The original of the iconic photograph on the cover of Led Zeppelin IV was recently discovered and will soon be on display at the Wiltshire Museum.
Visitors will for the first time be able to clearly see the face that has stared out from millions of albums across the world.
After conservation work an exhibition ‘The Wiltshire Thatcher: A Photographic Journey through Victorian Wessex’ is scheduled to open on Saturday 6th April 2024 and run through until Sunday 1st September 2024
The photograph was spotted in a Victorian album at a public auction by Brian Edwards, a Visiting Research Fellow with The Regional History Centre, UWE Bristol.
The mystery of who the figure was been solved after half a century.
He was a thatcher from Wiltshire, Lot Long (1823 -1893) from Mere.
Led Zeppelin IV
The untitled album, usually known as IV, was released on November 8, 1971, and has sold more than 37 million copies worldwide.
The album was Classic Rock’s Greatest Album of All Time - https://www.rocklistmusic.co.uk/steveparker/classicrock.htm and remains Led Zeppelin’s ‘most streamed album today.’ https://musicdatablog.com.ar/en/ranked-albums/led-zeppelin-discography-streaming/
The album’s cover artwork was radically absent of any indication of the musicians or a title but featured the iconic framed image, often been referred to as a painting, which was discovered by Robert Plant in an antique shop near Jimmy Page’s house in Pangbourne, Berkshire.
The framed colour image of an elderly man carrying a large bundle of hazel sticks on his back will be recognised worldwide.
Closer inspection reveals this framed image was a coloured photograph, the whereabouts of which is now unknown.
The original, which is now in Wiltshire Museum, has tantalising fingerprints from it being copied using coloured inks.
The Victorian photograph was discovered by Brian in an auction catalogue of sale in Dorchester, an album titled ‘Reminiscences of a visit to Shaftesbury. Whitsuntide 1892. A present to Auntie from Ernest.’ Tim Daw was able to attend the auction, verified it was the genuine photo and bought it on behalf of the Museum.
Featuring exceptional photographs from Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset, the Victorian photograph album contained 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.’
Brian Edwards said: “Led Zeppelin created the soundtrack that has
accompanied me since my teenage years, so I really hope the discovery of this
Victorian photograph pleases and entertains Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul.”
Brian Edwards said: “Led Zeppelin created the soundtrack that has accompanied me since my teenage years, so I really hope the discovery of this Victorian photograph pleases and entertains Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul.”
A photographer named Ernest
There was no further clue to the photographer’s identity and either side of the turn of the century there were over 300 photographers named Ernest.
The search was on for a largely unknown Victorian photographer of great talent and skill, probably with extensive training in chemistry.
A part of a signature matching with writing in the album, suggests the needle in this haystack 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.
The Wiltshire thatcher
About 50 thatchers were identified through trade directories and the census. In the Southwest of Wiltshire, where the other album photos were taken, only one was of a similar age to the figure in the photograph.
This was Lot Long (sometimes Longyear), who was born in Mere in 1823 and died in 1893. At the time the photograph was taken, Lot was a widower living in a small cottage on the Shaftesbury Road in Mere. Whilst certain corroboration has not yet been found, family resemblances and circumstantial evidence support this identification.
Note on the exhibition
David Dawson, Director of Wiltshire Museum, said: “This exhibition will be a celebration of the work of Ernest Farmer, who today is little-known but was a leading figure in the development of photography as an art form. Through the exhibition, we will show how Farmer captured the spirit of people, villages and landscapes of Wiltshire and Dorset 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.”