Review of ‘Picture the Past Website’, by Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire Libraries

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on (date of publication unknown), and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire Libraries
Picture the Past (reviewed 2005)

Readers and students frequently ask our advice on sources of local research relating to subjects ranging from family trees or the history of their village to industrial archaeology. The first recommended stop is usually the nearest library or museum, which in the Peak will include the Local Studies Library in County Hall and the Derbyshire Record Office - both in Matlock, also Buxton and Derby Museums.

Researchers particularly enjoy browsing through the extensive collections of photographs and pictures, dating from as far back as Victorian times. The four library authorities of Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire hold an astonishing total of 300,000 original images.

A new award-winning project, Picture the Past, is working to protect these irreplaceable and priceless treasures from wear and tear whilst making them easily accessible to everyone via the Internet.

This tremendous undertaking attracted a grant of £370,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, backed by funding from the four councils involved. So now, instead of a special visit to perhaps several museums or libraries, the contents of these treasure houses are at our fingertips. Thousands of photographs, slides, negatives, glass plates, postcards and engravings have already been digitised and added to the website. They span an amazing century-and-a-half - the oldest are pictures of celebrations marking the end of the Crimean War in the 1850s.

Nick Tomlinson, the Project Manager, has already received many hundreds of favourable comments about the website, emphasising not only its usefulness but the enjoyment to be had by browsing through the collection just for pleasure - a sentiment which I can wholeheartedly endorse. An easy-to-use search facility produces images in an instant, with the option to enlarge by means of a zoom button.

Can You Help?

I tried to catch out the search system with a request for ‘zoo’ but was rewarded with no less than 18 images. Towns and villages in the Peak gave occasionally staggering results: Buxton has almost 900 images, Matlock 357 and Ashbourne 470. Turning to subjects, a search on the word ‘quarry’ produced 128 images, market 742, school 763 and stone circles 40. ‘Bakewell + shops’ gave almost 50 results, with nearly 130 for ‘farming + Derbyshire’. And the numbers are still growing.

Recently added images appear at the beginning of the relevant pages, saving the need to scroll through for any new additions. Another time-saving feature brings images of popular subjects together, for example D.H. Lawrence, Fashion, or Fine Art. An excursion into the Peak District heading opens up a rich diversity of more than 1,400 pictures.

A challenging ‘Can you help?’ feature invites further details about unidentified images - 10 pages of them at present. There is even a box provided for visitors to add information.

Although copyright on many of the images belongs to the library, thousands of letters have been sent out to other copyright holders for permission to make their images available on Picture the Past website. With their co-operation, users of the site are able to print out copies of images they are interested in. While a print from a home computer is adequate for homework or study purposes, the website also offers an on-line ordering service for top quality glossy photographic copies produced on ‘state of the art’ equipment. Users can browse the collection and order and pay for their selections securely on-line. Income raised from this service goes back into conservation and preservation of the original pictures.

For those who do not have access to the Internet at home, or who are not sure where to start, help is at hand. Computers are available for public use in all libraries; for more details call in at your local library.

Picture the Past is rapidly becoming one of the largest collections of historic images on the Internet, with many thousands of pictures already available. The number is growing rapidly as hundreds more are indexed, scanned and added. To enjoy a fascinating journey back in time, take a seat, make yourself comfortable and log on to

Review by Julie Bunting

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