Visual materials such as prints, paintings, drawings and photographs are important historical sources capable of offering a multitude of insights into many different aspects of history. On top of this, they are often simply enjoyable to look at and adorn many of our homes, work places and public buildings. These four types of visual material make up Views of England and Wales, the newest collection to be added to University of Leicester Special Collections Online where it is freely available for all to see.[1]

Wentworth Woodhouse

Wentworth Woodhouse.

Altogether, there are over 2,000 separate items, most of which are prints made from engravings and etchings. Although in the minority, the paintings, drawings and photographs make up a small but very important component of the collection. Most of the material dates from the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, but there are a very small number of items from the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries present as well.

For the most part, items in Views of England and Wales are topographic and depict a wide range of subjects including, but not limited to, rural landscapes, urban landscapes, seascapes, castles, churches, ruins, country houses and architecture, maps and building plans, as well as portraits, objects and depictions of historical events.

Windermere Lake from the ferry house

Windermere Lake from the ferry house.

This online exhibition will introduce viewers to this fantastic new resource and highlight some interesting aspects of the collection. It will begin by considering what we know about the provenance of Views of England and Wales, examining issues around who created the collection and how it has been stored. In the second section, it will provide an overview of how and why the collection is organised like it is, and why the material in it is so unequally distributed across the historic counties. The third section will explore the sources many of the prints originally came from, delving into detail on more common ones in the collection like John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley’s The Beauties of England and Wales, Britton's The Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain and The Cathedral Antiquities, Brayley's Londiniana and the periodical known as The Gentleman’s Magazine. It will also draw attention to some of the other less common sources in Views of England and Wales before a consideration of the practice of extra-illustration or ‘grangerising’ and its relevance to the collection. The exhibition closes with a final section looking at some of the artwork with a particular focus on pieces of art depicting Leicestershire, the artwork of the Finberg family and a sketchbook filled with paintings and drawings of places in Dover.

Granary on the Welsh Back, Bristol

Granary on the Welsh Back, Bristol.

[1] Special Collections Online, Views of England and Wales, [accessed 10 March 2023].