30 Jun Wantage Novel Library photos saved by Vale and Downland Mus…
A SET of rare photographs has been saved after the Wantage Novel Library’s collection was sold off.
The town’s Vale and Downland Museum saved around 70 archaic shots for posterity, and plans to exhibit them next year.
The library has been in Newbury Street since 1936, but shut permanently following the recent death of owner John Burgiss.
Stock from the library began being cleared out a few months ago, leading to the rescue of Victorian glass plate negatives, which might otherwise have been ‘lost forever’.
The shots, by local photographer Tom Reveley, show a number of different scenes of Wantage – some more than a century old.
Mr Reveley, a Victorian photographer based in Market Place, took pictures of Wantage and the surrounding villages, but was also famed for event photography, including a royal visit.
Amid the stock of goods, the collection was saved from the store, which Mr Burgiss bought for £5,000 in 1951, with a loan from his father. It sold gemstones, rocks and minerals; small games, books, sweets and cigarettes.
Suzie Tilbury, curator at the Vale and Downland Museum, explained: “I saw (the shop) being emptied so I went to talk to the people clearing it out in the hope of getting something for the museum, but I was too late – I was told that a lot of it had gone to the tip already and some of the fittings and more unusual items were going to auction, but they couldn’t tell me when.
“So I kept an eye on the local auction houses and noticed the glass plate negatives come up at Mallams.
“We knew John Burgiss had owned the Tom Reveley negatives as he used to produce postcards from them, but they weren’t listed as being Tom Reveley’s. So we went to the auction and managed to win them for £500 (paid for by the Friends of the Museum).
“If we hadn’t have got them then their story and relevance would have been lost forever.”
It is unclear what has become of the other items in the store. Many of its displayed items were never formally on sale.
A fixture in the town for years, the venue boasted poet Laureate John Betjeman as a regular – and he once came in to rent a book about canals.
Mr Burgiss’ wife died in 2012 and two years later he had still not restocked a thing in the shop ‘because he had no need to’.
Discussing the pictures, Ms Tilbury added: “There are about 70 in total (in various condition), so we contacted the Wantage Camera Club to ask if anyone could help us digitise them.
“One of their members, Robert Chaplow, kindly volunteered and he helped us by photographing each of the plates at high resolution on a light box, so now we have images we can reproduce.
“They date from the early 1900s and are mostly of the canal, market place and few other Wantage streets. Also a couple of churches and some portrait photos of unknown individuals. We plan to get them printed in large format and exhibit them next year.”