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‘Set in Stone’

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Stone Example 04We still have some work to do before we’ll be a position to complete our work on the digitisation of the Protestation Returns as described in previous blog posts; but we have already started to plan our digitation projects for later in 2016 and have decided to concentrate on a specific image collection, the Stone Photographs.

John Benjamin Stone was a successful Birmingham businessman, who distinguished himself in local, Conservative, politics (for which he was knighted in 1892) before entering Parliament in 1895 as MP for Birmingham East, which he represented for fourteen years. Stone started collecting photographs as a record of everyday life in this country and abroad - he was a world-wide traveller - but, finding he could not always buy exactly what he wanted, studied photography and from about 1889 began taking his own photographs. On entering Parliament he set himself to photograph every MP, the entire Palace of Westminster, its staff and important visitors. This part of his collection, known as the 'Houses of Parliament Set', comprised some 2,043 photographs of 1,030 subjects.

Stone Example 03


The collection consists of photographs of the Palace of Westminster; the Opening of Parliament and other events in the Palace; historical documents and other objects connected with the Palace; groups; and politicians. The collection also contains photographs of distinguished visitors to the Palace, such as Louis Bleriot, Thomas Hardy, Guglielmo Marconi, Ernest Shackleton and Mark Twain. Apart from a few photographs that were published in J Harrington, 'The Abbey and the Palace of Westminster' (1869), this collection forms the first photographic record of the Palace.
We plan to digitise this collection, eventually making it available online. But while working with this great resource we’d like to take the opportunity to take a ‘then and now’ look at the working of the Palace and supplement Stone’s original imagery with their modern day equivalents. It should prove to be a fascinating project which, we hope will provide an interesting insight to changes in the Houses of Parliament over the last century.

In preparation for this new project, the Archives Digitisation team visited the Victoria Tower roof on a number of occasions in November and December 2015, to photograph the current Parliamentary Estate and London and replicating some of the shots taken by Stone in the 19th century. While they were up there, this rain storm passed over London and we were able to capture it in this time-lapse photography.

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