IMAGES OF WOKING IN THE 1920s AND 1930s
Surrey History Centre is home to two wonderful collections of glass plate negatives from the 1920s and 1930s, chiefly the work of prolific Woking photographer, Sidney Francis. The first collection (SHC ref 7095) was purchased by Guildford Local Studies Library from a local collector who discovered the negatives in a garden shed back in 1991! More recently, a further 18 boxes of plates (SHC ref 9524) were presented by the family of the late Lyndon Davies. A local historian and ‘an incorrigible collector’, Mr Davies had amassed a large collection of Sidney Francis photographs, including a donation of glass negatives from the photographer’s widow, Edith Francis.
Although a resident of Woking for many decades, Francis was born Sidney Francis Patient in Southwark on 8 October 1891. Little is known of his early life but, by the time of the 1911 census, he was working as a photographer’s assistant and living with his grandmother in Crawley, Sussex. In 1920, Francis married Edith Heasyman in Maidstone, and from 1923 they lived in Woking, at 88 Maybury Road, where he also ran a photography business. In 1932, Francis opened a studio in Commercial Road. In addition to his work as a portrait and wedding photographer, he also undertook commercial projects for the local newspaper and local businesses.
These photographic collections which offer a fascinating insight into life in the borough in the 1920s and 1930s, cover an extensive range of subjects and highlight significant events such as Eid celebrations at the Shah Jahan Mosque and the visits of American war widows to Brookwood cemetery. The people of Woking have been well documented, and wedding parties, sports teams, brass bands, and groups of employees all appear in the collection. Local commerce and industry is well represented, from shop windows and factory buildings to buses and commercial vehicles. There are also pictures of local landmarks and street views, and of graves of the famous (and not so famous) at Brookwood cemetery.
Supervised by Surrey Heritage staff, a team of volunteers sorted through the negatives, using local knowledge and sources such as Lyndon Davies’ book, ‘Around Woking’, and the ‘Woking News & Mail’, to try to identify the many uncaptioned images. Each slide was then carefully cleaned using cotton wool and distilled water, before being digitally scanned to create high-resolution positive images to make them available to a wider audience. These 1,500 images have been catalogued and can now be viewed in the search room at Surrey History Centre, while the original glass plates have been packaged for long-term preservation in the centre’s strong rooms.
For anyone interested in the local or social history of Woking, these collections are a wonderful resource and have helped to unearth new information about the town. Did you know that Woking hosted two trade exhibitions in the 1920s? The first event was a resounding success, but the second – Wokympia – was poorly attended in February 1929 due to inclement weather.
Below, we are pleased to present some images from the collection, while the catalogues and thumbnail images can be viewed at:
SHC collection ref: 7095: https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHCOL_7095
SHC collection ref 9524: https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/collections/getrecord/SHCOL_9524
If you have any information about the people and places in the photos, please get in touch!
Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.