As Brian May researched T. R. Williams’ stereoscopic photos of a Victorian English village for his book A Village Lost and Found, it was an odd story that provided the unusual link in the chain of discovery.
One day, a man called him and asked if he could see his house—and this wasn’t a Queen fan but rather the man’s grandfather had previously owned the house, and he had visited him often as a child. After a short discussion, they discovered that this man was a direct descendant of T.R. Williams!
“When Richard Dellmeyer said that he had a suitcase full of Williams’ belongings, I couldn’t wait to see it. It turns out that this suitcase had been stored for years in the house I now own,” May says, still amazed. “Lucky? I think you work for your luck, and I had done my homework and knew the name of his grandfather. And maybe luck is more about when you see the right thing and recognize it, you have to take advantage of it.”
May’s collection includes some of Queen Victoria, but one of his most poignant is actually included in the book on page 180. Williams was asked by Queen Victoria to photograph Princess Vicky on her 16th birthday and unwittingly caused a stir. The time taken for photographs delayed the Royal Procession, which was such a rare event it made the papers the next day.
Before May discovered Williams he had been obsessed with the Diableries, a series of “French tissue” stereoscopic views published from the 1850s. A thinly veiled satire of Napoleon III and his court, the series showed devils and skeletons in hell, living bizarrely parallel lives to an earthly one. Some show “Monsieur Satan” performing leisurely amusements, such as going to the opera or figure skating. Paula Fleming, a photographic archive specialist at the Smithsonian, has been working with May on a book regarding the Diableries.
“More than 30 years ago, I was scouring French flea markets for Diableries stereoscopic images,” May recalls. “I even managed to find some in their original packaging.”
But Williams has been an enduring passion. “I felt that that it was worth spending half of my life on Williams’ work, and I’m thrilled that I brought him into the 21st century. But I only channeled Williams to create this book.” And it is truly amazing that three people—Brian May, Elena Vidal and T.R. Williams—have had such incredible dedication to show the world a lost look into history.
by Jennifer Myers