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From Ancient Crosses to Flying Machines

We often discover quirky and interesting images during our work at the Historic England Archive, and these are added to our Recent Discoveries galleries on our website. Our latest ‘Recent Discoveries’ have been particularly interesting in different ways. Here is a selection of our favourites.

OP02671: St John’s Court, Malmesbury, Wiltshire. 1877.

This image, dating from 1877, is one of the earliest known photographs held by the Historic England Archive to show building conservation in practice. Colonel C W Miles and his wife are shown cleaning and restoring the medieval arch on the south gable end of St John’s Court, also known as Court House. This building, originally the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, was converted into almshouses in the late 16th century. Colonel Miles owned Burton Hill House in Malmesbury (later known as Ingelbourne Manor).

Archive black and white photograph showing a historic building being cleaned.
St John’s Court, Malmesbury, Wiltshire. Historic England Archive OP02671

OP09800: Eastbourne, East Sussex. August 1913.

This postcard shows crowds of people on the beach at Eastbourne in the summer of 1913, watching Frederick Fowler in his water plane, prior to take-off. Frederick B Fowler established the Eastbourne School of Flying in 1911 at an airfield on Willingdon Levels near Eastbourne. The airfield was operated by the Eastbourne Aviation Company, who owned the plane shown in this photograph.

Archive black and white photograph showing a very early seaplane floating in shallow water and surrounded by a group of people. The photograph has been annotated.
Eastbourne, East Sussex. Historic England Archive OP09800

OP34942: A B Burton Sculpture Foundry, Summer Road, Thames Ditton, Surrey. 1907.

This photograph shows workmen posing in front of the equestrian statue of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, by the sculptor Adrian Jones, in the A B Burton Sculpture Foundry in Thames Ditton. A B Burton was a bronze statue manufacturer. The company, originally Cox and Son, was established in 1874. The sculpture shown here is now located on Whitehall in Westminster. Another of Jones’ most well known sculptures, ‘Peace Descending on the Quadriga of War’, surmounts the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner.

Archive black and white photograph showing the interior of a workshop with a group of workmen standing in front of a large equestrian statue.
Summer Road, Thames Ditton, Surrey. Historic England Archive OP34942

CGH01/02/01/017: Market Cross, Cheddar, Somerset. 1795 – 1815.

This painting of the Market Cross in Cheddar is one of twenty-four original watercolours by the artist William Alexander (1767 – 1816) recently discovered within the works of another artist. The paintings, which all depict ancient crosses, were probably collected by the artist and author C G Harper, to inform a publication on the subject, which doesn’t seem to have been completed. William Alexander travelled to China as one of the draughtsmen to the Macartney Embassy. He was later appointed Assistant Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum.

Archive watercolour painting showing an ancient market cross.
Market Cross, Cheddar, Somerset. Historic England Archive CGH01/02/01/017 © Historic England Archive CGH01/02/01/017

SAM01/02/0327: Flying Machines above St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Early 20th Century.

Another recent discovery is this quirky image which shows what appear to be pedal-powered flying machines in the skies above St Paul’s Cathedral. The photograph, which is part of the J J Samuels collection, has clearly been manipulated, with the flying machines drawn onto a print, and the whole then rephotographed. It is not known why the image was created, or what it was intended to show. The structure in front of the west end of the Cathedral, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the modern Shard building, is also a mystery.

Archive black and white photograph showing a city with a domed cathedral and other towers.
St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Historic England Archive SAM01/02/0327
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