The latest digitisation project completed at the Parliamentary Archives is a collection of photographs originally taken by the MP and photographer, Benjamin Stone. The original photographs date from between 1897 and 1911 and are of the rooms which make up the Palace of Westminster, events such as the State Opening of Parliament, historical documents, objects and statues and also groups of politicians and visitors to the Palace. The collection is one of the first photographic records of the Palace and provides a record of the relatively new building, (built between c.1840-1870) and also of various visiting dignitaries and groups to Parliament.
Whilst much of the Palace of Westminster has changed little from its construction it is notable that we can view the original House of Commons chamber which was destroyed in 1941, it is not the same chamber as we see today! Benjamin Stone was active before the tumultuous world events beginning in 1914, so we can see a visit of the Imperial Ottoman Parliament, shortly before the fall of the Ottoman Empire and Members of the Third Russian Duma on the Commons Terrace in 1909. Early aviators, famous explorers and novelists all consented to be photographed by Stone.
The digitisation of the photographs was fairly straightforward as majority of the photographs in the Stone collection were of two sizes which is convenient for optimizing the speed of the digitisation process and quality of the output. We want to capture the best image possible of each item, so we fill the camera sensor with as much of the document as possible to achieve the best quality image. If we continually alter the camera settings to achieve the best image, with differing document sizes, then it can make the digitisation process very lengthy. The majority of the project was completed with only two settings and we opted to output the images as large as possible rather than to scale. This gives us a very high quality set of images to share online but also retain for future reference in our digital repository.
Whilst the Stone photographs are stored in modern archive conditions they do suffer, in varying degrees, from ‘Silvering’ namely the chemical degradation of the photograph. This destructive decay is irreversible so the digitisation of this collection is timely as the archive will retain a copy of the images for the future.
It is also the 70th anniversary of the Parliamentary Archives and the Stone photos have served as inspiration for the creation of a modern set of images of the Parliamentary Estate. Where possible we’ve tried to mimic exactly an image created by Stone so we can compare and contrast the changes, but we’ve also created entirely new photos ourselves.
The images of the original photographs and our new creations will be available to view online in November and we hope you enjoy a glimpse into the late Victorian/Edwardian Houses of Parliament as well as how it compares today.