Image caption,Volunteers have been working to identify people and places in the archive

By Vanessa Pearce
BBC News, West Midlands

Images saved from a skip, showing the restoration of a city devastated by the blitz, have been identified and catalogued thanks to the work of volunteers.

Thousands of photographs taken by Coventry photographer Arthur Cooper from the 1940s up to the 1960s have been digitized and released online by Coventry University.

The archive, in the form of thousands of glass negatives, was found dumped on a Coventry street and returned to publishing company Mirrorpix.

After sitting at the company's Watford archive for nearly a decade, the 8,049 rescued images have been made available to view as part of the Coventry Digital initiative.

The archive had no information attached, explained the project's director Dr Ben Kyneswood, so he has called on community groups and organisations to help identify people and places to add metadata.

Image caption,Arthur Cooper (in glasses) is pictured working with fellow photographers documenting the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral

"As soon as I opened the files I thought 'this is just marvellous'. There were just thousands of images with no information on," said Martin Williams.

The chairman of the Friends of Coventry Cathedral group has so far helped identify and caption about 700 of the pictures.

"It was when I saw early historic photos that I'd never seen before that I got very excited," he said.

Images such as rubble from the blitz being cleared from the cathedral in 1948 were "very important", he explained.

"That's just one moment in the history of the cathedral" that could have been lost.

Image caption,Rubble is pictured being removed from the bombed- out cathedral in 1948

Image caption,A service is held among rubble in Coventry Cathedral in 1946

The pictures depict weddings, award ceremonies and festivals as well as visiting celebrities and royalty and were taken while the photographer worked for publications such as the Midlands Daily News, Birmingham Post and Mail and the Coventry Evening Telegraph.

"I've been involved with Coventry Cathedral since 1962 and so was at many events which Arthur covered as a freelance, so I got to know him," said Mr Williams.

"He was a lovely man, we just got on really well."

Some time after Mr Cooper's death the thousands of glass plates were found in a skip.

"My understanding is the family were disposing of the archive some years ago, when someone recognised its worth and organised for its retrieval, "explained John Mead, archive manager at Mirrorpix owner Reach PLC.

"We recovered about 10,000 glass plates, with the collection predominantly documenting the rebuilding of the city after the war."

Image caption,The photographer took pictures of visiting celebrities such as comedian Ken Dodd (right), seen here with ex footballer and TV personality Jimmy Hill

Image caption,Many of the pictures depict the rebuilding of post-war Coventry

The negatives initially went to the Coventry Telegraph archive. Then, as the office closed down in 2012, they were passed to the archivist in Watford.

"But we couldn't identify who was in these pictures because there was no documentation whatsoever with the archive, all we knew was it was taken by Arthur," explained Mr Mead.

The collection is a "complete time capsule of history of a very specific location", added Fergus McKenna, content sales director of Reach.

The collaboration with Coventry Digital had enabled the company to "give that collection back to the city and ask the community to engage with it", he added.

Image caption,The archive also shows everyday life in Coventry

Image caption,The project aims to identify individuals pictured, adding metadata to the collection

Dr Kyneswood said volunteers had "loved" getting involved in identifying people and places in the archive.

More than 10,000 people a month had been accessing and sharing the images, he said, but the project was still working to identify thousands of other people in the collection.

Some groups had been able to identify specific vehicles, sporting events and adding the stories behind the picture "which is when it gets really interesting", he added.

"There's a lovely story where the Godiva Harriers' archivist identified a race that ended on Binley School track and it was to allow Coventry runner Brian Kilby to qualify for the Olympics in 1964.

"He spotted somebody in there whose wife Pam connected him to his wife and he's still married to her 54 years later," he said.

Users of the Historic Forum had also found some "very particular stories", he added.

About a picture of a TVR car taken in 1963, the forum had "identified the garage, they've identified the man who is standing next to the car - Peter Simpson - and then with a bit more digging they then found the car had just been renovated and so they posted online a picture of the same car".

Image caption,Arthur Cooper captured Brian Kilby qualifying for the 1964 Olympics at Binley Park School

Image caption,Members of Coventry Historic Forum identified this TVR car pictured in 1963

Rob Orland, founder of the Historic Coventry Forum, said his group with thousands of members had "risen to the challenge" of being able to identify a photograph's location or year "using fragments of what's visible in the picture".

"I think most of us enjoy a bit of ancient detective work," he added.

Image caption,Mirrorpix digitized the archive which is available online

Image caption,Thousands of glass slides were saved from a skip after the photographer's death

Image caption,Anyone recognising individuals from pictures is urged to contact the Digital Coventry team

The work of the community in helping identify the pictures was "very valuable", explained Mr McKenna.

The collaboration was helping make the archive searchable, he said.

"You're going from an asset that was in a dusty old loft to something now that's online and only going to get more discoverable and more shared and more used going forward."

Arthur Cooper's collection was important as it had captured "a social record of a time and a place that isn't there any more", he added.