SAHAAS Buys 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 this April our 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.

The identity of the photographer is a matter of some interest and interim conclusions will be revealed at the Society’s 14 May meeting.

A digital copy of the photo will be on display in the Clock Tower over the weekend of the 4th - 6th May, 2013.

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

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