Mercie Lack

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Mercie Lack ARPS was a British teacher and photographer particularly known for her photography of the discoveries at the site of Sutton Hoo in 1939 and for her photographs of London street scenes.


Mercie Lack is widely reported as a teacher in press coverage of her photography at Sutton Hoo. There is currently little information about her teaching career available. However, a Miss Lack and a Miss Wagstaff[1] are reported as amongst the teaching staff of Putney High School 1935-6, which would fit with Lack's London photography series of the 1930s.[2] She joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1944, gained her Associate in 1945, and became a life member in 1949.[3]

London photography[edit]

Lack captured life on the night-time streets of 1930s London on glass lantern slides, which are now held by the Museum of London.[4] Several of these slides featured in the Museum's temporary exhibition 'London Nights', May - November 2018.[5]

Sutton Hoo[edit]

Excavation of the ship at Sutton Hoo in 1939. Still from film made by Charles Phillips' brother H. J. Phillips.

Mercie Lack and fellow teacher Barbara Wagstaff were on holiday in Suffolk in 1939 when the Sutton Hoo ship burial was discovered. They arrived after the treasures had been removed and photographed the excavation of the ship itself. There are speculations that Lack and Wagstaff had contacts at the British Museum who informed them of the discovery.[6][7][8] There had been a call in 1936 for amateur photographers to help in documenting archaeological sites, and appeals were carried in the journal Antiquity in March 1936 as well as in photographers' magazines. Lack and Wagstaff appear to have been part of the response of the time but their photographs were of better quality than many of the other amateurs.[9]

Lack and Wagstaff used Leica cameras and German 35mm Agfa colour slide film and so the photographs of Sutton Hoo represent one of the first excavations in Britain captured in colour. Lack also had a cine-camera and took a short 16mm film of the archaeologist Basil Brown excavating the midships section.[10]

In 2010, a collection of around 400 of Lack's photographs of Sutton Hoo were found to have been donated to the National Trust a few years before by a great-nephew. Until then there had been only the 29 official British Museum photographs of the excavations, and as records of measurements taken by staff from the Science Museum had been lost during World War II, Lack's photographs allowed for a more detailed re-construction of the dig than had been previously possible, particularly because many were annotated.[6][11][7] A large number of Lack's photographs and slides are also in the British Museum collection.

Lack was given a collection of ship rivets on the last day of the 1939 excavation by Charles Phillips. She bequeathed her collection of Sutton Hoo ship rivets to the British Museum.[12]



  1. ^ Miss B Wagstaff joined the Royal Photographic Society in 1944 and gained her Associate the same year. Information supplied by the Royal Photographic Society. Accessed 10 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Putney High Archives". Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  3. ^ Information supplied by the Royal Photographic Society. Accessed 9 June 2019.
  4. ^ a b London, Photo. "Photo London". Photo London. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  5. ^ Souter, Anna (10 May 2018). "London Nights at the Museum of London". The Up Coming.
  6. ^ a b "Unseen photographs of 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo discovered". 1 February 2011. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  7. ^ a b Clarke, Andrew. "New Sutton Hoo photographs unearthed". East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  8. ^ "Archaeology dig holiday 'snaps'". BBC News. 20 November 2010. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  9. ^ Academy, British (2002). Interpreters of Early Medieval Britain. British Academy. ISBN 9780197262771.
  10. ^ Evans, Angela Care (1999). "In Debt to the Amateurs: the photographs of Miss Lack ARPS and Miss Wagstaff ARPS" (PDF). Saxon: The Newsletter of the Sutton Hoo Society. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Hidden holiday snaps reveal figures behind legendary Sutton Hoo excavations of the 1930s | Culture24". Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  12. ^ "Term details". British Museum. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  13. ^ "We Few People - a new installation at Sutton Hoo". National Trust. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  14. ^ "Creating London Nights, a new exhibition at the Museum of London". moltest. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  15. ^ "Ethereal Images Of 1930s London At Night". Londonist. 3 May 2018. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  16. ^ Barnes, Freire. "Discover the City After Dark in 'London Nights' at the Museum of London". Culture Trip. Retrieved 3 July 2018.