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Henry Taunt
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Henry Taunt aged 37 at Marsh Mills, Henley, now the River & Rowing Museum, Henley c1879

Henry Taunt at Marsh Mills, Henley, c1879, reproduced by permission of Oxfordshire County Council HT02415

   
9-10 Broad Street Oxford
9-10 Broad Street Oxford, photography by Henry Taunt, reproduced by permission of Oxfordshire County Council, OCL6
   
Percy Gordon & friends camping in Harts Wood, c1880
Percy Gordon & friends camping in Harts Wood, c1880, photograph by Henry Taunt, reproduced by permission of Oxfordshire County Council OCL6056
   

On the 14 June 1842, Henry William Taunt was born into the modest workers dwellings of Pensons Gardens, St Ebbe’s. In 1856 he joined staff of Edward Bracher, one of Oxford’s very few photographers, as a general utility hand. Over Christmas 1859 he made a solitary trip up river to Cricklade and back in an out-rigged dinghy. The river was in flood, yet here was the moment of inspiration for all the maps, guides, albums and books that were to follow.

The first edition of Taunt’s ‘New Map of the River Thames’ first appeared in 1872. The books must Cover of a later edition of Taunt's 'Illustrated Map of the Thames'have been difficult to produce, the river was hand coloured in blue on every one of the 33 maps and each tiny photograph was pasted into position individually. Map pages and printed text then had to be bound together. However it was an immediate success. As sales of the “Illustrated Map of the Thames”, various bespoke albums, pamphlets and postcards soared, there is a strong argument that Taunt had a major role in stimulating the Victorian’s love affair with the river. A magazine called Home Chimes began to serialise an amusing story of the Thames in August 1888 and the book version of Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘Three Men in a Boat’ was published a year later.

In 1893, Henry Taunt was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. This was a considerable honour, no doubt, in recognition of the remarkable feat of cartography and accuracy of measurements that featured in the ‘New Map of the Thames’.

Disaster struck in 1894, when the lease came up on his Head Quarters shop at 9 & 10 Broad Street, Oxford and a verbal agreement was not honoured. Taunt was forced to file for bankruptcy. A few months later, he was discharged and began to work on new ideas for further books and guides documenting many of the surrounding counties of Southern England.

Production was only halted by the First World War and by 1918 Taunt, now an old man of 76, was left with very little help. He died on 4th November 1922. Many of his thin glass images were smashed up while others were cleaned off for use as greenhouse glass. Fortunately E.E. Skuce, who was the Oxford City Librarian, wasted no time in acquiring thousands of surviving negatives, prints and papers. The majority of Taunt's surviving images, over 13,000 negatives and prints, are now held in secure archive conditions by English Heritage and Oxfordshire County Council. Both organizations were exceptionally helpful in locating all of the images that we needed. The River and Rowing Museum at Henley has acquired a collection of Taunt prints in recent years.

We have contributed significantly to the Wikipedia article on Henry Taunt. He is to be found on the list of Pioneers of Photography.

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Outline of the River Thames: the area covered by Henry Taunt’s documentary photographs and maps from the source at Thames Head to the Houses of Parliament