Earliest known photos of Winston Churchill show teenage years of future British leader

By Culture24 Reporter | 30 January 2014

He may be known for his stern-faced studies in stoicism, but an ancient set of prints show a cherubic Churchill

A black and white photo of a schoolboy looking into the camera as part of a group
This photo, from Welldon's House Group 1 at Harrow in 1892, is believed to be one of the earliest photos of Winston Churchill© Save Photo
A teenage Winston Churchill, dressed in military clothing, progressing from the back to the front of the class and showing an alertness which would serve him during his future military career, has been identified in a surprising series of plates found in a dairy barn of a farm two years ago.

The earliest known images of Britain’s most recognisable Prime Minister are part of more than 90,000 glass plate negatives showing Harrow schoolboys between 1860 and 1970.

Archivists from Save Photo say the pictures, which include seven of Churchill taken between 1889 and 1892, were in a poor condition when they were discovered in the Gloucestershire town, but a project to digitise, conserve and catalogue the Hill and Saunders Harrow Collection is now underway in Warwickshire.

Churchill is pictured in the Head Master’s House group during a four-year education which, perhaps typically for a 13-year-old moving into adulthood, saw him alternate between unhappiness and contentedness.

His official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert, recounted that Churchill had accompanied his father to Harrow for an annual singsong in 1940 – one of several return visits he made to the prestigious school.

"Listening to those boys singing all those well-remembered songs, I could see myself 50 years before singing those tales of great deeds and of great men and wondering how I could ever do something glorious for my country,” he reminisced to the writer. One of the photos shows Churchill serving the Harrow School Rifle, having joined their ranks at an early age.

Archivist Lizzie Davies picked out Churchill while matching individual pupils to the ledgers and documentation each photographer had attached to the plates.

“Our team have been working on an intensive programme of conservation and archiving,” said Peter Boswell, of Save Photo, reflecting on their “very privileged” research on the “amazing” lost images.

“We have been lovingly inspecting each photographic plate to ensure it is carefully cleaned, recorded and stored in high quality archival sleeves.”

The plates of Churchill will be auctioned by their private owner later this year.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A black and white photo of a schoolboy looking into the camera as part of a group
Detail from Welldon's House Group 1 (1890)© Save Photo
A black and white photo of a schoolboy looking into the camera as part of a group
Detail from Welldon's House Group 1 (1892)© Save Photo
A photo of a line-up of suited schoolboys and their teachers during the 19th century
Welldon's House Group 1 (1890)© Save Photo
A black and white photo of a schoolboy in a military helmet carrying a rifle in a squad
Detail from Harrow School Rifle Corp (1892)© Save Photo
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This is a wonderful find and I am so proud that my daughter identified these pictures.
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