John Thomson from Southdown, Bath, was their saviour. He has spent the last few weeks converting the negatives into photographs, which he has been publishing on Twitter.
The civil servant recruited the help of the Yapton and Ford Local History Group to find out more about the buildings and people captured in the images, taken around 1900 and 1910 – and is hoping to track down relatives of those photographed.
Worthing mum’s £130,000 theft and cancer lies left her grandparents homeless and ‘skeletal’Littlehampton Yacht Club theft ‘soul-destroying’ says ownerLittlehampton’s Look & Sea Centre plans approved by councillorsHe said: “There will be great-grandparents and grandparents of people alive now. There will be family likenesses to the people in the photos. It is almost possible.”
Allen Misselbrook, chairman of the group, hailed the collection as ‘priceless’ for the village.
He said compared to most old photographs they come across, which are ‘copies of copies’, these were the real deal. He said: “They are brilliant. The detail and the sharpness of them...there is no doubting what they are.
“I would say they are probably the best photos that I have come across of a historic nature for the village.”
John, 40, was working in a second-hand bookshop called the Book Barn 11 years ago when the seven wooden cases filled with around 300 glass negatives were put on a skip among a clear-up of the store.
He decided to rescue the artefacts, and they lived in his loft until recently when he rediscovered them during building works on his home.
To process the glass panels, he has been using a smartphone application which lets him to take a photo of the negative and convert it into a usable photograph.
He started a Twitter account called The Unknown Photographer, with the handle @FacesInTheLight, and has published a photograph almost every day since September 18.
One of the boxes came with labels which said ‘Yapton’ on it and St Valery – likely to be Saint-Valery-en-Caux, a village in the Normandy region of France. The Yapton link was confirmed in one of the pictures: a cart emblazoned with a sign saying Yapton.
Aside from the photos taken in France, those taken in Yapton show images of upper-class family life in the Edwardian era, before the start of the First World War.
Among the more candid shots is a mother, hair down, in bed with her newborn son. The photographer also had a sense of humour, with a picture of a dog at the breakfast table with a young boy outside a stately home.
Holiday snaps also feature, with a picture of the pyramids at Giza in Egypt and the Taj Mahal in India – leading John and Allen to believe the photographer must have been very wealthy.
There is also a naval theme to many of the photos being unearthed, with pictures of tall ships and liners riding the ocean wave.
Using their local knowledge, the history group established the whereabouts of a church and a manse in Yapton: the church remains in Main Road, but the manse has been turned into a car park, according to Mr Misselbrook.
The latter said the photographs had been a ‘goldmine’ for villagers: “There aren’t too many of us born and bred, so all the new villagers are lapping it up.
“The more photographs we can uncover, the more we can fill in the forgotten history of where we live.”