Saturday, 11 June 2016

Images of old Eltham and a warning for the future

Just sixty-two year separate these two images of Eltham. 

The first dates from 1915 not long after the southern end of Well Hall Road was cut and the tram service from Woolwich inaugurated.

It is a picture I have featured already but is well worth a second look as I ponder on the future of the photograph as a historical record of a place.*

But first to the pictures.

The first is one of those traditional picture postcards, sent in their thousands every year from the late 19th century well into the middle of the 20th century.  They are a wonderful record of the past and most contain something of interest in the message on the reverse.

And this one is just five years from when the passenger tram service began.

It started on Saturday July 23rd 1910 and according to The Kentish Independent was a great success linking the small communities on the route from Eltham to Woolwich.

During the week the service was every ten minutes with the first leaving Beresford Square for Eltham at 6.40 am and the last at 11.30 pm.

And it cost just two pence to complete the full trip from Beresford Square to Eltham High Street, whilst workmen's through tickets were issued until eight o'clock in the morning at half price.**

Just sixty-two years later Jean took this image of Eltham Hill at the corner of Sherard Road.

At first glance the buildings look familiar but many have changed hands and with that change have come new businesses.

All of which is fertile research for the local historian, but I wonder for how much longer images like these will act as a stimulus to unlocking the past.

For the simple reason is that fewer and fewer of us are now taking pictures which are printed off on card or paper.

The digital camera and phone camera are wonderful tools but I doubt that many of the pictures that are taken with them ever get printed.

Instead they sit on computers which with the advance of technology mean they will not always be accessible to the future.

I trained on the old BBC computer and friends on the Sinclair both are now as much a part of the past as the telegram is to the email.

So I doubt there will be many of these images for the next generation to crawl over.

And in the same way the advent of first the telephone and now the email has pretty much eliminated the old letter, often written by hand and sent by the post.  These too will be lost to the future researcher.

Now I am no luddite and I like my digital camera and emails but I will in the fullness of time deposit some at least of my pictures in the digital record banks.

And of course print a few off.

Picture; Eltham Church and Well Hall Road, 1915, from the collection of Andrew Simpson and Eltham Hill 1977, courtesy of Jean Gammons

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