Co-op boot and shoe repairer and amateur photographer Albert Eden was ahead of his times – 1891 to 1925. In an age when photographs tended to be static, and often unsmiling, affairs, his brought Blackpool to life.
For Albert snapped as he saw, candid shots catching people, subjects, streets, off guard.
The pity is so few of us have heard of him, let alone seen his work.
That is about to change – thanks to the dedication of historian Ted Lightbown and librarian Tony Sharkey.
In 2006, it was decided that several hundred glass plate negatives of Blackpool, that had languished for many years in a cupboard in Central Library, should be scanned and the images digitally restored.
For leading local historian Ted it was a labour of love, as such things cannot be readily accessed. It also led to other discoveries – including of the identity of a woman pictured on one particularly striking negative – which led to a poignant pilgrimage that remains under wraps for the time being. There’s also a marvellous image of a match seller, an old soldier from the Indian Mutiny, who later died under the wheels of a cart.
Ted adds: “I was able to scan them and work on the images, and three slide presentations resulted from them.
“Their significance is they were mainly taken in the early 1890s, typically a decade before most postcard views and show many town centre streets. Also they were taken by an amateur – Albert Eden was a boot repairer.”
Many appeared in the first pictorial history of the town, as part of celebrations for the jubilee of its incorporation in 1926. The book, Blackpool’s Progress, comprised 250 photographs of Blackpool donated and loaned to the library or from its collection.
A page listed photograph numbers against contributors.
Many were attributed to one Mr A Eden, who outnumbered other sources. Ted contends some, listed under chief librarian Rowland Hill and others, were also actually taken by Eden.
He added: “Without his photographs, the book would have been much slimmer and of far less interest.”
Yet his name is not to be found in directories listing Blackpool’s commercial photographers of the period – and his work abounds with “technical faults and blemishes,” says Ted.
“Perhaps for this reason many interesting photographs were not used in Blackpool’s Progress, or were crudely retouched. Today, using digital techniques, these inadequacies can be often be rectified.”
Blackpool’s Eden project was born of the drive of two experts, Lightbown and Sharkey, to accord the respect long due to Albert.
On Thursday, February 23, at 2pm, the pair will present the Albert Eden Collection in Central Library’s local studies centre, the Brunswick room. Entry free. Some of Eden’s images will be projected.
It seems fitting this should take place in another jubilee year – this time the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Albert’s pictures were taken between 1891 and 1925, and include many Promenade and beach scenes, but, as Ted adds: “There are also rare glimpses of minor Blackpool streets.”
From such photographs, and from censuses and directories, it has been possible to discover something about him, says Ted.
Albert was born in Dewsbury in 1862 and followed father Thomas into the shoemaker trade.
By 1885, the family lived in Bairstow Street, and were listed as lodging house keepers. Later they moved to Blundell Street – where the great picture of the family arriving on their doorstep was taken.
Ted reckons photography was an hobby or sideline for Albert, who never married, and he was keenly interested in his adopted town, recording the early preparation of The Tower site, through to streets and buildings and, more unusually, characters of the period.
It’s thought he had some link with Sam Beverley, whose photographic studio on Church Street logged various stages of The Tower’s construction.
Albert died on February 18 1941 at 78. He had retired from Blackpool Co-op at 68.
Librarian Tony concludes: “Technically, many of his images were not outstanding.
“His insight was to take the kinds of images other photographers were not taking. He photographed many lesser known local street scenes, and some local characters.
“What his work shows is that you don’t need to be an expert to take interesting and significant photographs. Sometimes being a little different can mean you are ahead of the times.
“The Albert Eden Collection epitomises this spirit. He gives you a sense of ‘being there’ that sometimes more composed views of more established photographers don’t provide.
“There is a spontaneity and immediacy about his work.”