Oldest Stonehenge family photo discovered in collection of Queen rock legend Dr Brian May

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18 August 2021
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Dr Brian May at Stonehenge, copyright English Heritage/Gareth Iwan Jones
Stonehenge’s oldest family photo has been discovered in the collection of Dr Brian May, guitarist of rock band Queen, English Heritage has announced.

The image will be on display as part of a collection set to a soundtrack performed by May himself, viewed through a digital stereoscope, loaned to the charity by the Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy.

The 3D image, or stereoview, was taken by photographer Henry Brooks and depicts his family enjoying a day out at Stonehenge in the 1860s. The image was discovered by Denis Pellerin and Rebecca Sharpe, curators of the Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy, following a public appeal by English Heritage to find the earliest family photo taken at the stones. English Heritage is now putting out a further call to find descendants of Henry Brooks to invite them back to Stonehenge to re-create the photo as a new stereo card.

Stereoview card – photo by Henry Brooks. Credit: Brian May Archive of Stereoscopy

The 1860s stereoview shows two nearly identical photographs mounted on a card which together produce the illusion of a single three-dimensional image when seen through a stereoscope. The photo can be viewed through a digital stereoscope at the Stonehenge visitor centre, and visitors will be able to enjoy a short film of historic and contemporary Stonehenge stereoviews, accompanied by a piano soundtrack of May playing ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’.

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Dr May said: I’ve been fascinated by stereo cards since I was a boy and got one in a cereal packet! This is a fantastic early example and exciting because it’s one of the oldest family snaps taken at Stonehenge. It feels even more evocative when set to music – a bit like a silent movie and we thought it would be great fun to recreate the image as a stereo view at Stonehenge and breathe new life into an old photo."

Are you a descendant of Henry Brooks?

Susan Greaney, English Heritage historian, said: ‘These sorts of Victorian 3D images have a real vividness and depth in themselves, and this one provides a further dimension still because we know who took it. 

‘We know that Henry Brooks had a talent for the visual arts, as census records show that he started his career as a photographer before becoming a painter in later life. Some of his paintings are in the collections of Salisbury Museum, along with one by his son Frank, who in the photo sits with his back to the camera. We’d love to track down Henry and Frank’s descendants and bring that photo to life again.’

Are you a descendant of the Salisbury photographer and painter Henry Brooks? If so, please contact English Heritage by e-mail.

Your Stonehenge – 150 years of personal photos has been extended until 31 August 2022.