Keeping South Shields’ past alive

The South Shields library volunteers and staff who are digitalising the photographic archive.
The South Shields library volunteers and staff who are digitalising the photographic archive.

When it comes to putting South Shields library’s photographic archive online, for the world to enjoy, staff and volunteers are a picture of patience.

For they have had almost 30,000 images to sort through and process.

Yet despite the epic nature of the project, the small team involved in the digitalisation of the invaluable archive is progressing well with the task in hand.

Catrin Galt, community librarian and expert in family history and heritage at the town’s central library (South Tyneside Libraries), said the project began in 2008.

“We have a collection of about 28,000 historic photographs,” she explains.

“The project was started about eight years ago by local studies librarian Anne Sharp, in order to make them available to everyone to look at.

“She was keen to get the photographs digitalised, and so the project began.”

From that day onwards, the aforementioned small, but dedicated band of volunteers, have spent countless hours turning Anne’s dream into a reality.

“A lot of the people involved in the project were here researching local history.

“When Anne mentioned the project to them, they were keen to get involved.

Pam McTaggart, volunteer and chairwoman of the library’s supporters’ group, was there at the beginning.

“Once a week we gather to digitalise the photographs,” explains Pam.

“We see lots of old Shields, and you remember some of the scenes and images. Whereas most times we work individually, now and again, it’s a case of ‘have you seen this one or know where this is?’”

“It’s fascinating, and a real privilege to do the job.”

Pam is joined by Margaret Hamilton, Eileen Burnett, Pauline Shawyer, Richard Purvis, Janet List, Joy Parker, Cecily Mills and Pat McLernon in scanning the pictures and putting the relevant information alongside them.

Local author Eileen said: “I love old photographs, I really do.”

And Catrin was keen to praise the work of the volunteers.

“We can’t do it without the help of Pam and the others,” said Catrin.

“They have such a great knowledge of Shields and South Tyneside.

“It’s been down to people who have the memories and the knowledge and the interest.

“Everyone is so keen on the history of South Shields and South Tyneside. They were more than happy to look through the collection and select the photographs to be digitalised.”

Once the idea of the digitalisation project came about, the library applied to the Heritage Lottery for funding, and was given several thousand pounds towards the cost of scanning equipment, which has been well used over the years

“A lot of the information is written on the back of the photographs,” reveals Pam, “or we consult the directories. But it’s also down to local knowledge and expertise.”

The project is ongoing, and there is still a lot of hard work to be done, but when it’s complete, the team will have left a legacy, and a valuable source of information and memories, for generations to come.

Catrin said: “The older the photos get, the more chance there is of them falling to pieces. If we don’t do this, people in the future will not have access to the photographs.”

The archive features a real mix of sights, scenes and locations, including photos taken by Amy Flagg, who took a lot of photographs of the bombing of South Shields in the 1930s and 40s.

You can access South Tyneside Historic Images Online by logging on to www.southtynesideimages.org.uk – it really is a treasure trove of South Shields’ past, and a tribute to a band of dedicated and enthusiastic local people who want to make sure that the past is not lost or forgotten.