Tens of thousands of historic images dating back to 1861 are at risk of being lost for ever if a campaign to preserve and digitise them fails, it is claimed.


Picture above: An ambrotype, dated 1861 – showing a butcher’s shop in South Street, Exeter – is among the images under threat [courtesy Peter Thomas]

The collection of 60,000 pictures of Exeter, Devon – said to include precious photos of Second World War bombings – belongs to local author and photographer Peter Thomas, who acquired the archive from the Henry Wykes Studio in the city, which closed in 1974.

The archive, now called the Isca Historical Photographic Collection, includes 42,000 half-plate negatives, transparencies, albums and prints – 85% of which have never been seen in public before.

‘I am now in the unenviable position of facing the fact that the collection is “at risk” if I cannot find a way forward to protect, preserve, extend and exhibit it,’ said Thomas, explaining that many images require specialist preservation.

In an interview with AP, Thomas added: ‘From an educational point of view, it is invaluable and historically irreplaceable. It would mean breaking the archive up and selling it bit by bit… if interest could be found to acquire parts of it.’

Thomas, 66, said the archive includes two images of wartime bombings on Exeter on 4 May 1942, captured from the top floor of a local hotel by one of its guests, using a Kodak folding camera.


A photo taken from the top floor of an Exeter hotel during wartime bombings on the city in 1942 [courtesy Peter Thomas]

‘These images are absolutely iconic in relation to Exeter and the wartime raids,’ added Thomas who wants the archive to remain in the city.

‘It’s ironic, from a cultural point of view, that I’m not being jumped on to use this collection… It needs its own home, to be put on display.’

After acquiring the collection from the Henry Wykes Studio, Thomas added contemporary photos to the archive.

He estimates the basic negative stock alone to be worth around £120,000.

  • Anyone who can help is urged to contact Peter Thomas on 01392 677624 or by email at peterdthomas18@gmail.com