Sutton residents are being invited to go online and see if they can spot any of their relatives from World War I in an amazing collection of Edwardian and pre-war photographic glass-plate negatives.

Run by Sutton Council’s Archives Service, the Sutton Archives project, can be seen here and here. It is an astonishing collection of more than 10,000 glass-plate negatives by local photographer David Knights-Whittome, who owned shops in Sutton and Epsom from around 1904 until 1918, that was rescued from the basement of a high-street shop, having been untouched for 100 years, that is now stored at Sutton Library.

The collection contains hundreds – or perhaps thousands – of WW1 soldiers in uniform, a lost generation of men and boys who either lived in the area or were stationed locally before their postings. Work to date has already uncovered images of a number of men whose names are listed on local war memorials.

The Sutton Archives project has had some really positive reactions to its research. On seeing the image of Private George Leonard Ingram of the 25th Battalion (Tyneside Irish), Northumberland Fusiliers, his family contacted the Archives project and said:

“Thank you for posting this. George is my maternal grandfather. My mother, Nora (known as May) sadly died three years ago, aged 96. She would have been so pleased to have seen your blog.”

Cllr Jill Whitehead, Chair of the Environment and Neighbourhoods Committee at Sutton Council, said:

“The Sutton Archives is an extraordinary historical record of local and national importance. Finding these plate-glass negatives must have been like discovering Egyptian King Tutankhamen’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings as the riches of history are etched upon them.

“We hope that Sutton residents will visit the archives project online and see if they recognise a great, great, great grandfather or grandmother, uncles and aunts, and relatives who lost their lives in the Great War but whose images have been captured for posterity by David Knights-Whittome a century ago.”

In March 2014 Sutton Archives was awarded £95,900 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable the cleaning, digitisation, research and cataloguing of the vast collection of glass-plate negatives.

Work began last December and around 3,500 plates have been cleaned, rehoused, digitised and catalogued. More than 200 of the individuals depicted have been researched. The work is largely done by a team of dedicated volunteers who have put more than 1,200 hours of their own time into rescuing and rediscovering this material. Without their help, it would be impossible to make the material available.

As well as documenting thousands of local residents, the glass-plate photographs depict local and regional schools, colleges and theatre groups, social events such as weddings and house parties, grand country houses and other institutions from across the UK and the Continent.

David Knights-Whittome also held a Royal Warrant and photographed the Royal family, including Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII, in formal portraits and at house parties. He also photographed royalty in Portugal and Copenhagen.

Anyone interested in volunteering for the project should contact Project Officer Abby Matthews at abby.matthews@sutton.gov.uk or phone 020 8770 4746.

Private Harold Dickman Mims of the 4th Battalion, Dorset Regiment lived at Bosworth, Egmont Road, Sutton and was killed in action on 27 September 1918, at the age of 22. Harold is buried in Sains-Les-Marquion British Cemetery and is commemorated on the Sutton War Memorial.