The largest collections of photographs, postcards and engravings, are located in the three principal museums of Powys:
BRECKNOCK MUSEUM, Captain's Walk, Brecon, LD3 7DW
RADNORSHIRE MUSEUM, Temple Street, Llandrindod Wells, LD1 5DL
POWYSLAND MUSEUM, The Canal Wharf, Welshpool, SY21 7AQ
The Powys County Archives Office contains a limited number of photographs, postcards, engravings, also cuttings from various journals, magazines, and newspapers which contain illustrative material, deposited by Cardiff Library.
The items cover Brecknockshire Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire, and mainly illustrate the Towns, the Elan Valley (before, during and after the construction of the dams) Churches, Country houses, locations on the Wye, and various other tourist locations popular in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
The engravings are generally speaking circa 1830, with a small number dating from the late 18th Century.
Photographs and postcards cover all areas and subjects, with Towns and the Elan Valley featuring strongly (early 20th Century views predominate). There are some Valentine and Wrench series postcards.
A number of cuttings from The Builder also Building News contain plans and views of Churches, Houses and Public Buildings, circa 1880-1900. From The Engineer and Daily Graphic come accounts of the construction of the Elan Valley Reservoirs. There are articles from The Christian Pictorial of 1895, and both local and national newspapers, including The Illustrated London News.
There are two miscellaneous collections relating to Powys as whole. These comprise of railway station views taken during 1965-1967, mainly of the former Cambrian Railways/Great Western Railway system, and a separate collection of commercial premises taken in 1970-1994, mainly Inns and Public Houses.
A collection of black and white photographs of towns and villages in Powys, taken in the 1940's and 1950's, has recently been acquired (some of these have gone to the museums).
Anyone interested in the early technical and social history of the photograph is recommended to read Dating Old Photographs by Robert Pols, published by the Federation of Family History Societies, available at the County Archives Office, and through your Local Library.
Following the early pioneering work by Joseph Nicephore Niepce in France, which achieved the first photographic image capable of being made permanent, the first practical photographic processes were the Daguerreotype by Louis Daguerre 1839, which used a copper photographic plate, and the Calotype by William Henry Fox Talbot 1841, which used a paper plate. Exposure times of up to 30 minutes were required, but it was soon discovered that a latent, that is invisible image, could be developed in 2 or 3 minutes.
Both the Daguerreotype and Calotype had been superseded by the Wet Collodion Process by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851, which used a glass plate, and could be developed to produce a one-off picture known as an Ambrotype, or alternatively be used to print out on albumen paper. The process became very popular with professional photographers, inspite of the cumbersome equipment and complicated exposure/ developing/fixing process required.
Photographic Studios proliferated, and gave rise in the 1850's and 60's to the Carte de Visite, a popular method of personal introduction, Cabinet Prints, and also to Tintypes which used small iron plates. Tintypes were popular with itinerant photographers for producing cheap portraiture. The process could be used equally well outdoors, the photographs of The Crimea and American Civil Wars being produced in this way.
The popularity of the Wet Collodion Process retarded the introduction of the Dry Plate. In 1871 Dr Richard Leech Maddox published a method for producing gelatine dry plates and by 1873 they were being mass-produced. It was soon discovered that heating the light sensitive coating at 90 degrees Fahrenheit for about two days, brought the exposure time down to 1/25 second. Combined with faster shutter speeds, this enabled instantaneous pictures of moving objects to be taken by the mid 1880s.
The Dry Plate remained in use by professional and amateur photographers well into the 20th Century (and is still used for some applications today). However in 1888 George Eastman patented and introduced the No.1 Kodak Camera, which came ready loaded with his revolutionary paper-backed gelatine roll film. This film produced circular pictures 2 1/2 inches in diameter one hundred to a roll, but was quickly replaced by Celluloid film in 1890, in rolls giving twelve or twenty four prints. This was the first point and shoot Snap Shot camera aimed at a mass market, there being no focusing or exposure controls and no view finder. When the film was completed the whole camera was sent to Kodak where the exposed film was removed, replaced with a fresh one and then developed and printed. The popular Box Brownie followed in 1900, which gave 2 1/4 inch square prints.
The three county museums all have large photographic collections, but not all of them may be catalogued so access may not be possible in these cases. The main coverage is of towns, villages and individuals, and date from the dry plate era, although photographs earlier than the 1870s will undoubtedly exist, including possibly the odd ambrotype, tintype and stereoscopic photographs.
Many of these are the work of local photographers that were active well into the 20th Century in some cases. The Radnorshire Museum has the glass negatives of Rousham Roberts, who was taking photographs in the area from the 1890s to the 1940s, also of his predecessor Sharples (1870s/90s), and the Hudson Series (pre 1901).
A local photographer by the name of Anderson operated in the Welshpool Area, and others may be identified by reference to Kelly's directories in the CAO. Remember that some will also have been chemists such as G.M. Perkins of Knighton, who took many local railway photographs in the early 1900s.
The names of many late 19th/early 20th Century photographers based in Brecon are remembered. The Brecknock Museum has examples of work by the Griffiths Studio, Robert Crawshay, H. Hobbiss, also Charles Smith Allen of Tenby and the Builth Wells photographer P.B. Abery, who had a base in Brecon in the 1890s and 1900s. Some like O. Jackson and J. Clark issued Postcards, which became very popular in Britain as a means of communication, after the Post Office allowed picture cards to be sent through the post in 1894.
National firms also issued postcard views of towns and beauty spots in all three counties, particularly The Valentines Company, the ubiquitous firm of Francis Frith, also Thomas Bros. of Liverpool and Warwick & Sons of Oldham, also The London & North Western Railway Co (Llandrindod Wells Station c1905). Postcards form a significant part of the photograph collections held by the County Museums.
See BRECON IN OLD PHOTOGRAPHS Collected by BRECKNOCK MUSEUM , WELSHPOOL IN OLD PHOTOGRAPHS Compiled by EVA B. BRENDSDORFF, AROUND LLANDRINDOD WELLS Compiled by CHRIS WILSON, and RADNORSHIRE by Powys County Archives Office
The Old Bell Museum, Arthur Street, Montgomery SY15 6RA
The Old Bell Museum, Montgomery, a registered independent volunteer run museum has an extensive collection of photographs, postcards and ephemera relating to the important historic county town, illustrating its buildings, people and way of life over the past century.
The large number of glass plate negatives by two local photographers, J.E.Tomley and D.Proctor, is a particularly valuable resource for researchers. The entire collection is catalogued and accessible. A small percentage is on display.