‘Victorian Lantern Slides of Our Island’
A talk by Bob Longton, at Freshwater Library, 19th September 2016
Over 40 of us met at Freshwater Library to hear Bob Longton’s fascinating talk and presentation of hand-coloured Victorian lantern slides of the Isle of Wight. Bob is Custodian of Carisbrooke Castle Museum, which houses the Museum of Island History, founded in 1898 by Princess Beatrice. The Museum is independent from English Heritage and is run by a charitable trust.
Bob explained how the set of slides used in the talk had been acquired by the Museum. A 20-page document of closely typed lecture notes on a set of Victorian lantern slides produced by J. C. Llewellyn and the Ventnor Advertising Committee had been found in the Museum’s archives. The notes described 69 slides, 35 of which were of Ventnor and the surrounding area, since their main aim was to attract tourists to Ventnor outside the winter period (when Ventnor was a popular destination for its mild climate and consequent health benefits). Unfortunately, the Museum did not have the slides to go with the notes so it sought to acquire its own set of Isle of Wight Victorian lantern slides. A set of 46 slides (there should have been 50 but four are missing) of hand-coloured images of the Isle of Wight was purchased in 2015. This set is not geared towards Ventnor and was produced by William James Catlin (1827–1891), the proprietor of a lantern and slide-making business in London. The date the slides were produced is unknown but is before 1880.
Bob then proceeded to show the slides of views as they might be seen in a tour clockwise around the Island, starting from Ryde Pier. This slide was definitely pre-1880 as just the horse-drawn tram and promenade piers were in place but not the railway pier built in 1880.
Bob used quotes from Vectis Scenery – views of the picturesque beauties of the Isle of Wight, written by George Brannon and published by his son Alfred in 1874, to give a feel of how the various locations were promoted at the time the slides were produced. They were often described in a somewhat eloquent and exaggerated way and the text is rather amusing to read today. For example, of Blackgang, Brannon wrote: ‘Those strangers who feel an interest in viewing Nature under her most solemn aspects should visit Blackgang during a tempestuous and gloomy state of the weather: all then is congenial horror.’ In contrast, the description of Farringford seemed a bit understated: ‘Farringford House, the residence of Tennyson the poet, is a plain dwelling sheltered by trees.’
It was wonderful to see the images in colour rather than the usual black and white of the period. However, some of the colouring was a bit strange, for example some chalk cliffs had been painted reddish brown, and Bob explained that because the hand tinting was done in London, the colourists were unlikely to have visited the Island and so would have been unfamiliar with the true colours of the scenes.
The Victorians made a point of visiting the graves and homes of the good and noteworthy on their tours and so Little Jane Squibb’s grave and house at Brading and the Dairyman’s Daughter’s grave at Arreton formed part of the set of slides. Quaint churches were also of interest, for example the little churches at Bonchurch and St Lawrence as well as the larger Arreton Church and Whippingham Church with its royal associations.
A visit to Carisbrooke Castle was an important part of a Victorian tour and we heard that before 1856, Carisbrooke Castle had been allowed to become heavily overgrown with ivy and that Ash trees were left to grow out of the walls as this was considered to make the castle look more romantic. In 1856, the damage that the ivy and trees were doing to the castle was realised and they were removed.
There were slides of Scratchell’s Bay, the 1869 Alum Bay Pier and of Yarmouth bridge with a horse and cart passing over it. As no notes had come with the slides, some locations had taken a while to confirm but the location of the final unidentified slide, of a mill stream and buildings with St Thomas’s Church, Newport, in the distance, was suggested by the audience to have been in the vicinity of Pan or Westminster Mill.
Cowes was another popular place to visit, with its busy and crowded harbour. It was then often a first port of call for shipping. Sails would be repaired here and ships would wait to hear from their agents in London where they should take their cargo in Europe for the best prices. One of the last slides was of Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s favourite royal residence, her association with the Island having an important bearing on the popularity of the Isle of Wight in the Victorian era.
Everyone really enjoyed the talk and slides and we all learnt a lot about what tourists wanted to see on the Isle of Wight in the mid-Victorian period.