Being of Scottish descent, I have a particular interest in the country’s history and, during my forty years of collecting magic lantern slides, I bought photographic slides of Scotland whenever I could. One of the UK’s finest, professional, Victorian photographers was George Washington Wilson, whose lantern slides are always pin-sharp with superb contrast and composition, ‘though not necessarily of interesting subjects. His business was based in Aberdeen but he and his team of photographers traveled the world taking photos. He published his images in various formats including slides, prints and stereoviews in vast quantities, thousands of which have survived.
I have, in my archive, a unique photo-diary of a young lady from Devon who, in 1876, undertook a five day tour of Scotland, including the Highlands, starting and finishing in Edinburgh. As she visited each place, she bought a souvenir photo of it for her diary, all of which were published by Wilson, which demonstrates the geographical reach of his firm, even in the 1870s. I’ll feature Sarah-Jane’s amazing diary in a future post.
Today’s slide is, I believe, one of Wilson’s earlier photos of Edinburgh, possibly taken in the 1870s. The location is Grassmarket below Edinburgh Castle. It is has some fascinating detail ….. the ‘tobacco and snuff manufactory’ with a carved figure above the doorway; Alex Brownlie’s Wine Warehouse and the Black Bull Inn. Some of the people are blurred due to them moving when the photo was taken but, a few years’ later, Wilson would be the first person to take what he called ’instantaneous’ pictures, which meant that he could freeze motion and his street scenes no longer contained blurred figures.
I’ve shown some close-ups of the slide as it is a wonderful example of how high-resolution magic lantern slides can take us back to a fleeting moment in time, one hundred and forty years ago.
One of my booklets combines George Washington Wilson’s photos of Edinburgh with text from a tourist guide published in 1868.