A collection of long-forgotten negatives of Derby Cathedral – some dating from the 1880s – has been discovered in the collection of one of the world’s oldest photography studios.

The fragile plate glass negatives include the earliest-known photographic record of the interior of the Cathedral nave from 1889, and an image of the soot-blackened tower – complete with a steam-powered fire engine in the foreground – from 1880.

Derby Cathedral tower in 1880
Derby Cathedral tower in 1880

Discovered by a volunteer at W. W. Winter Ltd, based on Midland Road, Derby, the negatives were transferred to The Photo Parlour, Nottingham, where Daniel T. Wheeler used traditional darkroom methods to develop – probably for the first time ever – photographs from these historic images.

As part of The Grand Tour series of exhibitions taking place across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, the photographs will be exhibited throughout the Cathedral nave from Friday 6th April. Alongside the 19th-century images, a series of plates were discovered from a photo shoot with the first Bishop of Derby in 1927, and negatives depicting the construction of the Cathedral extension in 1972 were restored and developed.

The Very Revd Dr Stephen Hance, Dean of Derby, said:

We are delighted to be able to exhibit these historic photographs, some of which are over 130 years old.

They shed new light on the history of the building we know and love today, and bring to life an important chapter in the history of this worshipping community.”

Daniel T. Wheeler, The Photo Parlour Nottingham, said:

I’m proud to have been asked to use the facilities in the darkroom here at the Photo Parlour to faithfully create prints from glass plate negatives that haven’t been seen since as far back as 1880.

Time, care and a myriad of old darkroom techniques have been used to produce exhibition quality silver gelatine prints, faithfully showing off the quality of these historical images and the grandeur and beauty of Derby Cathedral.”

Louisa Fuller, W. W. Winter Ltd, Derby, said:

Participation in ‘The Grand Tour’ has enabled Winters to forge new, dynamic and ongoing relationships not only with the Cathedral, but also with Daniel. Seeing the images he has printed from Winters’ original plates has been incredibly important and exciting.”