Collection: Alfred Newton and Sons

1896 - 1942
Collection containing Photographic and Electronic material
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This photographic collection of almost 4000 glass plate negatives taken between 1896 and 1920, with most dating between 1898 and 1907 - the period during which SWA Newton was actively recording the Great Central Railway (GCR) under construction - covers villages and towns within the corridor of the GCR and associated branch lines. The main line itself ran from Marylebone Station through the counties of Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire. The absence of hardly anything from Leicestershire and the paucity of material from Nottinghamshire are probably explained by a corresponding wealth for these counties in the Leicester Museums, Arts and Records Service holding.

Both Devon and Cornwall are also well represented (about 30% of the collection), with particular focus on the south-west extremity of Cornwall. Other counties represented (only 1% of the total) include County Durham, Gloucestershire, Kent, Greater London, Greater Manchester, Northumberland, Shropshire and Wiltshire.

Most of the images tend to convey the commercial work of a 'jobbing' photographer; many are contemporary with those taken to record the construction of the GCR and may have, in part, been taken to fund this record photography. They include views of buildings, general village or town scenes and over 1200 individuals or family groups. Some appear to have been taken speculatively, almost as postcard type images, and depict common features or landmarks found in any town or village, such as post offices, country houses, churches, public houses, shops and farms. Ecclesiastical subjects account for nearly 10% of all town and village scenes. Landscape and coastal scenes also feature, particularly in the coverage of Cornwall and Devon.

In addition there are 3 prints without a negative: The Wheatsheaf Inn, Thurcaston, Leicestershire; Three Swans, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, The Market House, Market Harborough, Leicestershire.

Archival History

Alfred Newton, the founder of Newton and Sons, had moved from London to Leicester by 1877, and is recorded as a photographer and picture framer apprenticed to a firm in Market Place, possibly Vice and Company. In 1882 Alfred opened The Belvoir Photographic Studio at 19 Belvoir Street, which his elder son, Sydney Walter Alfred Newton, entered around 1894 and eventually ran.

Sydney Walter Alfred Newton, who was born in Leicester in 1875, developed a fascination with the great railway building projects of the time, and between 1894 and 1906 he systematically photographed all aspects of the construction of the Great Central Railway and its various branch lines. Much of this work appears to have been sold as albums with additional material, particularly views of villages, houses and posed family groups, probably specially commissioned and sold separately.

In 1902 Belvoir Studio was sold and the firm moved to 17 King Street, where it probably traded fully under the name of Newton and Sons until its closure in c1950. Amongst its clients was the National Buildings Record which regularly ordered prints of specific buildings for its files: these now form part of the National Monuments Record (NMR) Red Box collection. The rest of the collection held by the NMR is thought to have been donated by SWA Newton between 1958 and 1960. At about the same time he gave Leicester Museum, Arts and Records Service his photographs of the construction of the Great Central Railway and branch lines (see record 872668).

Most of the negatives are annotated with the name of the location or subject, though no original numbering scheme appears to have been used; many are precisely dated. Before cataloguing and re-housing in archival enclosures, the archive was stored in its original labelled boxes, some of which also contained hand-written lists; a sample of the boxes and all original lists have been retained.

The collection was catalogued between November 1997 and March 1998


This Collection is divided into 3,956 Child Records
This Collection contains the following materials:
Photograph (35mm Slide): 1
Photograph (Negative): 3,876
Photograph (Positive): 49
Photograph (Postcard - Photographic): 4
Photograph (Print): 3,867
Photograph (Digital): 3,915


Source: Historic England Archive