Arcive coloured photo of a Cathedral with a spire behind trees.
Detail from a beautifully hand-coloured photograph of Lichfield Cathedral. One of a series of 'Magic Lantern' slides dating to 1869. Historic England Archive MOX01/01/001
Detail from a beautifully hand-coloured photograph of Lichfield Cathedral. One of a series of 'Magic Lantern' slides dating to 1869. Historic England Archive MOX01/01/001

Lichfield Cathedral in Colour 1869

In the Archive we sometimes uncover overlooked gems. This happened when our Acquisitions Officer, Ian Leith, was sorting through an unremarkable box of historic photographs. To Ian’s delight, he discovered a group of lantern slides that we believe to be the earliest colour photos held by the Historic England Archive.

Magic lanterns were an early form of projector. They used a strong light source to project positive images on glass plates onto large screens or walls. In Victorian England magic lantern shows were a popular and sometimes educational entertainment.

Lichfield in 1869

This set of lantern slides are dated 1869, and were probably produced to coincide with the Gilbert Scott restoration of the cathedral. The magic lantern show may even have been used to promote his restoration work. Most of the slides were hand coloured (an expensive process) and in most cases the colours survive very well.

Magic Lantern slide show

They are mounted in wooden frames, which suggests they were made for a particularly early form of lantern slide projector. We hold 11 of the original 14 numbered slides in the set. They were originally acquired by the Archive in 1973 – bought from a woman in Lancashire.

You can see all 11 slides together in the gallery at the bottom of this page.

More to discover...

There is more to learn about this important set of lantern slides. Can you help fill in the gaps?

There may be records from that time advertising an illustrated talk, which might tell us the name of the speaker for whom the slides were made. They complement the set of early photographs of Lichfield Cathedral compiled by Gerald Cobb ( 'English Cathedrals, The Forgotten Centuries', Thames and Hudson 1980). But we might still be able to identify the photographer. The collection might also tell us some more about the history and development of Lichfield Cathedral itself.  

If you can help with any information, please let us know by contacting [email protected].

Can You Help?

  • Department

    Archive Cataloguing Team
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