Sunday, 26 January 2014

An Icon of Today

William Henry Fox Talbot photo taken in 1864 (1800 - 1877)
Fox Talbot was an eminent mathematician, astronomer and archaeologist. He translated the cuneiform inscriptions (one of the earliest known systems of writing) in Nineveh - Nineveh being one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. 
So what is this icon of today? It is an object that many of us own, carry around in our pockets and which gives us endless pleasure? 
175 years ago a world changing event took place at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, the home of Fox Talbot. In 1839 William Henry Fox Talbot announced that he had created the first photographic negative taken of a window at his home in Lacock Abbey. This was to be an invention that would revolutionise the way we view and capture the world.
In 1833 whilst visiting Lake Como in Italy, his lack of success at sketching the scenery prompted him to dream up a new machine with light sensitive paper that would make the sketches for him automatically.
Thomas Wedgwood had already made photograms - silhouettes of leaves - but these quickly faded. In 1827, Joseph Nicéphore de Niepce had produced pictures on bitumen, and in January 1839, Louis Daguerre displayed his 'Daguerreotypes' - pictures on silver plates - to the French Academy of Sciences. Three weeks later, Fox Talbot reported his 'art of photogenic drawing' to the Royal Society. His process used paper that had been made light sensitive, rather than bitumen or copper-paper.
To celebrate this event the National Trust, who now own the Abbey, have illuminated the window used by Fox Talbot and transformed the façade of the Abbey, its medieval cloisters, and the trees that line the driveway with pools of coloured light.
The Cloisters
A positive from what may be the oldest camera negative in existence dating from 1835 - the latticed window at Lacock Abbey
My photo showing the outside of the same window - illuminated from within 
Eight hundred years ago Lacock Abbey was founded by Ela, Countess of Salisbury. She founded the Abbey in memory of her husband William Longespée, and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and St. Bernard. On the very same day, she rode 15 miles on horseback and founded a monastery at Hinton Charterhouse for Carthusian monks.
She was a powerful and wealthy heiress, inheriting the title of Countess in her own right, not through marriage. After the death of her parents she was placed under the legal protection of King Richard the Lionheart.
She married William in 1198. Together they were an influential couple; William was the illegitimate son of Henry ll and half brother of King Richard.
Whilst William was in the Holy Land on a crusade, Ela acted as Sheriff of Wiltshire in his place. The couple were also instrumental in the founding of Salisbury Cathedral. 
Ela later became Lacock's first Abbess and spent her last days at the Abbey.
The snowdrops, aconites, and these catkins were delightful little harbingers of spring to see on this January day
A section of the inner courtyard to the Abbey
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid 16th century Henry Vlll sold the Abbey to Sir William Sharington, who converted it into a house. The Abbey passed to the Talbot family in 1750, and it remained in their hands until 1944 when Matilda Talbot gave it, along with the village, to the National Trust.
Prior to the dissolution of the monasteries this 14th century Tithe Barn was part of the Abbey. At that time most of the inhabitants of the village would be tenants of the Abbey and their rent (i.e. their tithes) would be a proportion of their corn, and fleeces etc which would be collected in this barn - hence the name tithe barn.
Lacock village is filled with lots of interesting architecture and quaint shops. It is popular as a film location having been used in several of the Harry Potter films, Cranford, and Pride and Prejudice.

68 comments:

  1. Another interesting post Rosmary. I remember learning about Fox Talbot when I did Photography as part of my Art History, but do not remember this important original photograph. How wonderful that you can take your own picture of the exact same window. Lacock does look like a very picturesque and well-preserved village, full of charm.

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    1. I enjoyed being able to photograph the same window but because it is still the winter season the inside of that particular part of the Abbey was not open to the public.
      Lacock is still a village where many people live, but is like stepping back in time, apart from the modern day trappings i.e cars.

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  2. Hello Rosemary, I have read about Talbotypes among the early photographic processes, and what always impresses me is the high quality of these early, experimental attempts, when one might expect partial results and crudeness.

    You were luck to be able to tour Laycock Abbey, with its attendant outbuildings and even a village. I'm not sure whether the colored lights were a good idea, but I really admire the abbey itself and that tithe barn.
    --JIm

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    1. Dear Jim - I am always amazed at the many talents of some of these Victorian gentlemen. Apart from being a fellow of the Royal Society and many other scientific institutions he was also a Member of Parliament, which he said prevented him from pursuing many of his scientific interests.

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  3. I knew that face as the photo loaded, then I realized who he was after reading your informative post.
    Clever man, and so many of us have taken to photography, I bet he had no idea when he was experimenting.
    The Abby looks lovely, and you are indeed lucky to have explored it.
    (I have been using my iPad to make comments these past several day, and it only let''s me do one line of typing. This time I am on one of my laptops)

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    1. So many of us love our cameras, and I know you do too. I wonder whatever Fox Talbot would think of all the images that fly instantly around the world today.

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  4. Hi Rosemary,
    I really like the old houses.

    From: Bea Cupcake

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    1. Thanks Bea - I will try and take you there sometime.

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  5. Thank you for this informative and interesting post, Rosemary. Lovely, old building in the last picture.. Happy Sunday!

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    1. Thank you Satu - the village is very historic and full of interesting architecture.

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  6. you've introduced me to a new character....and place; loved the history lesson (and the tour!)

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    1. Thank you - I very much appreciate your kind comment and visit.

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  7. I always love your posts Rosemary. Never to old to learn!!!!!
    Have a wonderful day.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it Marijke - I am still learning myself.

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  8. Thank you for another interesting and picturesque post, Rosemary. You make me homesick for England.

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    1. It is rather chilly here Susan, I am sure you would soon want to scuttle back to NZ for the warmth and sunshine.

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  9. Lacock village is new to me and I should like to visit it once. You have such a rich history in Great Britain. Your photo of the latticed window of Lacock abbey is so beautiful. The illuminated cloisters are magnificent too.

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    1. The photo of the latticed window turned out far better than I ever imagined it would. The evening was drawing in and the illumination inside the window was extremely bright. It was interesting for me to be able to take a photo of it knowing that it had been involved in such a great break through in the history of photography.

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  10. Lacock looks beautiful, even in January. I have visited the village a number of times, but not yet the Abbey. A treat in store.

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    1. Do visit the Abbey and also wander around the grounds which has the River Avon running through its grounds.

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  11. Wonderful post!!!
    Congratulations and a big hug

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    1. Dear Antonio - you are always so generous with your comments which are much appreciated - thank you

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  12. Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece of history. Isn't it amazing that with photography as with other inventions, that a few people seem to be on the same mental track all at once and boom a new technology is born? I think Talbot would love what we have now.

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    1. It is really quite recent that we have all had photography at our finger tips. I can remember buying 3 - 4 films a year, and being very careful and selective with it. The costs of development were so expensive.

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  13. England is just an incredible land of history , so much to see and learn, thank you for this 'lesson' , really enjoyed reading it...as always. xx

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    1. Dear Jane - I think it is important that we remember these figures from our past who have had such a pronounced effect on us, and still do even today.

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  14. One of my favourite places, Rosemary! Thank you for the tip about Mark Hearld's window dressing exploits - we may pop over to York this week.

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    1. If you find it Nilly - do take some photos please.

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  15. So intersting to learn about this place full of History. Ela achieved so many things during her lifetime.

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    1. Learning about people such as Ela really makes you reflect on how different life was. She couldn't just pop in her car, text, email or telephone her intentions, but had to clamber up on to her horse in order to continue and complete her tasks.

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  16. The photo off the window is verry beautiful, even so the colourfull photo's off the ceeling.
    Have a nice week Rosemary.

    Greetings,
    Inge, my choice

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    1. Thank you Inge - the photo of the window turned out much better than I thought it would - enjoy your week too.

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  17. A lovely post, Rosemary - I have never been to Lacock, and shall try and go. Is the Photographic Museum still
    in Bristol - I went there many years ago and it had much about Fox Talbot.

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    1. Dear Stephanie - there is a photgraphic museum at Lacock Abbey. I wonder if the one from Bath has been incorporated into it? It seems quite likely that it has. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  18. Eeergh - wrong. The Museum was Bath, not Bristol, and it is no longer there!

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  19. Great information!! And great blog!

    XOXO!

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    1. Thank you for your visit and kind comment.

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  20. Lovely post Rosemary with stunning photos. Your post is so interesting and feeds my hunger for learning more history, which I love.
    Patricia x

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    1. Dear Patricia - with each passing year, in other words the older I get - I feel the need to know as much about our history as I can. There is so much out there that I have been totally unaware of.

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  21. A fascinating post. I didn't know about Fox Talbot, although I knew the name. I visited Lacock Abbey, the village and the barn a couple of years ago when we were staying in Wiltshire, so I loved seeing them again here. It's such a lovely place. I imagine the illuminations look amazing.

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    1. We should all feel very grateful to our Victorian ancestors' - Fox Talbot had so many interests he pursued diligently and which we reap the benefits of today. Whatever would he think of all the images that we create today?

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  22. I've always been interested in Fox Talbot as he had associations with my home town of Reading, Berkshire where he had an establishment for his photography enterprise. I've passed the plaque marking this many a time, but wish I'd taken a photo when I lived in the town. Michael Portillo on his television series, Great British Railway Journeys, featured Lacock Abbey only the other day. It's a good programme giving lots of interesting historical facts. However, it must have been a good experience visiting it yourself. I'm assuming the Talbots you mention are members of the noble Talbot family line with connections to Derbyshire and the Talbots that were buried in Sheffield Cathedral. Wonderful post , as usual, Rosemary.

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    1. Unfortunately I did not see the Michael Portillo programme. Yes, I am not sure how this part of the Talbot family link in with the Earl of Shrewsbury. The name Fox came from his mother, his father died when he was only a year old.
      Glad that you enjoyed the post Linda.

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  23. Lovely photos; very informative post.

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  24. Loved this post! I often visit Lacock and have read about Fox Talbot there. But you have shared some new insights which I had not known! Wonderful images too, I must return there soon. x

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    1. If you are interested in seeing the Abbey illuminated it is only on until the 9th February. It is best to arrive a dusk, we were really too early. The grounds and cloisters are open until 7.00pm

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    2. Thank you! We will organise ourselves and get there. x

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  25. Dear Rosemary, Harbingers of Spring, indeed. All I can see are Snowdrops, Aconites and those wonderful Catkins. Not even a little sprig of green anywhere in our part of the world.
    And how wonderful it is that we can now share because so many have made it possible.

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    1. Dear Gina - sharing is such fun, I wonder whatever our forefathers would think about everything we have at our finger tips today.
      Yes, tiny hints of spring are on the way - I think that your spring, when it arrives, comes in with a rush.

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  26. My eldest son M. Is an avid photographer ,he takes his camera everywhere, when not working. also develops his own films. He no doubt would know Henry Fox Talbot.
    This is such an interesting post as always Rosemary.
    I have never heard of Henry Talbot. He certainly was a great inventor .
    How he came to buy Lacock Abbey is lovely story. Buying it from Ela, countess of Salisbury.
    Such wonderful English history.
    I will be reading up more about this great man.
    What intrigued me, is- I wonder if the 20th Century Fox film company have anything to do with him.
    The Fox family of America.!
    x val

    The photo of the big window and the Abbey illuminated are stunning.

    It really must be on my places to visit.

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    1. I have looked up 20th century Fox on wikipedia but it appears there is no connection. His father was a Talbot and his mother a Fox and that he how he came to have the name Fox Talbot, and probably because his father died when he was just a one year old.
      I was really very pleased with the photo of the window, it turned out much better than I anticipated - my little tribute and a 'thank you' to the great Fox Talbot himself.

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  27. Dear Rosemary,

    As you know, I collect daguerreotypes, but I knew little of Henry Fox Talbot's history, so thanks for filling in the gap. I can see why Lacock village is a natural as a film set; it has a lot of charm. And wouldn't it have been interesting to have known Countess Ela? She sounds like a force to be reckoned with!

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    1. Dear Mark - I loved reading all about Ela - what an amazing character. I am sure that you have seen John Constable's wonderful painting of Salisbury Cathedral which she also founded - I was astounded to discover that bit of information. Salisbury is one of the greatest and most beautiful Cathedrals in England.

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  28. We revisited both the Abbey and the village not long ago, they are both beautiful and full of interesting things to see.

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    1. We visited Lacock many many years ago, and we were surprised at how much everything had improved now. I do think that the last Director of the National Trust, Fiona Reynolds, did a great job for the trust in improving so many of their properties i.e. giving better access, parking and restaurants, and facilities for children.

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  29. Dear Rosemary,
    again wonderful informations and photos, thank you! So good to be able to make photographs now as many as one wants - and choosing the best later at home at the computer (when I think of the time of film rolls...). Last summer I was in Salisbury and saw the cathedral again - beautiful.

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    1. Dear Brigitta - yes, I remember vividly the days of camera films. You had to be so selective and often they were a disappointment when printed. I wonder what Fox Talbot would think about all of the images we take today.
      Yes, you are right Salisbury is a simply beautiful cathedral, and always a pleasure to see. I think that Ela was an amazing women.

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  30. I shall add Lacock Abbey and village to our itinerary. Hope we have time to visit this March as we'll be staying nearby.

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    1. Hope you enjoy if you do visit Loi.

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  31. Absolutely glorious! The information, the photographs and the place itself. Thank you for sharing this, Rosemary! Axxx

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    1. Dear Annie - Thank you for your kind comment. Pleased that you enjoyed the post - Saturday was a lovely day.

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  32. Rosemary, the Abbey and all of your images are beautiful. Olive

    p.s. our snow is something serious for it stops us in our tracks

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    1. Glad you enjoyed seeing the Abbey Olive.
      I can well believe that it causes problems for everyone, as it must be unexpected.

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  33. Wow. Wonderful photos, Rosemary. Loved seeing the Abbey in all its flashy color. A very nice tribute. Fox Talbot is a new historical name for me but one I won't soon forget. I love seeing the image of his original photo.

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    1. Dear Yvette - I enjoyed being able to take a photograph of the exact same window 175 years after that taken by Fox Talbot.
      Glad that you enjoyed seeing the Abbey - it will be illuminated for two more weeks only.

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