Explore bygone Britain with The Francis Frith Collection


07 March 2017
shop-42906.png Alton, shops in the High Street (1898) 42266X
Spotlight on The Francis Frith Collection, a photographic archive of over 300,000 historical photos of Britain from 1860 to 1970.

Spotlight on The Francis Frith Collection, a photographic archive of over 300,000 historical photos of Britain from 1860 to 1970.

The Francis Frith Collection of over 300,000 historical photographs of Britain taken between 1860 and 1970 was started by the pioneering Victorian photographer Francis Frith. He had the groundbreaking idea of making a photographic record of thousands of British cities, towns and villages, tourist destinations, landmarks and scenic views, and then selling copies to the public.

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After his death in 1898 two of his sons, and later a grandson, continued his massive task from the photographic company he founded at Reigate in Surrey. The Frith company photographers travelled around Britain taking views to add to the project until the company closed in 1970, creating an unrivalled record of the people and places of Britain over 110 years.

After F Frith & Co closed down the photographic archive was rescued from imminent destruction by the Rothmans tobacco company, and was then sold to John Buck in 1977, who has run it ever since as his own independent business under the trading name of ‘The Francis Frith Collection’.

The Frith photographic archive is now available for everyone to browse online on the website of The Francis Frith Collection where you can also purchase printed copies of the images as well as a wide range of other products and local history books illustrated with the historical images from the Frith archive.

“Francis Frith’s legacy to us is an archive without equal”, says Julia Skinner, the company’s Photo Library manager. “It is a remarkable and unique photographic record of Britain that is also a wonderful genealogy resource.”

Ancestral photographs

As interest in family history grows world-wide, more and more people are turning to The Francis Frith Collection of period photographs around Great Britain for images of the towns, villages and streets where their ancestors lived and worked. As Julia explains: “For anyone doing their family history, a browse of the Frith website is essential! Tap in the name of the relevant city, town or village in the search box and then look for photographs of the hospital where your ancestors may have been born, for instance, or where they went for their holidays and honeymoons.

“A browse of the Frith photographs also brings to life such things as the way that they dressed, the transport that was in use in their day, the parks and playgrounds they roamed as children, the cinemas or dance-halls where they went for fun (and perhaps did their courting!), the schools they attended, and the places where they worked and shopped.

“And of course, photographs of the churches and chapels where your ancestors were baptised, married and buried are an essential part of every genealogy tree and family history album, and there are thousands of those in the Frith archive.“

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For example…

Was your ancestor a SHOPKEEPER? There are Frith images of all sorts of shop fronts, grocery stores, ironmongers, tailors, haberdashers, hatters and so on, many with their proud shopkeepers standing outside.

Was your ancestor a BUTCHER? The Francis Frith Collection has many images of butchers’ shop fronts, some showing the sides of meat hanging in the window, or with butchers standing outside in their traditional striped aprons.

Was your ancestor a POST OFFICE WORKER? There are hundreds of Frith images of a wide variety of post offices, from small village POs to larger town and city establishments, as well as many images of postmen delivering the mail on foot, bicycle, and even by donkey! 

Share your own memories

An additional exciting feature of the Frith website is that website visitors can post their own memories and stories online, prompted by the photographs. Reading the memories on the Frith website is a fascinating experience, as it gives a real view of local history as it was lived by people who were there, often linked with photographs of places that have now gone or changed forever. 

The Frith website is fast becoming a treasure trove of images, information, local and social history that is of great interest not only for the general reader and historian but also for anyone doing their family history – perhaps they will not only find a photo of the church where their grandparents married, but also the shop their grandfather ran, and be delighted to read memories posted by people who actually shopped there and remembered him!

Enjoy over 50,000 personal memories contributed by visitors to the Frith website and perhaps add some of your own, or those of your family. 

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