Three dozen glass lantern slides, taken just as Victorian Britain gave way to elegant Edwardianism, paint perhaps the most vivid picture yet of turn-of-the-century life in Scarborough.
It was an age when ladies dressed up to go promenading, and when the sea shimmered like a jewel, bewitching all except those who had to stay there.
The pictures are the work of one William Nowell, whose day job was managing the Great Northern Steamship Fishing Company in Hull. He had embarked on a trip up the coast, apparently to document the social injustice among Scarborough’s haves and have-nots.
But unlike his contemporary, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, whose pictures of old Whitby are known the world over, Nowell’s work has remained unseen. It took a loft clearout by his great-grandchildren to bring them into the public domain.
On the South Bay sands, Nowell captures holidaymakers in frocks and bonnets, nestling among the ice cream barrows. Yet, just out of sight, he sees boys in torn jumpers and old caps scavenging for shellfish on the rocks. Just inland, fishwives in shawls rest their bare feet and deep baskets by the side of a rough-hewn cliffside track.
Graham Paddison, of the auctioneers Dee Atkinson and Harrison, said that although the fishing industry was not known for such philanthropy, Nowell’s photographic expedition must have been motivated by a desire for social reform.
“The contrast between rich and poor slaps you in the face,” he said, noting that the fishwives must have had to negotiate rocks and horse dung without a shoe between them.
“Compare that with the image of ladies of a quite different class, who raise their elegant dresses just an inch or two above the ankle as they paddle at the water’s edge,” he said.
“Another photograph brings the two worlds together. Two expensively-dressed young children ride donkeys along the street, led by a ragged teenage donkey boy.”
Despite their fascination, Nowell’s pictures will not make anyone a fortune. £2 to £3 each will be the going rate when the slides are offered later this month in a live online auction from a saleroom in Driffield.
“You can’t put them on your sideboard and show them off,” Mr Paddison said.
“Yet they are unique. This guy’s taken them for his own use, and it’s taken until now for anyone to see them.”