Sutton Writers

Past on Glass

Past on Glass (POG) is a project, led by the Heritage Services of Sutton library, to catalogue, digitise and where necessary restore some 10000 glass photographic plates. These were discovered in the basement of an opticians in Sutton, when the shop was being demolished as part of a road widening scheme.

Funding was given by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to recover some of the plates and this first grant, which is now complete, enabled about 4000 plates to be dealt with. Earlier this year Sutton Writers agreed to offer a letter of support, for a second funding application. This was to complete the recording of the plates but was also to include creative writing about the plates, to lead to a book, hopefully to be published in 2018, and to provide a series of writing classes. With our support a further £95000 was obtained from HLF.

The plates were produced by a local photographer, David Knights-Whittome, using the techniques of the time and were produced between 1900 and 1920. He had a shop in Sutton. He held royal warrants, from the British and also from the Portuguese royal families. An exhibition was held in the Europa Gallery, describing the project and exhibiting prints of many of the photographs.

A number of initiation workshops will be presented by Heritage Services, at dates to be finalised, to which Members of Sutton Writers will be invited.

This is a great opportunity for Sutton Writers to participate, in fact lead, a flagship writing project in the Borough, and it is to be hoped that all members will submit at least one, or as many as they wish, contributions.

There is no restriction on word count (within reason!). You can write a poem, story, play, fiction or non-fiction, you choose.

This was a tumultuous time for women in England and the working title for the project is, ‘Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times: Rediscovering the Female Portraits of David Knights-Whittome.’

This website tab, POG, will be used to update information as we know more, so please keep watching it. If you have any questions or please do send them in and we’ll post them for all to see.

An email address has been set up. If you email your pieces to this address, as Word attachments, they will be copied into a dummy book so that we can monitor progress. This is an inclusive exercise and offerings will only be rejected if they are completely outside the brief, or have unacceptable content (we will be broad minded!). Your work will not be accessible to all; only three committee members will have access to the email account, which will be regularly monitored. Please make your submissions with your name and email address, so that we can contact you.

Update on the October Workshop
The Heritage Centre at Sutton Library hosted a workshop on 18th October for Past on Glass (POG). Ten of our writers attended and all seemed impressed by the session, which was given by the Borough Archivist, Kath Shawcross, and the POG project officer, Abby Matthews. Several of the volunteers who have worked on the plates were also there.
The Sutton Writers brief was confirmed, to submit any piece of creative writing, hopefully to prepare for the publication of a book in 2017.
A short presentation set the scene for the photographs taken by David Knights-Wittome, in his Sutton studio, in the years 1904 to 1918. The background to the discovery, and restoration, of the 10,000 glass photographic plates, was explained.
There were a number of framed pictures which had been shown at the Europa Gallery exhibition.
We were then given free rein to look at prints taken from the plates.

The amount of material is huge, and although the second grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund is entitled  ‘Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Times: Rediscovering the Female Portraits of David Knights- Whittome,’ we are at liberty to write about anything connected to the project ( apart from the photographer himself.)

You can see the blog describing the work undertaken so far and the way ahead  on the London Borough of Sutton website. A large number of prints are available for you to choose from at  flickr/photos/pastonglass. Any member who wishes for more information, or to view the widest choice of images, is welcome to visit the Heritage Centre, please phone to confirm when Abby is available.


  1. Vivien Canning

    We, all descendants of our great grandparents who lived at Benfleet Hall, are very interested in everything that you have written about the Holmans. We wondered where you got the information from, and would you like any more. We have lots of it! And can also correct a few errors.

    1. Thanks for getting in touch, Vivien. Sutton Writers’ involvement in the Past on Glass project was to write fiction pieces inspired by the found images, but I’ll pass this message onto the Chair at the time of the project (it was a few years ago) and see if he knows anything or can help with your request.

    2. Bernard Jacobs

      The Past on Glass project is run by London Borough of Sutton. The Heritage Department has all the material. I am sure they would appreciate any help you can give them and can be contacted at the Civic Offices in Sutton.
      I hope this helps.

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