Has a new exhibition uncovered the first family photo ever taken at Stonehenge? The origins of the ancient circle of massive stone monoliths, located in Wiltshire, England, may be shrouded in mystery, but the site’s photographic history is far easier to trace.
A new show at the Stonehenge Visitor’s Center, celebrating the nation’s memories of visiting the prehistoric site, kicks off in 1875, with a snapshot of Isabel, Maud, and Robert Routh, who made the journey there by horse-drawn carriage. Descendants of the Rouths unearthed a pair of faded images in response to English Heritage’s request for family photographs taken at Stonehenge over the years. (The first known photo of the site itself is 22 years older than the Routh image.)
“People have been visiting Stonehenge for centuries, and since the 19th century, people have felt compelled to take photos of themselves and their loved ones in front of the stones. But rather than lying forgotten in a dusty old photo album or on a memory card, we want people to share with us their photos of Stonehenge,” said Stonehenge director Kate Davies when putting out the call in 2018.
English Heritage historian Susan Greaney and photographer Martin Parr, who co-curated the exhibition, whittled down the more than 1,400 photos submitted to just 144, covering a span of nearly 150 years. The newest image on view is by Parr himself, taken during the fall equinox this September. The photographer captured an unknown couple kissing in front of the stones while, in true 2019 fashion, holding a selfie stick aloft.
Isabel, Maud, and Robert Routh in 1875, in what’s believed to be the oldest family photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of the Routh family/English Heritage.
Parr hopes to identify the pair and to give them a print of the image. English Heritage is also encouraging anyone who might have an earlier photograph of their ancestors visiting Stonehenge to come forward.
“The exhibition shows how photography has changed—the rise of the selfie stick and the smartphone and how taking a photograph is a very different thing now,” Greaney told the Evening Standard. “The way that people pose—people’s faces have got closer to the camera until they are taking a picture of themselves more than they are of Stonehenge.”
Martin Parr took this photograph at Stonehenge on the fall solstice in September 2019, and hopes to identify the couple. Photo by Martin Parr, courtesy of English Heritage.
These amateur snapshots amount to something of a social history of the UK. There are joys—honeymoon memories, family picnics back when sitting on the stones was still allowed—and also sorrows, as seen in a photograph of a 10-year-old girl and her 20-year-old brother, wearing his military uniform back in 1941. It was taken the last time they saw each other, shortly before he went missing in action during World War II.
“I loved looking at the images that people sent in,” Parr said in a statement. “They really show what the stones mean to people and how our relationship with a site like Stonehenge has changed and yet stayed the same through time.”
See more photos from the exhibition below.
A 2015 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Cynthia McKee/English Heritage.
“Summer solstice. My family were visiting from New Zealand and we thought we would go and see the stones,” wrote Susan Holland of a 2007 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Susan Holland/English Heritage.
A 1970 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Lorna and Clive Tomkins/English Heritage.
“My father was the architect responsible for ancient monuments in England and Wales and took personal charge of the work at Stonehenge in the 50s. In the school holiday I was left to play around the stones. When the largest of the trilithons was lifted ready to be placed in position, it was held about 2ft above the original hole. I crawled into the hole to place a new 1958 penny there, before the stone was lowered again. No picture was taken of that, but this photo shows me studying my father’s drawing board. He always used an old wheelbarrow, it effectively providing a mobile desk!” wrote Richard Woodman-Bailey of this 1958 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Richard Woodman-Bailey/English Heritage.
“My mother Hilary, aunts Kay and Peggie, and my grandmother Hilda. In those days people dressed up for outings!” wrote Richard Bridgland of this photograph taken at Stonehenge in 1932. Photo courtesy of Richard Bridgland/English Heritage.
“It’s a photo of me, then Joyce McLaren, and my brother, Sergeant Observer Douglas Brian McLaren. He was on leave from the RAF. I was 10 years old and my brother was 20. It was the last time we saw him. He was posted to Malta and reported missing, believed killed, during a bombing raid in North Africa on 8 January 1942,” wrote Joyce Leeson of this photograph taken in Stonehenge in 1941. Photo courtesy of Joyce Leeson/English Heritage.
A 1984 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of David Phillips/English Heritage.
A 1933 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Janice Clarke/English Heritage.
A 1957 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Gail Treliving/English Heritage.
“This is us, the Olivers from Cornwall, dressed in our finest camping clothes and Clarks sandals during our annual camping holiday. My dad took the picture with his Voigtlander Vito B camera,” wrote Michael Oliver of this 192 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Michael Oliver//English Heritage.
A 1935 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Gina Hacker/English Heritage.
Members of the Routh family in 1875, in what’s believed to be the oldest family photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of the Routh family/English Heritage.
“The stones were our private playground and the picture is of my brother John and aunt Nell. John died earlier this year, but before he did he confessed to having carved his initials on one of the stones of Stonehenge, though I have no idea which one,” wrote Alexandra Cooper of this 1929 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Cooper/English Heritage.
A 1979 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Fuller/English Heritage.
“My best friend, Garth, checking his camera on a summer holiday visit,” wrote John Hodgson of this 1968 photograph he took at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of John Hodgson/English Heritage.
A 2009 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Julie Blanshard/English Heritage.
A 2016 photograph taken at Stonehenge. Photo courtesy of Antonina Mamzenko/English Heritage.
“Your Stonehenge: 150 Years of Personal Photos” is on view at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7DE, UK, December 12, 2019–August 2020.
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