The Norfolk Broads Through Glass

There is something rather magical about glass lantern slides. The quality of photographs reproduced in this way just seems to have that extra clarity and sparkle. The romantic side of me me also likes the fact that it’s was a form of entertainment which harks back to a pre-televisual and pre-cinematic age where there would have been a certain amount of awe and excitement that accompanied a trip to your local theatre or public hall to see the wonders of the world or the beauty spots of Britian projected onto a large screen before you.

It was a technique that was apparently introduced in the 17th century. These were originally hand painted images on glass which, as a set, often portrayed a narrative which could be told as the slides were shown. As photography developed in the latter half of the 19th century, photographic images began to be printed onto glass, hand tinted in some instances to give colourised views to engage the audience. It wasn’t long before magic lantern slides were being mass produced with a range of subjects from topographical views to bible stories. There would have been many one off lantern slides too, created by both professional and amateur photographers, either for local, public showing or their own private viewing. It was a medium that continued well into the first half of the 20th century until the modern slide projector with a smaller, more affordable format became widely available.

There are a handful of lantern slides and glass negatives on the Broadland Memories website, but I was absolutely thrilled to be able to purchase a complete, boxed set of lantern slides for the archive earlier this year. I knew they were special when I saw them, but subsequent research over recent weeks has made them very interesting indeed. They are quite late compared to most lantern slides which come up for sale. The set of 48 slides date from July 1938 and document a rather different holiday on the Norfolk Broads aboard the large motor cruiser Pauline, a floating hotel converted from the ex-Thames spritsail barge Federation by Frederick Miller at Oulton Broad in the early 1920s.

I wrote a blog about Pauline in 2013 which included photographs and background information about her time on the Broads. A short while after purchase, I discovered that an almost identical photograph to the slide above appeared with the entry for Pauline in Blake’s “Norfolk Broads Holidays Afloat” brochure in 1939. It appeared to be the same crew and holiday party on board, taken at a slightly different location on Oulton Broad.  It seemed likely that our photographer had sent one of the slides, or a print, to Miller’s boatyard.

The images above show the girls of the holiday party on deck, skipper Dan Bedford at the helm as they enter Rockland Broad, and Pauline leaving Norwich with the old power station seen on the left.

This week, whilst preparing the slides for the website and doing my customary research, I discovered that another of the slides featured in the book “Norfolk Broads – The Golden Years,” a collection of Philappa Miller’s paintings, photographs and memories of Broadland from the 1920s to the 1950s, published by Halsgrove in 2008. When you purchase items via auction, they invariably come with no details of origin. Whilst I can piece together historic and topographical notes about the images, most of the time they are what I term as “orphaned” away from their original owners/photographers.  That is the sad part about what I do with the website., and it is always an absolute joy when I have some history about the person behind the lens. In this instance, it really has thrown up so many questions. Was the photographer connected to the Miller family of the boatyard? The hand painted, title slide below certainly bears more than a passing resemblance to Philappa’s illustrations. Were the photographs the work of Philappa herself? Were the slides produced for private viewing, or were they shown to advertise holidays aboard Pauline?

I may never know the answer, but the photographer left behind a unique glimpse into a week afloat on Pauline just before the outbreak of the Second World War. The full set of slides can now be found on the Broadland Memories website. As always, if anyone can provide further information on any of the images or the people seen, then please do get in touch.

Whilst working on the lantern slides this week, the opportunity arose to purchase another set of 24 lantern slides for the website. They are somewhat earlier, dating to c1900-1905, and were taken during a holiday on the wherry Naiade of Oulton Broad. These are just exceptional and are an extremely exciting addition to the archive. Lots of wherries and views of the very rural and undeveloped Broadland of that time. I’ve only taken rough photographs of the slides for now, but they give a good illustration of what’s to come.

This was Naiade at Ludham Bridge. She is clearly a conversion of a trading wherry and still has her black sail. I haven’t been able to find any further information about her from my usual sources as yet.

Another of the lantern slides from the new set. This is one of two images which show the interior of Naiade and it is so evocative of the era, from the straw boater lying on the side, to the sheet music for the music hall favourite “The Miners Dream of Home” sitting on the piano.

I look forward to getting these onto the website in due course, but next in line is the album of photographs of the Broads taken by a Mr Brading in 1895, a couple of photographs from which were previewed in an earlier blog post – A Very Victorian Cruise On The Norfolk Broads.

Just a quick mention before I leave – the title of this post is a nod towards Nick Stone’s excellent Invisible Works blog where, along with many superb articles on local history, landscape and heritage (plus some great photography), you’ll find his “Through Glass” series of historic images of Norfolk. Well worth a look.


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