Many thanks to Alex Service (Saints Heritage Society) for this article.
‘St. Helens Through the Lens’ is a ten month Heritage Lottery Fund supported Heritage and Arts project based in St. Helens Library and Arts Service. This unique project aims to engage residents in uncovering the local history documented in the collection. It includes 3,000 glass plates discovered in a former photography studio in 1984, most taken by local professional photographer Geoff Williams, who also took hundreds of images of Saints’ matches for the local newspapers over the years. It is a generic collection, however and, overall, provides a real snapshot of local life in St. Helens in the 1950s. The images have been digitised and are being catalogued and described essentially by volunteers.
Saints’ fans amongst them were quick to spot a full-length portrait of double Challenge Cup winner Austin Rhodes in the collection and Project Archivist Victoria Brokenshire was only too pleased to send a copy of the image to the man himself.
Despite still possessing a razor-sharp memory on rugby league matters, Austin could not actually recall the occasion. “It might have been connected with me getting my club blazer,” he recalls, “although that’s as far as it goes. After all, it was a while ago!” His wife, Marlene was delighted: “That was certainly the man I married! Although there are some blemishes on the photo itself, it’s great to see that Austin’s actual image is clear as a bell. We’ll be sending this to our daughter in Australia – she’ll be thrilled!”
Amongst other images on the project’s website, you will find Austin’s great friend, Tom van Vollenhoven judging a beauty pageant. “It sounds like a tough job to me, but somebody had to do it and Tom stepped manfully into the breach,” joked Austin.
Indeed, some of the other images from the collection can be viewed here. I wonder how many of the people whose portraits are on view were Saints’ fans?