Revisiting the Victorian Thames

PUBLISHED: 13:18 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:07 20 February 2013

By Graham Diprose and Jeff Robins

By Graham Diprose and Jeff Robins

Henry Taunt's pioneering views of the Thames are brought to life by modern photographers whose work is now on show at Reading...

Henry Taunt's pioneering views of the Thames are brought to life by modern photographers whose work is now on show at Reading.

WE'RE ALL FAMILIAR with the evocative images of a bygone era on the Thames. Books such as Three Men in a Boat and Wind in the Willows conjure up a time of cream teas, endless summers and boating on picturesque stretches of England's longest and most historic river - the Thames.

Photograph: Oxfordshire County Council
Above: Henry Taunt and an unknown lady on his houseboat (1886). For many years Taunt travelled the river by rowing skiff, camping out aboard when away from Oxford. Although he claimed in 1879 to know 'a lady who has slept in a boat like mine', he recognised that most ladies would prefer to head for a nearby hotel. Taunt's horse-drawn houseboat offered considerably more than a skiff in terms of home comforts.

Photograph: English Heritage.
Above: The Royal Regatta course, Henley, today.

Photograph: English Heritage
Above: Temple Island in Henry Taunt's day.

It is to Henry Taunt that we owe much of this idyllic vision of the Victorian Thames. Without his beautiful images Jerome. K. Jerome and Kenneth Grahame may never have written their quintessentially English works of literature.

Photograph: English Heritage.
Henley Bridge. Taunt's image was taken from the site of what is now the store of the Regatta Headquarters.

Photograph: Graham Diprose and Jeff Robins.

Digital photographers, Jeff Robins and Graham Diprose, were inspired by Henry Taunt's first photographic guides to the river from the 1870s and 80s and set out to find many of his finest views of the Thames to recapture and re-document them photographically some 125 years later.

Taunt's photography used the cutting edge techniques of the time, much like Diprose and Robins, who were breaking new boundaries in digital landscape imaging in making this project.

Photograph: Graham Diprose and Jeff Robins.
Ferry Cottage, Cliveden as it is today. Christine Keeler and John Perfumo secretly met here.

Taunt's photographs are now held in the archives of English Heritage (National Monuments Record), Oxfordshire Studies and the River and Rowing Museum, Henley and were consulted for our project. Over seventy of Taunt's finest photographs of the Thames, have been scanned and restored to make fascinating pairs of 'then and now' images.

Photograph: English Heritage.
Above: Ferry Cottage pictured in the 1800's.

Photograph: English Heritage
Above: Hurley Lock and Mill

Want to find out more?
You can see the stunning photographs at an exhibition until April 26 at Reading Museum, The Town Hall, Blagrave St, Reading RG1 1QH. Opening: Tuesday - Saturday: 10am-4pm, Sunday: 11am-4pm (Closed Easter Sunday).

The images also appear in 'In the Footsteps of Henry Taunt,' a 192-page hardback edition of the project, and launched to coincide with the exhibition, published by Francis Lincoln.

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