An album of the earliest known photographs of Victorian Sussex, capturing a lost world of a small market town and its rural hinterland barely touched by the industrial revolution, is coming up for auction this month, at Chiswick Auctions in London, estimated at up to £70,000.
The photographs were all taken by Thomas Honywood, son of a Sussex builder, a Victorian polymath who was also an amateur archaeologist and historian, and a pillar of Horsham life as captain for decades of the Horsham Volunteer Fire Brigade. The public was sometimes admitted to his home and eclectic collections—the sale after his death in 1888 included Chinese porcelain, stuffed birds, and a leather bag of “very old buttons”
His album immortalises local landscapes, his friends and neighbours, the fire officers in gleaming brass helmets and the brigade band about to play a leading role in a town festival, solemn little girls holding Christmas wreaths, and agricultural workers in smocks.
The photographs were taken in the late 1840s and early 1850s, making him one of the pioneers of photography in England, working within a decade of Henry Fox Talbot inventing the calotype technique of permanently fixing photographic images. Honywood also experimented with stereoscope images, twin photographs which gave a 3D effect through a special viewer, and patented his Nature Printing technique for printing direct from flowers and ferns onto different surfaces, which he exhibited at the International Inventions Exhibition in London in 1885.
Austin Farahar, the head of the photographic department at the auction house, regards the album as of outstanding historic interest, and hopes it may be acquired by a museum or public collection.
Jeremy Knight, the curator of the Horsham Museum, believes the sale will gain Honywood long overdue recognition: “He will become appreciated for the genius that he was, a nationally important figure in the story of British photography.” He concedes sadly that the album is beyond the pockets of a local museum—which will reopen next summer—but it does have an amount of material relating to Honywood including archaeological finds such as the “Horsham Hoard” of medieval pottery, and a portrait subscribed to by the towns people honouring his long service with the fire brigade.
The album will be sold at Chiswick Auctions on 28 October.
• All images courtesy of Chiswick Auctions