​Thousands of photographic glass-plate negatives of Edwardian women from the early 1900s are to be conserved after Sutton Council secured a grant of £95,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Thanks to National Lottery players, the final tranche of more than 10,000 images of Edwardian women will be cleaned, digitised, researched, catalogued and made available for viewing by the public for the first time.

The HLF-funded project, Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times: Rediscovering the Female Portraits of David Knights-Whittome, Photographer, 1904-1918, is part of the Sutton Archives project, an astonishing collection of thousands of glass-plate negatives.
The Edwardian period was a tumultuous time for women in England, as many aspects of their lives were in a state of change and uncertainty both inside and outside the home, as they faced new job opportunities, the fight for the right to vote and the challenges of the First World War.

The photographs were taken by local photographer David Knights-Whittome, who owned shops in Sutton and Epsom from around 1904 until 1918. The negatives were rescued from the basement of a shop on Sutton High Street, having been untouched for 100 years, and are now stored at Sutton Central Library.

The digitising and cataloguing work will be carried out by volunteers and students, who will learn new skills around handling the negatives, scanning and cataloguing them.

Sutton borough residents will benefit from being able to access the collection and learn more about their local history, as well as potentially being able to uncover images of their ancestors.

As part of the project, Sutton Archives will be working with the Sutton Writers’ Group (SWG), which will produce an anthology of prose and poetry taking inspiration from the images. SWG will work with the Women’s Centre and Women’s Hub holding writing workshops on the theme.

Additionally, workplace opportunities on the project for women from the centres will be offered. St Philomena’s School, which Knights-Whittome photographed extensively, will be looking at the lives of the girls and women in the photographs.

There will be an exhibition in Honeywood Museum in 2018 and a symposium for Heritage Professionals will be held jointly with the University of the Arts.

Stuart Hobley, of Heritage Lottery Fund London, said:

“This excellent project will look at the stories of women during a pivotal period in the history of social change in this country, and we are delighted to be able to support it. It is wonderful that, thanks to National Lottery players, this fascinating collection will be preserved for future generations to access and explore”.