The intricacies of life in an early Victorian village have been depicted in the oldest ever photographs of southern England – with the album set to fetch up to £70,000 at auction.
Images of flower girls, portraits of soldiers and stills of a brass band performing in Horsham, West Sussex were all captured by Captain Thomas Honywood, who curated the ‘historically important’ and ‘breathtaking’ collection using a photography technique he developed.
The earliest of the extraordinary images is a rural farm scene with a man standing by a fence from 1848 with another shot, a group of men and boys in a study captioned ‘Horsham Woodcutters’, dating from 1850.
It is unclear where many of the landscape images were taken or who the individuals pictured were, as many of the buildings photographed no longer exist.
Captain Honywood was responsible for the invention of Nature Printing, which enabled him to transfer positive images onto film. His discovery came around a decade after William Henry Fox Talbot created the first reasonably light-fast and permanent photograph.
His images painted an astonishing image of England in the 1840s and 50s, when Queen Victoria governed over Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of India, South America and Africa in an ever-expanding British Empire.
The period also marked the height of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, with Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition opening in London’s Crystal Palace in May 1851. Here, around 10,000 exhibitors displayed innovative technology, including farm machinery and false teeth, to the awe of around six million visitors.
Images of flower girls (pictured), portraits of soldiers and stills of a brass band performing in Horsham, West Sussex were all captured by a technique developed by Captain Thomas Honywood in a ‘historically important’ collection from the 1840s and 50s
The earliest of the extraordinary images is a rural farm scene with a man standing by a fence from 1848 (pictured) with another shot, a group of men and boys in a study captioned ‘Horsham Woodcutters’, dating from 1850
Pictured: An image of the ‘Horsham Woodcutters’ from 1850, with the men and children seen wearing bowler hats and smocks
But life was less than idyllic for those living in rural villages, where in the 1840s a series of poor harvests heralded what became known as the Hungry Forties – with the worst famine taking place in Ireland during the four-year Great Hunger from September 1845.
Archaeologist Captain Honywood, whose images display this period in great detail, experimented with a range of photo-chemical processes that he used to capture life in West Sussex and print them in a 19th century leather-bound album.
He was able to patent this innovative photography technique, and he exhibited it at the London International Inventions Exhibition of 1885.
The extraordinary album will be sold on October 28 by Chiswick Auctions, who are anticipating a great deal of interest from museums and collectors with an estimated selling price of up to £70,000.
Austin Farahar, Head of Photographica at Chiswick Auctions, said: ‘The album has a narrative similar to any great artist’s sketchbook, full of experimentation, development and adjustments.
‘It is fascinating to observe how the polymath Thomas Honywood was utilising and learning the new photographic artform. Many of the works contained within are simply breath-taking.
It is unclear where many of the landscape images were taken or who the people pictured were, as many of the buildings photographed no longer exist. Pictured: Portraits of two unknown soldiers
An album of the oldest ever photos of southern England, dating back to 1848, could fetch up to £70,000 at auction. Pictured: An image of a bridge from the extraordinary album
Archaeologist Captain Honywood experimented with a range of photo-chemical processes that he used to capture life in West Sussex and print them in a 19th century leather-bound album. Pictured: A farmyard image from the collection
Pictured: A brass band perform at a gathering in West Sussex in an image which is among the oldest photographs of southern England
‘The album’s contents, containing personal portraiture studies of the people and the places that he knew and loved dearly, communicate with such arresting intimacy a record of the world that Honywood inhabited.
‘Before these photographs were discovered, every record or account of this part of England had been translated via the eyes and hands of an artist, perhaps with the assistance of the camera-lucida, but still from the subjective view of a draftsman.
‘What we have here is a beautiful and extraordinary intersection of art and science.
‘William Henry Fox Talbot had developed and patented his Calotype process (from the Greek Kalos, meaning beautiful), just a decade before.
‘Very few people were proficient in this process and fewer excelled with such artistic flair in the way that Honywood did.’
Captain Honywood (left) was responsible for the invention of Nature Printing, which enabled him to transfer positive images onto film. His discovery came around a decade after William Henry Fox Talbot created the first reasonably light-fast and permanent photograph
The extraordinary album will be sold on October 28 by Chiswick Auctions, who are anticipating a great deal of interest from museums and collectors with an estimated selling price of up to £70,000
Honywood was Captain of the Horsham Volunteer Fire Brigade for many years and assisted neighbouring towns and villages in starting their own Fire Services. Pictured: An image dated 1850
Images of nature, scenic buildings, and portraits of workers were all captured by a technique developed by the photographer in a ‘breath-taking’ collection
Honywood was Captain of the Horsham Volunteer Fire Brigade for many years and assisted neighbouring towns and villages in starting their own Fire Services, which earned him an oil portrait of himself, which now hangs in Horsham Museum.
Mr Austin added: ‘This collection is of huge historical importance to the art of photography and the nation as a whole.
‘The exceptional images are the earliest photographs we have of the southern region of England that are known to exist.
‘The portraits of farmworkers, soldiers, firemen, and stunning landscape studies taken across Sussex are an incredibly rare slice of social history that should be preserved for current and future generations.
‘We anticipate interest from museum’s and public collections all over the world, as an early photograph album of such significance appearing on the public market in 2020 is essentially unheard of.’
Thomas Honywood: Photographer, archaeologist, entrepreneur and Horsham’s most famous Victorian
Thomas Honywood (7 October 1819 – 5 October 1888) was an English polymath, fascinated with the pursuit of art, science, archaeology, and photography.
Born in the market town of Horsham, west Sussex in 1819 to Mary Anne Morth and builder John Honywood, Captain Thomas’s array of passions would make him the town’s most eminent Victorian.
Honywood’s love for photography and experimentation with various photo-chemical processes led him to patent a new photographic technique of ‘Nature Printing’, according to Chiswick Auctions.
This process enabled the transfer of positive images from nature onto a variety of surfaces, the success of which led Honywood to exhibit his work at the London International Inventions Exhibition of 1885 to much admiration.
This was not his only notable attribute, however; a key member of the Horsham Volunteer Fire Brigade, he was a community leader and assisted in the formation of fire services in Horsham and the neighbouring towns in the wider Sussex area.
Also a keen archaeologist, whilst conducting excavations in Horsham, he discovered the ‘Horsham Hoard’ of medieval pottery and ceramics, photographs of which are included in this album.
As a result of his dedication to the Fire Brigade, and his many contributions to Horsham life and the wider Sussex area, Honywood was venerated with a portrait which now hangs in the Horsham Museum.
For such a distinguished and diligent man, it is hard to understand why we do not know more about Honywood’s photographic talents.
In the early years of the twentieth century, a small selection of Honywood’s photographs were used by a Berlin-based printer to produce a series of collotype postcards (attributed to ‘Thos. Honywood’ on the verso).
Three such postcards feature in this lot, including ‘Old Horsham Woodcutters 1850’ together with the original overpainted albumen print from which the collotype was taken.
The album as a whole comprises a superb collection of portraits of Horsham’s inhabitants, buildings, and the surrounding landscapes.
It contains a mixture of 170 calotypes and albumen prints dating from 1851 onwards, and are the earliest images from this part of England that are known to exist.