Article date – 31 May 2018

A unique exhibition that sheds light on the borough’s heritage has been unveiled this week at Newton-le-Willows Library, as part of the award-winning Cultural Hubs, arts in libraries programme.


The St Helens Through the Lens project began in 2016 when a Heritage Lottery Fund grant was awarded to St Helens Local History & Archives to digitise, preserve, share and explore a collection of over 3,000 glass plate negatives discovered in a former photography studio in the 1980s.

The photographs were taken by Geoff Williams of Central Studios and included portraits, weddings, sport, events, buildings and more – creating a real snapshot of life in St Helens in the 1950s.

Artist Debbie Adele Cooper revealed her unique artwork, commissioned by St Helens Local History & Archives, using the fascinating collection of glass negative portraits as inspiration, illuminating faces from the past.

The artwork also features modern photographs in the same style as those from the Geoff Williams Photography Collection, with local people having had their vintage portrait captured at previous events.

Debbie’s practice revolves around public engagement, photography, sound and light. Over the course of the project, she worked with over 1,000 people from St Helens and surrounding areas to explore the history of the original images and their relevance today.

Glass is a prevalent theme in the artwork, with many of the glass negatives in the collection from Pilkington, Triplex and Fibreglass, and glass bricks used to house the photographs; glass being one of the building blocks of the borough.

At the launch event earlier this week, residents had the chance to become part of the exhibition with their very own vintage portraits captured for posterity.

The exhibition is free to view at Newton-le-Willows Library throughout summer. Come along and have a look, and if you spot any familiar faces, be sure to share it with our Library and Arts services on Twitter @STHLibraries and @sthelensarts using the hashtag #StHelensLens.

Cultural Hubs, the nationally-renowned arts-in-libraries programme, is delivered by St Helens Council’s Library Service which is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.


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