The Earliest Known Photograph of St Albans?

Photo:Clock Tower & Market Place c.1855

Clock Tower & Market Place c.1855

Copyright St Albans & Herts Architectural & Archaeological Society

The Clock Tower and Market Place c.1855

By Chris Green

Early in April 2013 our then webmaster, Jon Mein, spotted a Victorian stereoview of the Market Place, St Albans, for sale on the internet auction site, eBay. As it was clear the photograph could be no later than 1858 the Society prepared to make a substantial bid to keep it in the public domain, but the ‘hammer price’ was fortunately no more than a half-tank of petrol.

The chief local historical significance is that this is the only known photograph of the Clock Tower before the heavy-handed restoration of 1865. The surrounding shop (c.1550) was in use as a saddler’s. It looks very prim and had probably received recent work, including a previously unknown extension which must have half-blocked French Row. (This shop was demolished in 1858, so dating the photograph at first glance.)

However the middle distance also shows the roof of the old Market House (on the site of the current Corn Exchange), which was demolished by July 1856. We believe the scene was photographed in 1855 or possibly 1856, and in midsummer, as the sun is still high at 5.20 pm and the windows are open.

For further discussion of this image with thoughts about the identity of the photographer please read the two articles in the August and November 2013 editions of our newsletter.

This page was added by Jonathan Mein on 26/04/2013.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.