Race against time to preserve rare images from the North East's past

A new selection is released from 150,000 images found in the loft of a Newcastle building in 1996          

Grimy youngsters playing in the Newcastle Quayside area
Grimy youngsters playing in the Newcastle Quayside area

Retirement has allowed John Moreels to pursue his lofty ambition of preserving a find of 150,000 images which offer a fascinating view of the North East over the last three centuries.

The glass plates, lantern slides and negatives of engravings, etchings and photographs were discovered by John in the loft of a four-storey building in Newcastle in 1996.

The sheer scale of the archive, which had survived by chance, and pressure of business meant that John could only dip into the image bank to produce two books on 1998 and 1999, which sold out.

Now John has retired and from his home in Durham is pushing ahead with a small band of volunteers to scan and save the pictures and reveal more for public enjoyment.

Backed by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant last October, he has just launched a website www.photomemoriesarchive.org.uk and has published a third book, titled Nostalgic Views of the North.

More than 1,000 images are on the website, with plans to add 100 or so a month.

John is encouraging people to choose pictures from the website and carry out research, as well as identifying locations and adding their own memories.

He also gives illustrated presentations and is booked for 50 talks.

They can pay dividends. At one of the talks John showed the picture, featured on this page, of stripped-off youngsters around a water pipe, but like many of the images it had no caption.

A man in the audience identified the spot as the road running past St Mary’s Church on Gateshead riverside and pointed out that there were hair clippings on the ground.

“He said that as a youngster he and others would gather at the tap to cut each other’s hair and have a wash,” said John.

“He was the youngest in his family and they only had a tin bath so by the time it was his turn the water would be pretty murky.”

So far, John and the volunteers have looked at 30,000 pictures of the archive, while Beamish Museum in County Durham has taken 5,500 for its own image library.

Sting also used one of John’s images as a backdrop for his Last Ship concert in New York, which was a musical exploration of the Tyne’s shipyard heritage.

“The archive is a massive job, but people love nostalgia,” says John.

He worked as auditor and accountant from the 1970s for Tyneside printers and stationers R Ward and Sons.

The company took over Newcastle photographers and photo processors Philipsons, which had started as engravers.

Philipson processed pictures for photographers across the region as well as taking its own images for clients, and also created lantern slides.

It was while clearing the company’s building in Blandford Square that the hoard was found in the loft.

The lottery grant is to help scan and restore the images and share them with the public.

“The images are deteriorating so its is a race against time,” says John.

The new book is £14.99, but is available at £11 post and package free if ordered on the website.

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