Aims and findings of the OSS project

The OSS Lantern Slides project

The Open Spaces Society collection at MERL contains 19th century legal case papers and over a thousand lantern slides or transparencies of landscapes dating from around 1900-40 related to their campaigns.

The OSS have just (2021) made the images available on their website: https://images.oss.org.uk/

Introduction to the collection: https://merl.reading.ac.uk/collections/open-spaces-society/

But the metadata of the images is very thin. Many of the images are just marked with a vague location and most are not dated. So one of the aims of the project is to identify the locations of the images, and map them.

We will need help with this – a great opportunity when you’re on your local lockdown walk to see if you can spot which field or old oak tree is pictured in that image that is only titled ‘North Downs’ or ‘New Forest’.

Here am I, Katrina Navickas, out and about in my local area in November 2020 looking for locations in the lantern slides:

me in front of Waddon ponds
Katrina Navickas, Waddon Ponds, Croydon, November 2020

Aims of the project

  1. locate the locations of the Open Spaces Society lantern slides and produce an interactive map
  2. produce original research on the role of the Open Spaces Society in the early 20th century, discussed at a symposium or workshop
  3. produce a full database of the images that is linked to catalogues of OSS collections in other repositories, legal case papers, newspaper reports on cases and campaigns etc.
  4. engage the public with their local landscapes and environment, exploring changes between 1900 and today, and the importance of preserving open spaces for health, leisure and amenity
  5. exhibit the most interesting or significant images and findings in an exhibition

Research questions

  • What geographic patterns were there in location and types of landscapes?
  • What did the early 20th century OSS envisage as landscape and how did they define open space?
  • Compared with current photographs and maps, how have those landscapes changed since they were recorded?

Outputs:

1. a full database of the lantern slides and an interactive map of locations

The first stage will be to compile a database and map the locations of the images in the lantern slide collection.

The collection could then be linked with archives of the OSS at other repositories, including the Parliamentary Archives’ extensive OSS collections, and at Surrey History Centre, which holds more OSS material on Surrey commons disputes that link with the legal case papers at MERL, and other archives.

Here’s a snapshot of the database in progress (lots of missing info!, and my notes such as ‘might be the bird sanctuary?’):

database
database in progress

mapping the locations:

Here are some aggregate totals of the types of images (see future blog posts for more detailed analysis):

types of landownership represented:

blog post on these findings: https://historyofpublicspace.uk/2021/12/05/oss-lantern-slides-some-initial-data-on-land-ownership/

2. Exhibition of select images, ‘then and now’

Go to the exhibition notes:

https://historyofpublicspace.uk/my-oss-fellowship-at-merl-2021/exhibition-of-open-spaces-society-lantern-slides-held-at-the-merl/

3. A symposium on landscapes and the preservation of open spaces in the 20th century

New: Here is my blog post summarising the symposium: https://historyofpublicspace.uk/2021/09/12/open-spaces-society-symposium-for-the-merl-8-september-2021/

Recording of the symposium, on The MERL’s youtube channel:

Museum of English Rural Life, online symposium, Wednesday 8 September 2021, 2pm-5pm

These are some of the central themes arising from the images: 

  • Access to river and waterway towpaths
  • Woods and sylviculture – ancient woods and Forestry Commission plantations
  • Amenity and natural beauty in landscape preservation
  • A North-South divide in preservation priorities? 
  • Prioritising people or nature in preservation? 
  • Rural modernism, urbanism and infrastructure 

Updates

Updates are on the Posts pages of ‘Thoughts in Progress’.

Current roll of honour for locations spotting: Mark Crail, Fabian Hiscock, Helen Read, Catherine Clarke, Rob Telford, Julia Lee