Nearly a quarter of a million historic images of UK towns, cities and villages dating back to 1857 have been published online, allowing people to see how their local area has changed over the past 150 years.

Dartmoor Prison, c1890. Prisoners can be seen shackled together pulling a cart into the gates of the prison that housed hardened criminals from across the country

London, Tower Bridge Under Construction c.1890.web

Historic images include this shot of Tower Bridge being built, 1890

Published by family history website Ancestry, the archive of more than 220,000 images has been drawn from the Francis Frith Collection.

The photos are searchable by location, year and subject, and the collection can be searched for free until the end of August.

Along with images of famous landmarks are ‘never-before-seen’ shots, including photos of male prisoners entering Dartmoor Prison in 1890 (see above).

Miriam Silverman, senior UK content manager at Ancestry, said: ‘From royal celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee, to the construction of the most iconic bridge in the UK and even a mummy, this collection provides photographic insight into 150 years’ worth of history, bringing a bygone era back to life.’

Silverman added: ‘As the most comprehensive online historic photo collection of its kind, these images will also allow people the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and see just how much – or little – their local area has changed.’

Ancestry is encouraging people to ‘recreate historic images’, and share the results online via the website’s Twitter and Facebook pages, using the hashtag #thenandnow.

Prizes are up for grabs for those taking part.

Membership of Ancestry costs from £10.99 per month or £95.99 per year.

Visit http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=60587

Dublin, 'mummy' In St Michans Church c.1890.webA ‘mummy’ photographed in St Michan’s Church, Dublin, c1890

Southwold, Family on the Beach c.1906.webSouthwold family on the beach, c1906

London, Queen Victoria At Her Diamond Jubilee Celebrations c.1897.webLondon, Queen Victoria at her Diamond Jubilee celebrations, c1897

Durham, The Traffic Policeman c.1954.webA traffic policeman in Durham, c1954

[Photo credits for all images: © The Francis Frith Collection]