Cataloguing the Stanley Gardiner photographic collection: the volunteers’ story (by Camilla Boon and Roger Carnt).

Sitting in fourteen boxes in a refrigerated strong room at Gloucestershire Archives, Stanley Gardiner’s collection of over 5,500 old images of views, events and people in and around Stroud’s Five Valleys  was an obvious goldmine for anyone interested in local history. The problem was that the collection was uncatalogued. The wrong choice of box number might bring you traction engines, not images of Rodborough, and heaven help you if you were just hoping for something on Edwardian farming!

The photographs themselves are not intrinsically valuable. They are modern(ish) copies of old photographs – Stan was known to take an interest in such things, and people were happy for him to copy their collections of postcards and family photographs.  He was helped in this project by his old friend Lionel Padin, and later, Michael Mills. What makes the collection so exciting is its extent – gathering together images of the whole Stroud area from the mid 19th century until the 1980s, with an emphasis on the Edwardian period.

Stan obviously liked poring over his images. Each was given a reference letter and number, and he listed these in longhand in three books. He also made a start on presenting the photographs, mounting several hundreds in albums. However, thousands more were loose in mixed boxes. Transferring information from the existing lists to the Archives’ online catalogue, via an Excel spreadsheet, would be a meticulous process, also requiring local knowledge. Having discussed the demands of the project with our minders, Kate Maisey and Mike Bevan (who left half way through, not, I hope, because of us!), members of Chalford Parish Local History Group decided that the fascination of sorting through the photos was well worth the toil of cataloguing them all on Excel.

What can I say? The task which we started in April 2019 and finished just days before lockdown this year was rewarding beyond measure. The Hub is a welcoming and comfortable place to spend spring, summer, autumn and winter. We made use of its facilities, and enjoyed watching the community garden taking shape. A very happy time!

The photographs are amazing. Naturally the ones of Chalford were our primary interest, and we found many that we were previously unaware of. There are group portraits, some of which have lists of names with them. There are records of demolished buildings, summer fêtes and school classes. The same is true for most of the towns and villages of the Five Valleys.

A particular favourite is this Edwardian postcard of a dew pond on Brimscombe Hill, which commands a panoramic view of the Golden Valley:

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A little field work on our way home discovered the ruins of the pond, but the view has been totally obscured by trees!

Another joy was a set of three early 20th century pictures of skaters on Toadsmoor Lake. We had read about the lake freezing over and being used for skating, and were delighted to find this pictorial record of it. The images are are not very sharp or beautifully composed, but are extremely evocative.

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This photograph of Christ Church School, Chalford, class II in 1924 (with the names on the back) could be useful to family historians.

[D9746/1/15/17 above and below]

Finally, thanks are due to archivist Rhianna Watson, who took over management of the project half way through and got to grips with the complicated listing system she inherited.

Camilla Boon and Roger Carnt

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