Can you help fund the conservation, cleaning and scanning of our amazing Wiltshire Thatcher Photo Album?

The album was created  by Ernest Farmer, who was a leading figure in the development of photography as an art form. It will feature in our forthcoming exhibition, which will show how Farmer captured the spirit of people, villages and landscapes of Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset that were so much of a contrast to his life in London. It is fascinating to see how this theme of rural and urban contrasts was developed by Led Zeppelin and became the focus for this iconic album cover 70 years later.

A framed colour version of this image of an elderly man carrying a large bundle of sticks on his back will be recognised worldwide. It is the centrepiece of the iconic front cover of Led Zeppelin IV which famously features no words.

The original of the photograph made famous by the band was recently discovered in a late Victorian photograph album. The discovery was made by Brian Edwards, a Visiting Research Fellow with the Regional History Centre at the University of the West of England, and is in the Museum collections.

Released on November 8, 1971, Led Zeppelin IV has sold more than 37 million copies worldwide. The album’s cover artwork was radically absent of any indication of the musicians or a title. The framed image, often been referred to as a painting, is understood to have been discovered by the band’s lead singer Robert Plant in an antique shop near guitarist Jimmy Page’s house in Pangbourne, Berkshire. Closer inspection reveals this framed image was a coloured photograph, the whereabouts of which is now unknown.

The black and white original Victorian photograph was discovered during ongoing research by Brian Edwards which involved monitoring everyday sources that stimulates public engagement with Wiltshire’s past. While following up on some early photographs of Stonehenge, Edwards came across the Victorian photograph Led Zeppelin made familiar over half a century ago.

Featuring exceptional photographs from Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, the Victorian photograph album contains over 100 architectural views and street scenes together with a few portraits of rural workers. Most of the photographs are titled and beneath the photograph made famous by Led Zeppelin the photographer has written ‘A Wiltshire Thatcher’. The Victorian photograph album is titled ‘Reminiscences of a visit to Shaftesbury. Whitsuntide 1892. A present to Auntie from Ernest.’

A part signature matching the writing in the album suggests the photographer is Ernest Howard Farmer (1856-1944), the first head of the School of Photography at the then newly renamed Polytechnic Regent Street. Now part of the University of Westminster, Farmer had worked in the same building as the instructor of photography since 1882, when it was then known as the Polytechnic Young Men’s Christian Institute.

Please help us to conserve, clean and digitise this important photographic photo album, undertaken by specialists from Lancefield Conservation.

As a small thank you for your support, you will receive:-

  • £25 - Postcard Pack of selected images from the Album, including the Wiltshire Thatcher
  • £50 - 2 tickets for one of our exhibition talks (onsite or online)
  • £100 - have your portrait taken in a Victorian photo workshop at the Museum
  • £200 - 2 tickets for the Exhibition launch event (date tbc)
The Wiltshire Thatcher photograph album, showing the split spine and smoke damaged pages. The title page reads 'Reminiscences of a visit to Shaftesbury, Whitsuntide 1892, a present to Auntie from Ernest'.
Inside pages of the dirty and smoke damaged Wiltshire Thatcher photo album. One of the four images shows a man bent over, using a stick and carrying a bundle of sticks. It is this image that was used on the Led Zeppelin IV Photo Album.
Album cover in 2 main sections. Left hand section shows decaying Victorian terrace houses and a 1960's tower block. The righ shows a wall with peeling wallpaper and a framed coloured photograph of a wizened old man carrying a bundle of sticks on his back. There is no title and the only text is about Atlantic Records.
Gatefold cover of Led Zeppelin IV
Black and white photograph of an old man, carrying a bundle of sticks on his back. A grey beard underlining his weathered face, the figure stoops whilst apparently pausing for the photographer, his leathery hands grasp the pole supporting the bundle of hazel on his back.
Copyright: Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society