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Lichfield Cathedral in Colour 1869

In the Archive we sometimes uncover overlooked gems. This happened recently 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 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.

Archive photo showing the entrance to a cathedral flanked by two towers, with scaffolding on the middle portion.
Detail from Slide 2 - The West Window with scaffolding – it looks like the new tracery of 1868 may already have been installed but the window glass of 1869 is missing. Historic England Archive MOX01/01/002

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.

Archive photo showing a stone altar screen within the end of a church. The photo is mounted in an annotated wooden lantern slide frame.
Slide 12 - The Altar piece or “Rederos”. The mis-spelling may have been either through dyslexia or a misreading of the architectural term 'reredos'. Annotation on the frame also prompts the presenter to mention that this cost 1000 guineas! Historic England Archive MOX01/01/010

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 & 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 canyouhelp@HistoricEngland.org.uk.

Lichfield Cathedral 1869 Image Gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Archive photo showing a cathedral with a spire reflected in a lake.
  • Archive photo showing a cathedral with three spires.
  • Archive photo showing the interior of a cathedral.
  • archive photo showing the interior of a cathedral.
  • Archive photo showing a decorated arched double doorway with one of the doors open.
  • Archive photo showing a four-legged church font raised on a series of steps.
  • Archive photo showing a detail of a stone monument.
  • Archive photo showing a stone monument of a kneeling man in long robes.
  • Archive photo showing a decorated arched double doorway. Both doors are closed.
  • Archive photo showing a stone altar screen inside a cathedral.
  • Archive photo showing a stome church monument with two recumbent figures.
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