Stella solves riddle of mystery photographs from Hucknall’s past

The Vicarage - August 1910
The Vicarage - August 1910

A Hucknall woman is “99 per cent” sure that the photographer who snapped a unique collection of images of life in the town over 100 years ago was her father-in-law.

Last week the Dispatch published a handful of the 600 stereo-photographic slides set to go under the hammer next month, with an article by auctioneer Nigel Kirk who suspected the pictures were taken by a member of the family of the Rev Thomas Gerrard Barber, vicar of Hucknall from 1907 to 1946.

April 1912-  Children on their way to receive a free dinner

April 1912- Children on their way to receive a free dinner

But Stella Croft, 86, says her father-in-law Robert Croft was an amateur photographer, and worked as chauffeur and gardener to Reverend Barber’s family as a young man.

Stella said: “I was really taken by surprise when I saw the pictures published in the Dispatch. I feel he deserves the credit.”

The fragile 4.5 x 7.0cm glass slides date from 1910-13 and include many that were taken in Nottinghamshire, especially ‘Hucknall Torkard’, as well as London, Bradford, Halifax, Leeds and York.

Writing in the Dispatch last week, Mr Kirk described the ‘mystery photographer’ as ‘a serious amateur with an experimental bent’ whose careful captions gave no clues about his identity, ‘save initials which show his surname began with a ‘B’.’

Stone laying at the National School by Jackson of Broomhill June 14 1911

Stone laying at the National School by Jackson of Broomhill June 14 1911

“My father-in-law was known as Bob - which would account for the letter B on the captions,” said Stella. “He was the general factotum at the vicarage and was treated like one of the family.

“He travelled all over the country on his bike.”

Stella recalls men coming round to clear antiques which her late husband, Eric Croft, had accumulated in October last year.

She said: “In the garage were two metal boxes with glass sides and a viewer. I am 99 per cent sure these contained the photos published last week.”

Stella says that when the auction takes place, she would like the photos to be bought for the town and put in the public domain.

She said: “I am not trying to make a big issue of it. Had I realised what they were I would have given them willingly to the town.

“I shall be very interested to see how much they fetch!”

She said her father-in-law, who died in 1963 at the age of 71, also served aboard the HMS Calliope during World War One and later ran a hardware shop on Annesley Road.

Speaking to the Dispatch this week, Mr Kirk invited Stella to view the pictures at The Auction House, Gregory Street, Nottingham, where they will be on display from Sunday, March 6.

He said: “They are fairly extraordinary pictures and I would love them to end up in Hucknall. I can’t think of a more appropriate home.

“I am hoping that through the article people will come and have a look at them.”

Stella, a former head teacher at Butler’s Hill Infant School, now lives in the house built by Henry Morley, the founder of the Hucknall Dispatch, who had it copied after seeing one like it during a trip to California in the late 1920s.

The slides are to be sold in one lot by Nottingham auctioneers Mellors & Kirk on March 9/10.