Newton Collection

Photographs from the Alfred Newton Collection.

Sydney Walter Alfred Newton (born 1875) was an English photographer.  Sydney Newton joined the family photographic firm; Alfred Newton & Son in the early 1890s. When the work on the Great Central Railway (GCR) began in 1894, Sydney recorded the work in progress.  He was not an official photographer for the GCR but created a photographic archive out of his own enthusiasm for the work; recording the London Extension of the GCR as the work progressed, capturing every aspect of its creation.  Significantly, in addition to photographing the railway and its associated features, Newton also recorded the navvy community and rural life in the villages along the course of the line. Railway interest, local and social history intertwine to provide a unique picture of life in Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire around the turn of the 20th century.  The collection includes many scenes from Haddenham, including a number of the parish church.  Sydney Newton remained in photography for the rest of his life and the business remained in Leicester until around 1950.  He died in 1960 in Yorkshire aged 85

The end product of Newton's single-minded enthusiasm was some 6,500 glass plate negatives - the location of which was something of a Holy Grail amongst railway historians, and it was not until the late 1950's that their whereabouts were discovered. It was at that time that a member of Leicester Museums staff was invited to visit Newton, as he had something to show him that he 'might find of interest'. Inside his rickety wooden garden shed, stacked from floor to ceiling, were hundreds of carefully labelled cardboard boxes containing his negatives. Newton said that if the Museum did not want them, then they would have to be destroyed as he was moving to Yorkshire.

The Newton collection is one of the finest and most important collections of railway photographs anywhere in the world. It is a unique technical and social record of the building of the last English main line railway. It is divided into two sections. The images of the railway's construction, featuring the infrastructure, locomotives, machinery, navvies, bridges, tunnels and stations, are in the care of the 'Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland' at Wigston, whilst the social history plates that capture the timeless rural life of the villages along the line before the upheaval of the First World War are housed at English Heritage's 'National Monuments Record' in Swindon. Newton seems to have developed an affection for the places and countryside he got to know and he returned to photograph some places on more than one occasion over a number of years.

View the Haddenham images from the collection

We are grateful to English Heritage who own the 3926 glass negatives taken by Alfred Newton and Son for permission to reproduce photgraphs of St. Mary's Church here.