National Lottery Heritage-funded project 2016 - 2022

In 2016 we began the journey to re-house, catalogue and celebrate the incredible Sankey Family Photography Collection, an archive of over 15,000 images taken over a 70-year period by father-son photographers which documented huge changes in Cumbria & Lancashire’s history.

After our co-director Loren first set eyes on the sheer size of the collection being stored in the family’s garage, we began to build the relationship that eventually led to Signal facilitating the careful transition of ownership from the incredible Sankey family over to Cumbria Archives. Starting with a pilot project that began in October 2018, after securing National Lottery Heritage Funding, Signal began to explore this vast & largely untapped collection with members of our community through a series of workshops and talks which explored 100 postcards from the collection.

After that initial success, in 2019 we launched ‘Seeing the North with Sankey’ – a three-year project which digitised & re-homed the full collection for future generations to discover, in addition to further exploration of these priceless photographic works with local communities in Barrow-in-Furness and wider Cumbria. 

Keep scrolling to find out more & see all the incredible work produced as part of this much-loved project with links to exhibitions curated by our volunteer team and the projects achievements. 

About The Sankeys

THE SANKEYS were father and son duo Raymond and Edward Sankey, who documented life in Barrow and Cumbria for over 70 years. Starting in 1900, they captured the landscape, cultural changes, individuals, industry and tourism to name just a few. They designed and patented a unique postcard-printing machine which printed thousands of postcards of their photography daily, which were then posted all over the world and reveal fascinating insights of the 20th century. The Sankey Photographic Collection is now housed in Cumbria Archives, and will soon be available to the public through their online catalogue CASCAT.

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Project Aims and Achievements

The Original Archive 

  • We have restored, conserved, digitised and catalogued the 15,000 glass plate and acetate negatives and 20 postcard books that make up the Sankey Family Photographic Archive to be stored in Cumbria Archives in Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness for secure permanent and safe storage. 
  • We are in the process of creating a dedicated online website of the entire collection from the comprehensive database created by volunteers and staff, which links with Cumbria Archives for future public access & a huge resource for our community. This is due to be launched later in 2022.

Volunteers and Participants 

  • We recruited & supported 56 new volunteers with learning new skills in research/interpretation,  conservation training, heritage activities, field-trips and oral history workshops as part of this Sankey activity. 20 core volunteers then developed online interpretations of the collection, co-curated exhibition content and created oral history interviews. 
  • We also ran two participatory, professional artist-led exhibition projects and workshops for people of all ages in response to the archive. 
  • We delivered an interactive heritage programme of creative activities based on the Sankey Postcards for local primary and secondary schools, universities and organisations across Cumbria that work with young people inc. creating a  Sankey Teaching Resource pack for schools to use in future.

Exhibitions and Final Work

  • We have shared & celebrated the incredible heritage of this unique resource through public talks, visits and film screenings around Cumbria.
  • We have co-curated and supported 11 exhibitions from the Sankey collection inc. 5 physical exhibitions in 3 locations (at Cookes Studio, Barrow Dock Museum, Furness/WestCoast Railway) 
  • We created a publication which contextualises the Sankey’s work into wider photographic history in addition to producing a Behind the Scenes documentary short film of the projects activities.

This project was kindly funded by the following...