Museum acquires unique collection of glass negatives

Oct 26 2017 8:46 AM

John Porter reports on an ebay find that offers a unique insight into the world of the Metropolitan Water Board  (MWB) in the inter-war years.

The Museum has acquired a collection of 650 glass negatives, the personal collection of senior MWB engineer, F E.F. Durham.

During the days of the MWB, the most senior engineers were long-term employees who had, in general, devoted their life’s work to the Board. F.E.F. Durham was one of these. He was responsible for all mechanical engineering developments from the end of the First World War until the start of the Second. During these 20 years, he was in charge of the design of the Littleton and Kempton Park pumping stations and, his greatest achievement, the remodelling of the Hampton works. On a smaller scale, he was also responsible for the installation of the four diesel driven pumps at Kew Bridge in 1934.

By the standards of the time, he was well paid, and lived comfortably at Sunbury Lodge, on a waterworks site. He hosted garden parties in the summer for men and their wives from the Engineers Division, with croquet on the lawn. He was very active in the Board’s Staff Association, particularly swimming, and seems to have had a keen interest in amateur dramatics.

Although not mentioned in any of his retirement and obituary notices, he must have had a keen interest in photography. At a time when negatives based on film had become the norm, he seems to have persisted with cameras using glass negatives. He died in 1948, but 650 of his glass negatives have survived the intervening 70 years and turned up recently on ebay. The Museum was able to acquire them all.

About half are records of family activities, local scenery, trips abroad - standard fare for a family man, yet interesting in their own right. The rest are wonderful: shots of the Kew Bridge Diesel House being built (see photo above), views of the Hampton turbine plant, some of plant being scrapped, quite a few of working scenes at pumping stations. What makes these different from the MWB’s record photographs is that they include people. Indeed, there are many shots of MWB staff engineers gathered round a drawing board ostensibly discussing a problem.

In due course, the Museum will digitise the collection to make these unique images more readily available via our archive.