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The Shadbolt Collection

We recently acquired the earliest surviving aerial images of England. Taken from a balloon by photographer and balloonist Cecil Shadbolt between 1882-1892, this important collection of 76 Victorian glass lantern slides has now been conserved, digitised, catalogued and researched.

View the Shadbolt Collection

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The collection was miraculously found at a car boot sale and was bought by the Archive at auction in 2015. Watch our conservator at work repairing a lantern slide from the collection.

Aerial photography

Shadbolt made his first balloon ascent over Alexandra Palace on 31 May 1882. He designed a hinged plate so that he could attach his camera to the outside of the balloon basket, allowing him to tilt the camera to any angle, including looking straight down at the ground below. The photograph below taken in the 1880s, was widely regarded as the world's first truly successful vertical photograph.

We hold more than four million aerial photographs from the early 20th century to the present day. Find out how to search for images.

An aerial view showing Stamford Hill, taken from 2000ft
An aerial view showing Stamford Hill, taken from 2000ft. This image is the earliest extant aerial photograph taken in the British Isles. © Historic England CVS01/01/054

Shadbolt's last voyage

His final flight was on 29 June 1892, over Crystal Palace in a balloon belonging to his friend and experienced balloonist 'Captain' William Dale. The gas-filled balloon envelope tore apart not long after the ascent began and quickly crashed to the ground. Dale was killed instantly, while Shadbolt died from his injuries several days later. He was 33.

View the complete Shadbolt collection of images online.

Cecil Shadbolt (left) and 'Captain' William Dale (right) posed in the basket of a balloon.
Cecil Shadbolt (left) and 'Captain' William Dale (right) posed in the basket of a balloon. Shadbolt's camera can be seen, attached to the side of the basket. © Historic England CVS01/01/023

Shadbolt Collection image gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • A hand-coloured decorative slide showing an engraving of a man held aloft by ducks. He is seen flying above a cliff-top castle.
  • A crowd posed in front of a partially-inflated balloon
  • A hand-coloured slide showing an engraving of James Glaisher and Henry Coxwell in the basket of a gas balloon during their ascent to c.10000 feet in 1862
  • An aerial view showing Lewisham Methodist Church and Sunday School, Albion Road
  • A hand-coloured slide of an engraving showing MP Walter Powell and Captain Templer in the basket of the 'Saladin' balloon
  • An aerial view of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham, taken from 2000 feet
  • A hand-coloured slide of an engraving showing two figures in the basket of a balloon which has ditched into the sea
  • An aerial view of Clatford House and the surrounding streets, taken from 1900 feet
  • A hand-coloured slide of an engraving showing a tethered balloon which has torn in flight, with a sunrise behind
  • An aerial view the Eiffel Tower, Paris, taken from a tethered balloon
  • A hand-coloured slide showing an engraving of two men in a balloon flying over London
  • A hand-coloured slide showing Shadbolt's balloon 'Reliance', and a second balloon preparing to take off from the grounds of Alexandra Palace, with large crowds watching the event
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