It is thanks to the ‘Reading Establishment’ at 8 Russell Terrace, now 55 Baker Street, that we have some very early photographic images of Reading.
Views of Reading include those in four conservation areas: Russell Street/Castle Hill/Oxford Road, Market Place/London Street, St Mary’s Butts/Castle Street and Eldon Square. Many of the prints and/or negatives most attributed to Nicolaas Henneman who ran the studio, rather than William Fox-Talbot himself, can be seen online in the Bodleian Library’s Talbot Catalogue Raisonné.
A fascinating and famous series of images was taken in the garden of 8 Russell Terrace and stitched together into a panorama to demonstrate the range of opportunities provided by the new technology to photograph paintings, people and sculptures. Talbot expert Larry Schaaf thinks that this was a promotional piece directed by Reading businessman Benjamin Cowderoy, who in 1846 worked briefly as a business manager for the establishment. Schaaf also suggests that the man operating the camera in the centre of the picture is not William Fox-Talbot but Benjamin Cowderoy.
Reading CAAC used this image in Russell Street/Castle Hill/Oxford Road Conservation Area Appraisal and state in Appendix 1: ‘It was from this studio [the Reading Establishment] that the mass production of his invention, the calotype, or ‘talbotype’ print, was used to produce ‘The Pencil of Nature’, the very first mass-produced book which contained photographs. It is due to the presence of the studio in the town that Reading has some of the earliest photographs of the built environment in existence.’