DEVON, England — A “mystery man” shown on the album cover of Led Zeppelin IV has been revealed as a 19th century thatcher, researchers have found.
The figure – who has remained unknown for over half a century – is most likely Lot Long from Mere in Wiltshire – photographed by Ernest Farmer.
Brian Edwards, from the University of the West of England (UWE), found the original picture when looking through a photograph album for other research.
“I instantly recognized the man with the sticks – he’s often called the stick man,” said Brian.
Brain, a long-time fan of British rock band Led Zeppelin, admitted the find “was quite a revelation”.
The photograph is now in Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.
An exhibition featuring the image, along with others taken in the West of England during the Victorian era, is scheduled to be held at the museum in spring 2024.
The framed image of an elderly man carrying a large bundle of sticks on his back can be recognized worldwide as the centerpiece of the iconic front cover of Led Zeppelin IV – which famously features no words.
Released 52 years ago today (8 November 1971, Led Zeppelin IV has sold more than 37 million copies worldwide and includes the huge hit Stairway to Heaven.
The cover art had previously been described as a photograph of a painting, which was reportedly discovered by the band’s lead singer, Robert Plant, in an antique shop near guitarist Jimmy Page’s house in Berkshire.
But the framed image which can be seen on the cover is actually a colorized photograph – the whereabouts of which is now unknown.
Mr Edwards, who is part of the regional history center at UWE in Bristol, explained how he worked out the original photographer was Ernest Farmer, who died in 1944.
The only clue in the photo album was the photographer’s name Ernest, but Mr Edwards discovered hundreds of Victorian photographers with that name.
He said “the quality of the photos suggested they were taken by a professional, and so he looked for chemists, as many of them were involved in photography.”
Mr Edwards discovered a chemist working in Salisbury, close to where the picture was taken, who had a son called Ernest Farmer, and then found his handwriting online.
Mr. Farmer was the first head of the school of photography at the then newly-renamed Polytechnic Regent Street, now the University of Westminster.
He said: “Part of the signatures matches some of the handwriting in the album.
“The black and white photograph has a thumbprint in the corner – it looks like it’s the original.”
The photo album mostly contains views and architecture from south Wiltshire and Dorset.
It is titled Reminiscences of a visit to Shaftesbury. Whitsuntide 1892. A present to Auntie from Ernest.
Mr. Edwards then set about researching thatchers from that time period, and said his research suggested the man pictured was Lot Long, who died in 1893.
Brian said: “Led Zeppelin created the soundtrack that has accompanied me since my teenage years, so I really hope the discovery of this Victorian photograph pleases and entertains Robert, Jimmy, and John Paul.”
Wiltshire Museum’s director, David Dawson, said the exhibition in spring next year will be called The Wiltshire Thatcher: a Photographic Journey through Victorian Wessex, and will celebrate Ernest Farmer’s work.
“We will show how Farmer captured the spirit of people, villages and landscapes of Wiltshire and Dorset that were so much of a contrast to his life in London,” said David.
“It is fascinating to see how this theme of rural and urban contrasts was developed by Led Zeppelin and became the focus for this iconic album cover 70 years later.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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