Part of the extensive archives we represent belonging to the London Borough of Bexley, the Boswell Collection was amassed by local man Arthur Henry Thomas Boswell (1880-1966) and is a fascinating photographic record tracing the development of the community in this area of suburban south-east London from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.
Boswell was born in 1880 in East Wickham, Kent; his family had a coach building, wheelwright and cart business in Market Place, Bexleyheath. Initially working as a sign writer, Arthur was a man of many talents. An amateur historian, palmist, property owner, coachbuilder and former cinema projectionist, he lived all of his 86 years in Bexleyheath. His pride and joy was his vast collection of photographs, negatives, glass lantern slides, photography equipment, stereoscopes and magic lantern machines. As well as photographing local scenes he also collected sets of lantern slides covering a wide range of popular themes mostly dating from the 19th century and was well known in the area for giving illustrated lectures.
In 1968 the London Borough of Bexley acquired this special collection with unique links to the borough, its history and the wider Victorian world. The council had in fact approached Boswell in the 1950s to purchase his unique photographic record of the borough but after a dispute over payment Boswell had threatened to destroy the collection! When he died in 1966 his step daughter, Violet Amelia McCarthy, resolved the financial issues and sold the entire collection to the borough. Thank goodness she did. By no means limited to local history interest, the breadth and depth of this collection illuminates a lively and evocative slice of life in Britain as a whole.
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