Rare photographs of Victorian London taken from a hot air balloon have been shown off ahead of an auction.

Hot air balloonist-photographer Cecil Victor Shadbolt took the photos around 1882-1892 for a lecture series he gave.

The photos include the earliest known surviving aerial photograph of Great Britain, being that of Stamford Hill, taken on 29 May 1882.

Stamford Hill, 29 May 1882

Stamford Hill, 29 May 1882

The same location today.

The lantern slide reproducing handwriting gives Shadbolt’s account of this historic occasion: “1st Ascent: 29th May 1882 (Whit Monday), Balloon ‘Reliance’ from Alexandra Palace. Started at 4pm. Descended at 5.30. Duration of voyage 1hr 30 mins. Distance travelled 14 miles. Miles per hour 9 1/3. Highest altitude 5,000 ft. Place of descent Ilford. 5min walk from station. Remarks: Weather fine and bright, but clouds were high so did not get above them. At 5000 ft noticed that although we were in shadow the sun was shining on the earth below. Obtained very successful photograph of Stamford Hill district at altitude of 2000 ft and several others not so good. Came down in a field of green corn and experienced very rough treatment at the hands of the crowds who tore the balloon and Barker’s coat in addition.”

The details and dates of some other sixty ascents by Shadbolt are not documented but it is thought that the majority or all of these aerial photographs were taken in the 1880s, and certainly no later than 1892 when Shadbolt died in a ballooning accident at the Crystal Palace along with the balloon’s pilot Captain Dale.

Leaving the Crystal Palace in the Monarch balloon, 1100ft, 1884

Leaving the Crystal Palace in the Monarch balloon, 1100ft, 1884

Another clearly identifiable photograph is that of Crystal Palace, Sydenham, which is captioned as photographed at 2,000 feet. This photograph is a little blurry compared to the others and may well be because it was taken from a tethered balloon rather than from a free floating balloon and thus liable to more shake and vibration. In spite of the regular tethered balloon flights at Crystal Palace this is believed to be the earliest known surviving aerial photograph of the building of Crystal Palace itself.

Rotherhithe/Canada Water

Rotherhithe/Canada Water


Possibly the Royal Albert Docks.

Possibly the Royal Albert Docks.


Grounded balloon and crowd with Shadbolt visible in bowler hat third from right

Grounded balloon and crowd with Shadbolt visible in bowler hat third from right

More the photos are here.

The seller, Dominic Winter Auctions expects the images to be sold for up to £10,000 when they go on sale tomorrow.


  • 1784 Vincent Lunardi makes first successful balloon flight over British soil
  • 1787 Robert Barker patents the Panorama, depicting views seen from a lofty viewpoint
  • 1858 Nadar captures the first aerial photograph over Paris from a tethered balloon. The ‘tolerable’ result has not survived.
  • 1860 Oldest known successful surviving balloon photograph: a view of Boston, USA, by Professor Samuel A. King and J.W. Black
  • 1863 Henry Negretti takes first successful aerial photographs over England in a free flight above the River Medway. Once again, the results have been lost.
  • 1879 Jean Nicolas Truchelut credited with taking first dry-plate aerial photographs of Paris in a balloon
  • 1882 Earliest known surviving aerial photograph of Great Britain: Cecil V. Shadbolt, vertical view of Stamford Hill, London, 29 May
  • 1883 Earliest known air photograph from a balloon taken in Canada, by Captain Henry Esdale
  • 1909 Wilbur Wright takes first aerial photographs from an aeroplane, near Rome
  • 1946 US launched V2 gives first photographic view of Earth from space

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  1. Jack says:

    There’s no copyright on a photo from the 1880’s.

  2. Andrew says:

    But there can be copyright in an electronic scan of the photo.

  3. Chris says:

    Very nice – but you’ll find that’s a gas balloon, not a hot air balloon. Although the Montgolfier Brothers managed the first passenger carrying balloon flight in the 1780s using hot air it was not the most practical means of balloon flight and shortly afterwards gas balloons became the norm using hydrogen as the lifting gas, and later on when it became widely available, coal gas. It was not until the 1950s/60s that the modern hot air balloon using easily controlled gas burners and compressed gas cylinders was developed.

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