Despite so many of us being familiar with The Wombles – making good use of the things that other people throw away – as a society, we still throw away valuable parts of our community heritage.
Waste King, a specialist collections, clearance and recycling company based in Hemel Hempstead, recently received – as part of a house clearance contract – a wooden box containing some 45 glass negatives dating from around the time of the First World War. They were labelled and, on inspection appeared to show, among other things, ‘the Pyper boys’ and ‘Mr Reid’.
Waste King’s directors, Glenn Currie and Andy Cattigan, passed the box of negatives to Helen Little, who is a keen genealogist, to see if she could discover more of the history and significance of these photographs. Helen’s research produced a family tree for the Pypers.
Indeed, her discoveries led to three brothers (the Pypers) who had followed their father in being pupils at Haileybury, in Hertford Heath. A number of the photographs were obviously of Haileybury – and others could have been taken there.
The next step was to contact Haileybury to pursue the research, via the school’s Archivist, Toby Parker.
The negatives turned out to be of significant interest – not just in terms of the Pyper family (the three boys had been pupils at Haileybury from 1914 to 1919) and their achievements at school (and subsequently). In particular, there was a picture of a biplane coming in to land in ’20 acre field’ in the school’s grounds.
Toby explained that pupils from Haileybury played a key part in the formation of the Royal Flying Corps (later to become the RAF), since the first three RFC squadron commanders were all from Haileybury. Moreover, several of the leading aviators and air aces of those early years of flying visited the school.
This picture may well relate to one of these visits and, if so, could be of great significance to the school’s archives. Toby is continuing the research into these photos.
Waste King’s managing director, Glenn Currie, commented: ”These negatives – so nearly thrown into a landfill site – are merely the most recent example, for Waste King, of materials with a historical significance that are just thrown away in house and garage clearances.
“The negatives have added some valuable archive information to Haileybury, including opening a human interest window on the school at a distance of nearly 100 years. They’ve also thrown some light on Haileybury’s connection with the early days of powered flight and, in particular, the formation of the RFC/RAF.
“Of course, this story is merely the tip of an archivistic iceberg,” he added. “‘Wombling waste companies’, such as Waste King, are likely to unearth other ‘finds’ with similarly interesting stories.
“So, if you’re throwing away any documents or photos which could have a ‘history’, think twice before you consign them to landfill,” said Glenn. “Not only will you be helping the environment, you could also be contributing an otherwise unknown piece of information to our national historical heritage.”