PICTURES from the earliest days of photography are casting a new light on church figures in the mid 19th Century.

And, to add to the fascination, the fading sepia images may even have been taken by one of the era's most famous literary names.

The pictures were found at Ripon Cathedral when the old chapter office at the foot of the South Steps was being cleared out in 2001.

Thirty portraits of clergymen were found in an old scrapbook, together with a note from a historian in the 1980s suggesting they had been taken by Lewis Carroll.

Carroll, the creator of one of the most enduring characters in children's literature, Alice in Wonderland, was the pen-name of academic Charles Dodgson.

But he was also an accomplished photographer and his close links with Ripon, where his father was a canon residentiary, are well documented.

Over the past two years, a major investigation has taken place in an attempt to verify whether the photographs were taken by Carroll.

International experts have been consulted, with help given by members of the Lewis Carroll Society, the National Photographic Museum at Bradford, the British Library and Lambeth Palace Library.

Painstaking work by Keith Wright, of the Lewis Carroll Society, has established the identity of the people in the pictures, their careers, and their links with Carroll.

Maurice Taylor, of the Cathedral Friends, said: "If they had been Lewis Carroll's photographs of children he knew at Ripon, each would have had a four figure value.

"Even as they are, mostly VIP clergymen of the day photographed by Carroll, each would have had a significant value.

"Nevertheless, they are rare and are worthy of conservation."

Anyone who has information on the photographs is asked to call Mr Taylor on (01765) 604778.