Thamesweb Logo

The History Zone

Is this the earliest photograph of Windsor?
Photo from the 1850s

 Update May 2007 - Very early stereoview now included too

See also

Early Views of The Curfew Tower

The History Zone Index

Royal Windsor Home Page

Add your comments on the forum HERE

The earliest photograph of Windsor? This is a monochome version of the sepia tinted print shown below

We were delighted to come across this photograph in August 2004. Claiming to be the 'First Photograph of Windsor Castle'. It certainly is early, the roof line of the Curfew Tower being the prime give-away, it being altered in 1863 to the pepper-pot shape we know today.
  This is one of a set of Victorian projector slides mounted on card from the days before films and television. The slides depicted the main news items of the day and were shown to audiences via a mirror image system. This meant that any text had to be reversed so as to appear correctly when projected against a screen. Strangely, the picture itself was not reversed for projection so could well have been viewed the wrong way round. The slides comprise cut-out newspaper and other paper images pasted onto cardboard slats with handwritten descriptions, in reverse text. Both sides carry pictures and text. The cards measure approximately 14 inches by 4 inches. This card carries the caption '1885: FIRST PHOTO OF WINDSOR CASTLE'.  Men are posing for the camera and there's a very well-dressed gentleman on the right who is really playing to the camera. 
  Although the slide is dated 1885, by that time the Curfew Tower had been restored and re-roofed so the image certainly dates from before 1863. Unfortunately,as this is a printed reproduction that we have illustrated here, much detail has been lost which was almost certainly present in the original glass plate. Victorian photography was renowned for the very fine detail that it could capture, especially when the very largest format cameras and plates were used. We suspect that this picture is no exception, but as the print process degrades the original image, we must wait until an original photographic print turns up to see precisely what other detail the scene has to offer.
  For example, what is happening along the riverfront? The picture below dated 1893 shows the initial stages of construction of the promenade. Note how much more mature the trees are in the centre of the scene.

view of promenmade construction 1893

A stereoview published in 1893 taken from a similar position on the Brocas

On the right of the 'first' photograph of Windsor there seems to be a fence and hedge which would be the beginning of the area that later was to become Barry Avenue and Alexandra Gardens. It is hard to tell if Fireworks Eyot exists.
  Obviously a lot of research is needed before this picture can be definitively dated and its detail revealed.

If anyone out there has any ideas, we would welcome them. To contact us, email Thamesweb. or add your comments on the forum HERE

The original picture before being prepared for this page. Note the handwritten caption, top left, reproduced below.

Detail of the reversed caption.

This way round the mirror image would have read correctly when projected. It is strange that the picture itself was not reversed so it is possible that it was projected and viewed the wrong way round. The date, if it is a date and not a reference number, is at least 22 years later than the actual photograph and could be around 30 years later.

Here we have reversed the image to 'right reading'


A second very early view of Windsor...
and this time its stereo!

In May 2007 we purchased a stereo view of Windsor taken from The Brocas in a similar position from the above, but a little nearer Windsor Bridge and at the point at which rowing boats were hired out. You can see that the image has faded but we are confident it dates from the 1860s. It is a shame that the Curfew Tower was not included in the view as it is quite possible that it would have been the earlier roofline thereby dating the picture as 1863 or before. The picture has a small label on the reverse which reads 'Stereoscopic slide of Windosr Castle. Photographed and published by W. F. Taylor, Windsor.'

The earliest stereoview we have yet located of Windsor from the Brocas.

With a little adjustment by computer we have been able to enhance the image, see below.

sv brocas

One indicator as to its age is the speed of the shutter. The earliest photographic processes were very slow so everyone had to keep very still. This would have been a problem with children and animals and you can see above that the child farthest left is fuzzy as is the face of the boy standing roughly in the centre. By comparison the boy sitting on the boat and the other boy standing nearest him, have tried very hard to keep still and are comparatively clear.

It is interesting to note that the business of boat hire was already established on The Brocas perhaps by the 1860s or before and certainly by the 1870s.

It is still not easy to make out the detail on the far bank, but we shall see if we can have the two images of the stereo further enhanced and see what detail can be made out then.

See also

Early Views of The Curfew Tower

The History Zone Index

Royal Windsor Home Page

To contact us, email Thamesweb.