Derry in the 1930s: treasure trove of old photos to go under the hammer

A loyalist parade makes its way across Craigavon Bridge.
A loyalist parade makes its way across Craigavon Bridge.
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A treasure trove of glass plate photographic negatives recording life in Derry in the 1930s is to go under the auctioneer’s hammer almost half a century after they were saved from the wreckage of a house destroyed by an explosion.

The hoard was discovered in 1969, shortly after the blast ripped through the empty house in the Waterside area of the city, blowing out a wall of the property and bringing down part of the roof.

A group of men take part in a fitness class outside the YMCA premises which were located on East Wall.

A group of men take part in a fitness class outside the YMCA premises which were located on East Wall.

A member of the British Army team sent in to search the wrecked property found the boxes of glass plates hidden under the floorboards.

“The search team’s initial thought was that the boxes - which were sealed and tightly wrapped in plastic - might contain ammunition,” said auctioneer Paul Cooper.

“When it was found that the contents of the boxes were glass negatives, everybody lost interest. They were never claimed and eventually ended up back with the soldier who recovered them.”

The five boxes contain 68 quarter plate glass negatives covering almost every imaginable aspect of pre-war life in the in the city and district including public events, parades, marches, youth activities, factory scenes, harvest festivals, dances, celebrations, major funerals and even country sports activities.

Soldiers, wearing helmets that look suited to hotter climes, march along Limavady Road - possibly to the nearby train station.

Soldiers, wearing helmets that look suited to hotter climes, march along Limavady Road - possibly to the nearby train station.

Mr. Cooper, a director of Scunthorpe-based auctioneers, CJM Asset Management, which has been instructed to sell the collection, added: “They’re pretty clearly Press photographs and our research indicates that they are a missing part of the photographic archive of the ‘Derry Standard,’ a local newspaper that closed down in 1966. Much of the archive was famously rescued from a skip after being dumped by builders who were renovating the newspaper’s old premises a couple of years after the closure.

“Those plates are now part of the Derry Library’s Heritage Collection. However, it is known that some negatives were lost before two local men, David Bigger and Terence McDonald, realised what was happening and mounted their skip rescue operation.”

Mr. Cooper said that, despite being binned, bombed and buried, the plates remain in astonishingly good condition. “We’ve had a number of them scanned and printed and we’re bowled over by the pictures,” he added.

The collection is to go under the hammer in an online auction on Tuesday next, December 5.