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Crowdfunding appeal pays to restore grave of Norfolk photographer Robert Howlett, who took iconic portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel

PUBLISHED: 09:24 08 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:26 08 August 2017

Robert Howlett's most famous photograph, of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of the launching chains of the Great Eastern steam ship in 1857. Picture: Robert Howlett.

Robert Howlett's most famous photograph, of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of the launching chains of the Great Eastern steam ship in 1857. Picture: Robert Howlett.

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A crowdfunding appeal has restored the grave of a pioneering 19th Century photographer.

Robert Howlett's grave, which had fallen into disrepair. Picture: Rose Teanby Robert Howlett's grave, which had fallen into disrepair. Picture: Rose Teanby

Robert Howlett. from Wendling near Dereham, took one of the most iconic portraits of the Victorian era.

He pictured engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel in front of the giant mooring chains of the SS Great Eastern under construction at Millwall, in London, in 1857.

At the time the great steamship was the largest vessel ever built. Brunel was lauded as Britain’s greatest engineer, building the Great Western Railway and the Cliftonville Suspension Bridge, alongside his great ships.

Howlett, then 26, was commissioned to take photographs of the vessel and its creator, who struck a pose wearing his top hat and puffing a cigar.

The grave after it was restored. Picture: Rose Teanby The grave after it was restored. Picture: Rose Teanby

The following year, whilst travelling in France, he complained of a bad cold and died of a suspected fever, aged 27.

Nottingham-based photographer and author Rose Teanby went in search of Howlett’s grave two years ago, to pay her respects.

After finding it in a state of disrepair, she launched a crowdfunding appeal which raised £2,000 to restore it.

“It was almost completely unidentifiable with its heavy stone plinth supported by uneven brickwork and was indeed a sorry sight, anonymous and abandoned to the Norfolk wind and rain,” she said.

“It’s a very remote grave of a photographer not many photographers have heard of. I put forward the idea of restoring the grave because that picture’s used every time Brunel is mentioned.

“It’s a heck of a picture, it’s an incredibly significant photograph taken by a guy who came from a remote part of Norfolk.”

Brunel may have been one of the leading lights of the industrial revolution, with his railways, bridges and ships forged from iron.

In 1859, the heavy smoker suffered a stroke days before the Great Eastern’s maiden Atlantic voyage and died aged 53.

Howlett’s picture captures him at the height of his career. The crowdfunding appeal paid for his grave to be restored and re-engraved by stonemason Paul Miles, who used techniques authentic to 1858 to make the text legible again.

The grave will be rededicated at a special ceremony on Saturday, October 14, at St Peter and Paul Church, Wendling (2pm) followed by light refreshments.

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