Ok, my dissertation is handed in so I can now concentrate on what’s importantJ Onwards to the archives!
I must admit, I never found looking at group pictures all that exciting. My gaze would just wander among the unfamiliar faces. I thought that those would be interesting only to those captured on them and maybe their families. That’s how I felt when looking at the Battersea school’s group photos from 1893-1900. I already knew that those can be invaluable when identifying people; some even have names on them. But can they tell us something more than which dead guy was which? Maybe so.
They say that a picture speaks a thousand words and I know a picture that says just that about the times it was taken in. For some reason, the photographer left some more space at the top than usually, so the first floor windows can be seen. In the corner window, four women are clearly visible. Here they are, most probably the servants of the school, standing in for all those who history used to ignore. Did they know they got captured in the photo? What did they think about at that moment? Did they envy the men in the foreground? I wish I knew.
There is this one person in the picture from 1893-94- a stark white suit among the blackness of the others. Am I seeing things or is he Chinese? I wanted to find out, so I dug through registers and club books. Wouldn’t it be great to discover the first Asian teacher in England? No such luck though, either he was adopted under an English name, or my eyes just deceive me. But it was important to me to try anyway.
While looking at those I’ve noticed that after these months of digging through the archives I am slowly starting to recognize those people, some by name and some by face. Then, a sudden realization came to me: I am related to those people, the continuity of the school made me their distant kin. What an extraordinary thought to have.