Photoscoot: a 'then and now' photography project for wheelchair and disability scooter users

"The inspiration for the Photoscoot Project came from a copy of Borough Guide for Machynlleth published by Edward J Burrows & Co, Cheltenham, added to People’s Collection Wales by Treftadaeth Dyfi / Dyfi Heritage Group in 2012. The Borough Guide dating to 1911 describes the key landmarks of the ancient market town and a walking trail to ensure that all are seen by the visitor.

"Some buildings, such as the recently built the Intermediate School, were described with great pride:

"The idea for a project was sparked – the mission became exploring the town to see how many of the local landmarks were still there, and to take photographs, practicing with a new digital camera and began to recreate the Borough guide’s trail. As my mother would be using her electric scooter or wheelchair, we would be able to highlight paths with smooth and easy access.

"My mother and I spent several very enjoyable days pouring over old maps, identifying the buildings mentioned in the guide, and drawing on the expert local knowledge of Machynlleth library staff and that of local historian David Wyn Davies. The photographs were taken over three days. We were blessed with sunny weather and greatly enjoyed our stops for tea/coffee and cakes in local cafes as we explored.

"It has taken the family a while to get back to the Photoscoot Project, but Aberystwyth was the next town that we wanted to explore in the same way. The Aberystwyth Project was undertaken using the OS 1st editions available on the People’s Collection Wales site, the Borough Guide for Aberystwyth published by Edward J Burrows & Co around 1905 (from the National Library of Wales collections) and the Aberystwyth Official Guide and Souvenir reprinted by Ceredigion Archives and Ceredigion County Council in 2015. Again, the photographs were taken over three days as we kept evolving and expanding the list of places to include. Cafés, shops and places of worship were plentiful in Aberystwyth at the turn of the 20th century. It soon became clear that many of the iconic buildings of the town are still with us today – even if the name boards and usages of buildings have changed. Other premises, such as the present-day Downies Vaults pub for example, seem to be continuing to trade in the same goods. At the turn of the century the 'Borough Guide' contains an advert for Morgan and Co in Little Darkgate Street (Eastgate Street today), a company who were bonders and merchants of wine and spirits.

"As a means of getting to grips with new digital technology, the Photoscoot Project has proved to be just the ticket – give it a go, do not worry about first attempts when you can just delete the image file and take the shot again. Also, with a little bit of easy editing, in the picture software packages that are now freely available on computers and online, you can brighten up a shot and allow the worst eyesores to be cropped out.

"For the Aberystwyth project, because the souvenir guides contained so many fascinating adverts for local shops and services, we extended the photography to include identification of the same shop premises in the present high street. The location of the present-day Café Nero for example was a Stead and Simpsons shoe shop back in the day. The advert notes that they were shoe and boot manufacturers selling smart, up-to-date footwear including tennis shoes, golf shoes and sand-shoes. Stead and Simpson were the largest shoe manufacturer in the world in 1875.

"The shop adverts in the souvenir guides sometimes contained brands that are still around today, for example Cross and Blackwell sauces, Swan pens, Aquascutum clothing, Wolsey socks, Schweppes mineral waters, Cockburn’s Port and Gilbey’s gins. Back home again, internet searching allowed us to explore some of the fascinating histories of these companies. There were also references to a couple of shops having an ‘Italian Warehouseman’ which we grew to understand meant that they sold Italian produce such as olives and pasta.

"Aberystwyth’s tourist guides open a compelling window on the life of local people and visitors around 100 years ago. By the early 1900s, Aberystwyth was called the 'Biarritz of Wales' for its many fine natural advantages as a health and pleasure resort.

The coming of the railway also provided an impetus for tourism development. Our ‘Places of Leisure Pursuits and Entertainment in the early 1900s’ collection captures a glimpse of what life was like back then.

"The clues to a building’s past were often found at first or second story height, in the style of construction and fabric. Finding the best angles for a photograph sometimes allowed new discoveries to be made.

"The Aberystwyth Official Guide and Souvenir' published by Aberystwyth Corporation in 1924 contains an advert for ‘Owen's Confectioners and Caterers’ – whose location can be seen here in the above photograph. The shop specialised in the production of dainty cakes, fancies and confectionery. They also offered to cater for weddings, breakfasts, luncheons, receptions, at homes, dinners, balls, picnics, garden parties, etc. An image of ' Owen’s Caterers, Confectioners and Café, Aberystwyth’ has been shared on the PCW website by Amgueddfa Ceredigion Museum and we’ve included this in our collection of café’s and shops (Aberystwyth: shopping in the 1920s and 2020s) – confirming that Aberystwyth’s ‘café culture’ was alive and well back in Edwardian times, as it is today.

Drafting item text and loading the images was a very enjoyable during the spring lockdown. Although, we were not able to undertake additional research we would have like to Ceredigion Archives, National Library of Wales and at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. Hence, we would welcome comments from other People’s Collection Wales users to provide additional history to the places we have photographed.

"Where next for the Photoscoot Project? Welsh local authorities have done a great deal to make townscapes more accessible to wheelchair users by providing disabled car parking spaces and drop curbs at road crossings. So, all being well, the new normal permitting, we may be coming to a town near you soon…”

If you would like to comment on any of the Photoscoot photographs, register on the website and leave your message in the comment box under the item. Or contact us via Facebook or Twitter.

This article was posted by:

Elena Gruffudd's profile picture

Elena Gruffudd

Find other blogs in these categories: