Black Country and its surrounding areas have been preserved for future generations and published on the website: photo-archive.expressandstar.co.uk

The Express & Star Photographic Collection partnership received a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to produce a website and digitise photographs dating back over the past century.

The work realises the partnership’s ambition of making the photographs available through a single web portal, allowing free online public access to the unrivalled images of local events – momentous and everyday – for the first time.

July 22, 1970: Family blacksmiths, Joseph Wyle & Co. in Blackheath was established in 1860. Photograph shows Ellen Beese teaching her daughter Elizabeth as the firm adapted to 20th century techniques – going metric.

The first images to be published on the website include photos from the 1960s taken at steel industry operations across the region.

There are also images from the final years of mining, and pictures of workers for brands with local heritage including Cadbury’s and Chubb.

The project partnership was set up back in 2008 by leading regional daily newspaper the Express & Star with the University of Wolverhampton and Wolverhampton City Archives to ensure the printed photos taken throughout the 20th Century were made available to the public via an online platform.

Development funding of £59,800 was initially awarded to the partnership in 2014, which includes Black Country community group representatives, to progress their plans.

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June 13, 1968: Inner shell of stainless steel liquid gas storage vessel being steam cleaned at the Tipton works of Thompson Horseley division

The funding support has seen vital archiving work carried out by a group of committed volunteers, followed by the digitisation of part of the collection and the development of the website by archive specialists Orangeleaf.

The Express & Star photo archive has been described as one of the most important regional photograph collections in the country, as it includes photographs of royal visits and speeches by Prime Ministers, through to images of local ways of everyday life which have been replaced in the modern world.

The industrial images were selected after a survey of 750 local respondents by heritage development consultants Tricolor Associates showed the subjects the public wanted to see prioritised were industrial history, the War years and the changing local landscape.

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Express & Star editor Martin Wright has welcomed the move to make the photos available to the public.

May 1, 1990: Show at the National Exhibition Centre about the new Cadbury World tourist centre. Photograph shows Maria Cadbury, alias Francis Land, and Steve Johnstone arriving in a large Cadbury World Creme Egg on wheels.

He said: “We are grateful to the Heritage Fund for supporting our partnership with the University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton City Archives and local community groups.

“Some printed images are deteriorating over time so the preservation work is vital. Thank you to all of the readers and members of the public who supported the project during the painstaking work needed to preserve the photographs.”

Scott Knight, of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Wolverhampton, has worked on the project since the initial partnership discussions in 2008. The University managed the grant and the digitisation work throughout the project. Scott said: “Preserving this valuable collection meets the University’s brief of making a lasting positive difference to the Black Country and the wider region.

May 23, 1978: BBC TV and local radio staged the Birmingham regional heat of its Great Egg Race in New Street Station, hosted by comedian Don MacLean. Pictured is Professor David Turner of Warwick University.

“This collection is a historical source and captures hundreds of personal stories about the changes in life for the region, making it valuable to local people, as well as students and academics. We will work with the partners to apply for further grants and donations to preserve other sections of the collection.”

Heidi McIntosh, City Archivist for Wolverhampton, said: “The City Archives gets regular enquiries from people wanting to trace old photographs from the Express & Star, many of which can be very time-consuming to find. This website is a stepping stone to providing wider access for people as they increasingly use digital tools.”

Chris Leggett, marketing and communications director of Express & Star publisher Midland News Association, chaired the project steering group.

Feb 13 1981: Police battled to hold back 500 angry protestors when Employment Minister Jim Prior visited job-starved Telford. They were protesting at the shock news of the loss of 1,000 jobs at the giant GKN Sankey’s Hadley Castle plant.

He said: “On behalf of everyone who worked on the project, I would like to thank all our partners and supporters for their combined efforts in preserving these photos for future generations.

"We are especially grateful to our volunteers, who gave a combined total of 260 days of goodwill time to help organise the physical archive ready for its transition to digital.”

Work will now begin on submitting grants for other historic photos, including historic local and mostly unseen images of World War II, as well as landmarks and places.

Do you recognise anyone in these photos or remember the stories which we reported on? Call 01902 313131 or email newsroom@expressandstar.co.uk

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