Crawley photographer discovers treasure trove of picture slides after clearing remains of playground

A Crawley photographer has discovered a treasure trove of picture slides dating back to 1972 after clearing the remains of a decommissioned playground.

Monday, 14th June 2021, 10:44 am

Jeff Pitcher, founder of Pitcher Photography, unearthed the 35mm kodachrome transparencies in a water damaged box that was in a skip in the Waterlea Adventure Playground building - which was decommissioned this year.

He has since spent the past few days trying his hardest to salvage the rediscovered photos.

A selection of the photos can be viewed in a picture gallery here.

Jeff Pitcher discovered pictures captioned ‘Ifield Holiday Centre (Junior School) August 1972’ when he cleared the remains of the Waterlea Adventure Playground building
Jeff Pitcher discovered pictures captioned ‘Ifield Holiday Centre (Junior School) August 1972’ when he cleared the remains of the Waterlea Adventure Playground building

Jeff said: “I’m a photographer, but I’ve also been a part-time playworker for the Crawley Play Service for nine years.

“Just before Christmas last year, the news broke that the council were to close all four of Crawley’s adventure playgrounds.

“After an outcry, there was a stay of execution, but, come October, the playgrounds as we know them will be no more.

“We’ve now come back off furlough, and are winding down the playgrounds, which is an emotional task.

The photos were found in a water-damaged box in a skip

“Last Friday we were clearing out the buildings at Waterlea – the equipment has been cleared already – and found around 100 slides in water-damaged sleeves behind a metal cabinet in the office.

“When I looked closely at them, it became apparent that they were something special.”

Jeff took the box home to begin the process of restoring the slides.

The images that he discovered were captioned ‘Ifield Holiday Centre (Junior School) August 1972’.

Jeff has since spent the past few days trying to salvage the remaining picture slides

He added: “I have equipment at home to scan the slides, so I took them back for a closer look. There were about 36 in total, so one film’s worth.

“They were all damaged, but I cleaned them up as well as I could.

It was pretty obvious they’d been taken by someone who knew what they were doing, but we’re not sure who took them.

“It’s so brilliant that they were shot as colour transparencies because that format lasts longer and the colours are more vibrant than film.

The photos provide a fascinating snapshot of life in Ifield in the 1970s

“The fact that they were shot inside also makes them extra interesting, as most pictures from that era are outdoor shots or taken indoors with obtrusive flash.”

Jeff was over the moon to discover these lost treasures and said that the photos had piqued the interest of two historical societies.

He said: “I’m overjoyed that I’ve helped save them. During lockdown, I wasn’t able to get out and take as many pictures as usual, so I started to post classic documentary shots on my Facebook profile instead.

“Finding a real-life trove of similar pictures at my work was exciting; for me, they’re treasure.

“They capture a simpler, more innocent time and are a vital piece of social history; but it’s scary to think how easily they might have been lost.

“Crawley Museum and the British Culture Archive are both interested in them, which is great; they won’t be filed away and forgotten.

“There’s something about the rough-and-tumble 70s fashions; the feather cuts, big collars, flowery dresses and boys with long hair combined with the old school tables and chairs that is so evocative.

“It’s mind-blowing (and a bit terrifying) to think that the kids in these snaps are all approaching 60 now!

“And there’s something melancholy about looking through them, through the lens of a town that’s on the verge of ditching all these adventure playgrounds and youth clubs for good.

“Crawley will lose spaces that have been at its heart since its inception. It’s a town designed for families, but places that welcome families on an egalitarian, not-for-profit basis are now thin on the ground.”

Jeff is now keen to discover the identity of the person, or people, who took the photographs..

After putting the photos on his personal and business Facebook pages, Jeff has had some luck identifying faces in some of the pictures but wanted more people to come forward.

He added: “I’m about the same age as some of the kids, and have spent my life in Crawley, but didn’t know any of the faces. I grew up in Furnace Green and Tilgate, but these were shots from the other side of town – they were taken at Ifield Junior School which was then at the old Rusper Road site and demolished a few years ago – a world away in those days!

“However, lots of my friends were able to help identify some of the children in the pictures.

“Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of interest, with people recognising themselves and their friends, which was so incredible.

“I’d love to identify some more of the people in these pictures, as well as the photographer, and it would be great if they or their families could come forward.

“I have lots more slides of the adventure playgrounds, so keep an eye out for those; I’ll be putting them online soon!”

The full gallery of photos can be found here.

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