SEARCHING his attic for Christmas decorations Harry Hunter instead found a window into what life was like for turn-of-the century Tynesiders.
Hidden away for over 70 years lay a treasure trove of photographic slides – and the pre-cinema era equipment needed to view them.
“I didn’t realise it was there until the middle of last week when I was looking for Christmas decorations,” said former engineering firm boss Mr Hunter, 83.
“I lifted up three boxes and saw this old bag. I don’t think it had been opened since my grandfather passed away around 70 years ago.
“Lo and behold inside there was a magic lantern and slides, most of which are over 100 years old.”
A magic lantern is an early type of slide projector from the days before cinema.
The technology has been around since as early as the 1650s but the machine that Mr Hunter found dates from the beginning of the 20th Century, when it was purchased by his grandfather William.
Originally lit by a paraffin gas lamp, the lantern was converted to electricity in 1924 – with the electrical wiring now replaced by one of Mr Hunter’s friends. And the near 400 slides range from children’s stories like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Three Little Pigs to illustrated scenes from the First World War and actual battlefield photographs.
But most interesting are some of the scenes of everyday life in Tynemouth and Wallsend – including the area’s first car.
“I’ve run through them and they’re so interesting,” said Mr Hunter, who lives with his son Cunliffe, daughter-in-law Gillian and grandchildren Catherine, George and Rose in Darras Hall. “Some feature people in day-to-day life, others my grandfather and his sons and daughters.
“He ran North Eastern Marine, which made engines in Wallsend and Sunderland, and was the first person in the area to own a Daimler motor car. There’s even a shot of him in it.
“There’s also later slides of his sons with their own cars and motorbikes.”
Mr Hunter says he would never sell the lantern and the slides – “they’re family heirlooms” – but he plans to bequeath some of the wartime images to the Imperial War Museum in his will.
“My father was a senior officer aboard HMS Warspite and was pally with the war photographer aboard.
“As a result he received a complete set of slides of the photos taken during the Battle of Jutland.
“I think they’re unique as I’d be surprised if any museum has them – so they’ll go to the Imperial War Museum when I’m not here.”