August 01, 2021
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Memories In A Shoebox

A hitherto unknown collection of photographs capturing life and times of 1912 India is discovered in a shoebox in Edinburgh.

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Memories In A Shoebox

A hitherto unknown collection of photographs capturing life and times of 1912 India has been discovered in a shoebox in Edinburgh.

The century-old collection of the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), includes rare and fragile glass plate negatives, which show life at the high point of the British Raj.

The 178 negatives were found in a shoebox for a pair of grey, size 9, Peter Lord slip-on shoes, and were stored in their original five-by-eight-inch plate boxes, wrapped in copies of The Statesman newspaper dating back to 1914 (the newspaper was founded in 1875).

Highlights from the imagery include celebrations for the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Calcutta in 1912, the only visit by a British monarch to India as Emperor of the subcontinent, with the city's buildings lit up at night in tribute; ships arriving at the Chandpal Ghat, the main landing place for visitors to Calcutta along the Hooghly river.

Other photos show pilgrims gathered for a religious festival on the Maidan, the large urban park at the centre of Calcutta; and merchants selling their wares outside the eleventh century Jagannath Hindu temple in Orissa.

One photo depicts labourers pulling cart loaded with crates, probably at the Howrah station, while another shows a woman standing outside a house, possibly in Darjeeling.

The collection includes photographs from Calcutta, Puri in Orissa and Darjeeling, among others

RCAHMS architectural historian Clare Sorensen said, "We don't know for sure how the negatives came to be in our collection."

"We receive archive material from countless different sources, from architectural practices to generous donations from the public, and sometimes take large amounts of material in at once, and often documentation for historical deposits does not exist," she said.

"Over time all this new material will be inspected and catalogued as part of our collection and then made available to the public. It's fantastic that a small shoe-box contained such a treasure trove of photographic imagery, but in some ways it's not unusual," she added.

"Our experience as an archive has shown us that some of the most interesting discoveries can be made in the most unlikely of places," Sorensen said.

Research by RCAHMS is ongoing into the identity of the photographer and the origins of the collection.

As the negatives were still wrapped in newspapers from 1914, it is possible that they were transported back to Britain from India at this time, and have remained unopened until now.

Check out all the photos at RCAHMS

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