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March 29

The Mary Evans Picture Library Unveiled

Anyone who knows Blackheath Village will have seen the intriguingly named Mary Evans Picture Library, housed in a beautiful Arts & Crafts building on a corner of Tranquil Vale. Many may also have wondered what lies within its walls – what sorts of pictures does it house? What is a picture library? And who was Mary Evans? 

Last week, we were delighted to team up with the Blackheath Society to shed some light on this local institution as part of our popular Wollstonecraft Lates lecture series. Tom Gillmor Head of Content at the Mary Evans Picture Library gave a fascinating talk on the history of what has become an internationally renowned archival resource, its pioneering founder, and the future of image libraries in a constantly changing digital world. 

Members of the Blackheath Society, the local community, parents and alumnae from Blackheath High School gathered at the Junior School to learn about Mary Evans, whose passion for archiving led to the creation, in 1964, of the eponymous Picture Library. Her small collection of historical images soon outgrew her home, then a larger Victorian terrace, then a disused building, before settling on its current home, a former parish hall in Tranquil Vale.  

Mary was not just an avid collector of imagery, she was also a passionate researcher and a shrewd businesswoman, building a commercial enterprise that has licensed and supplied photographs, illustrations and engravings to publications and media outlets for more than 50 years. Although she sadly died in 2014, her passion lives on in the Picture Library, and in Tom Gillmor, who described the challenge of keeping pace in a digital world, where vast repositories of digital imagery are available at the click of a mouse. The Mary Evans Picture Library now houses more than 3.5 million images and works with everyone from media conglomerates to attic collectors – this unique position allows them to keep evolving and planning for the future. 

We have our own archive at Blackheath High School, full of images and artefacts dating back to when we first opened in Wemyss Road in 1850 – Tom's talk has inspired us to do even more to preserve it for students and the local community, both now and into the future. Recently we have begun to explore the archive as part of our history curriculum for Junior School pupils, and we’re delighted that Tom Gillmor has offered his expertise to help us make the most of it. By engaging students in our past, we hope to preserve more of it for our future. 

A huge thanks to Tom and to everyone at the Blackheath Society for making this event possible. 

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