Bid launched to digitise historic Express & Star photo archive

Posted Thursday, August 15, 2013 by Chris Leggett under News

The Express & Star is planning to make some 750,000 photographs taken over the last 139 years onto a website available to the general public – and it is looking for local people to offer their support.

The newspaper, with the support of the University of Wolverhampton, is submitting a lottery bid which would allow its entire photographic archive, dating back to the time it was founded in 1874, to be made available to the public on an internet site where people can view the pictures free of charge.

The vast collection, at the moment in storage at the Express & Star head office in Wolverhampton, includes photographs of streets ravaged by bombs during the Second World War, royal visits to the Black Country, and countless smaller events from our region’s history.

Landmark occasions, such as King George VI’s visit to Dudley, Winston Churchill addressing crowds at Molineux, have all been captured on film.

Black civil rights leader Malcolm X is pictured walking through Smethwick.

But the success of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid, will depend on support from the general public – and that is where readers come in.

We need as many people as possible to write letters explaining the importance of the database as a social history resource. Historian and broadcaster Professor Carl Chinn and chairman of Wolverhampton Civic and Historical Society Suhail Rana are among the first to pledge their support to our campaign, saying the collection is a huge part of our social history which deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

“Without doubt it is one of the most important collections of regional photographs in England,” said Professor Chinn, community historian at Birmingham University. “It is a priceless collection.”

Associate Dean at the University of Wolverhampton, Patricia Cooper, added: “It is vital that we preserve this collection conserve the Black Country’s diverse heritage for present and future generations to experience and enjoy.

“Without digitisation the archive will progressively deteriorate and we will be at risk of losing a valuable resource with all the memories and stories from our personal histories which it holds.

“On a personal level I am really passionate about the project, and as a Black Country local, the thought that this archive could be lost is insurmountable to me.

“It’s an archive of memories of our society, for our society, by our society.”

The value of the Express & Star archives in Queen Street was highlighted by Rhonda Evans, who is producing a series of educational programmes about social history for the BBC’s Learning Zone.

One of the programmes will see Mitchell Lever, aged 15, from Wordsley, looking through the Express & Star files for part of a project on the history of the Mod culture which swept through Britain during the 1960s.

“I think they are invaluable for ordinary people looking back into their own history, and the social direction that Britain was going through at that time.

“If it could be freely available on the internet, where everybody could have access to it, that would be brilliant.

“It would allow people to look back at how society has changed, at the differences people would not necessarily have noticed at the time.”

Mitchell, a pupil at The Kingswinford School, said he found his trawl through the Express & Star’s archives to be a fascinating experience, and said it would be a wonderful resource if people could freely search through the pictures over the internet.

“The archive here is amazing,” he says. “It makes it more real to you. My dad will say how things about how it was different in the 60s, but when you see it here it brings it home.

“It’s been a real learning curve for me. “If I could search for it online, that would be fantastic. I could spend hours looking through it.”

Express & Star brand and communications manager Chris Leggett said many of the oldest photographs were at risk of being lost forever if they were not stored in digital format.

“Many of these photographs are very old and are deteriorating, if something is not done they will be lost forever,” he said.

“It is a huge task, which involves scanning every single old photograph and uploading the captions that go with them into a digital archive that can be searched online, free of charge, by the general public.”

Express & Star editor Keith Harrison writes: The Express & Star’s bid for Lottery funds to digitise our photo collection will provide an unrivalled resource on life in the Black Country and the wider West Midlands.

Surely no other organisation has documented life across the region, day in day out, for so long.

As far as local photographic history goes, our collection is the 20th Century Staffordshire Hoard.

You cannot put a price on the importance of the archive, as there is nothing that comes close by comparison.

Whether it is the successes of our local football teams, times of war, great innovations, dramatic crimes or heartwrenching human stories, the Express & Star has been there to record events for all time.

It is not just the big news stories that are covered in the Express & Star pages but the everyday people, the workplaces that have changed and the ways of life that have evolved.

There can be few people living in our region who have not seen something from their lives feature in our pages, whether it is their neighbourhood, school, friends or family.

The current editorial team are custodians of a collection which needs to be saved for all time. It has been a working resource for our team throughout this paper’s history.

As we move forward into an age where digital plays a greater part of the everyday, it seems timely to use new technology to preserve this heirloom and to open it up to a wider audience on the internet.

Which is where your help can be so vital. The Express & Star is looking for a small army of volunteers to help scan the photographs and check the captions, inputting information about every picture. If you are interested email

One Comment

Angela Brittle

I was born in Wolverhampton and well remember the Express and Star offices in Lichfield Street. I had a Saturday job at the CO-OP across the road. I then moved to Cannock and had several photographs taken when I worked on the library photographic collection in the late sixties and early seventies. I now live in France, but if there is any help I can give online, I would be only too happy to do so.
Good luck and best wishes

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