Finest Hour 163, Summer 2014
By Pete Boswell
Save Photo Ltd. have discovered seven of the earliest surviving original images of Winston Churchill. They were found in the Hills and Saunders Harrow Collection, whose private owner asked Save Photo to digitise, conserve and catalogue. The collection was uncovered in poor condition in the barn of a dairy farm outside Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 2012. The owner and Save Photo rescued the collection and relocated it to a secure, climate controlled storage at Save Photo’s headquarters in Warwickshire, England.
For over ninety years, between 1860 and 1970, Hills and Saunders, photographers by Royal Appointment, captured memorable images of Harrow schoolboys, their families and the surroundings of this public school in Harrow-on-the Hill, Middlesex, north of London. The collection of over 90,000 glass plate negatives is possibly the largest surviving archive of its kind in the world. The photographs include every member of staff, pupil and sporting team from Harrow School between 1860 and 1965. Glass plates rarely survive because they are so fragile, and many English public schools have long since sold off or disposed of their collections.
As she was matching individual students to the plates using original ledgers and documents, Save Photo’s archivist, Lizzie Davies, found seven images of Winston Churchill, aged between 13 and 17. They span 1889-1892, when he was in the Head Master’s House under House Master the Rev. James Welldon. Six are from Head Master’s House group photographs, one featuring young Winston in the Harrow School Rifle Corps.
In the group photographs (four pictured on these pages), Churchill seems to alternate between unhappiness and contentment, reflecting his ambivalence towards his school years. Though he didn’t excel there, he revisited Harrow many times in later life and came to love its traditions. The photos display his schoolboy maturation, in both mufti and military garb with the Harrow Rifle Corps, which he joined early. There is a keen alertness in his expression, pointing towards illustrious days to come.
Biographer Sir Martin Gilbert offers a valuable insight into those years: “When, at the height of the Blitz in 1940, Randolph accompanied his father to Harrow for the annual school songs, Churchill told him, ‘Listening to those boys singing all those well-remembered songs, I could see myself fifty years before singing those tales of great deeds and of great men and wondering how I could ever do something glorious for my country.’”
As managing director of Save Photo, I was pleased to respond to the editor’s request to allow Finest Hour to publish all seven of these rare and historic photos. We have been very privileged to work with such a unique collection of historical significance. Our team has developed an intensive programme of conservation and archiving. We have been lovingly inspecting each photographic plate to ensure it is carefully cleaned, recorded and stored in high quality archival sleeves. With the First World War centenary events beginning this year, I am delighted that we have been able to add these amazing lost images to the portfolio of known Churchill photographs, along with many of his famous contemporaries.
The Churchill plates that form part of the Hills and Saunders Harrow Collection will be offered for sale at auction later this year; details will be announced by the private owner in due course. For more information about Save Photo and the collection, please contact archivist Lizzie Davis, telephone (+44) 01926-810604, or visit our website www.savephoto.com.
Mr. Boswell is the owner of Save Photo Ltd. Photos reprinted by kind permission.