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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

I recently came across an article discussing the British Library’s collection of images. Fascinating, I thought at once: I love to visit the library when I am in London. Then my eye caught the word ‘online’. I was astonished to read on and learn that the British Library has shared via Flickr more than a million centuries-old images. They date back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and cover a fantastic range of diverse subject matters, from maps to cycling to dance to costumes to architecture to castles to travel to Christmas, and many more besides.

Here are just a few pictures that caught my eye when I browsed.


This image is from Manners and Customs of the ancient Egyptians, published in 1837, which is captioned ‘Great Funeral Procession of a Royal Scribe at Thebes’. It reminds me, of course, of my homeland: Egypt.


From the intriguingly entitled Richardson’s New Fashionable Lady’s Valentine Writer, or Cupid’s Festival of Love. The colours are so vivid for the era (early nineteenth century).


From an 1870 book with a ‘tells exactly what it is’ title: In Fairy Land: A series of pictures from the elf-world by Richard Doyle With a poem by W Allingham. This delightful illustration is captioned ‘an elf and a fairy kissing’.


This fantastically detailed illustration is from Rose Mortimer; or, the Ballet-Girl’s revenge … By a Comedian of the T. R. Drury Lane. It was published by the London Romance Co. in 1865. The caption reads:‘Rose Mortimer, with no guardian but her criminal father, has chosen the stage for a livelihood. While awaiting an interview with a theatrical manager, she falls asleep and dreams of her future career.’


From the beautifully named Love-Knots and Bridal-Bands: poems and rhymes of wooing and wedding, and valentine verses – from the nineteenth century, an era when romance was so romantic! The caption is a verse:

‘Oh, wandering river than my love and I

Be-hold today through many a leafy screen.’

And finally, this book cover, which I chose from many beautiful and fascinating designs for the evocative title and illustration, but most of all for the publisher name: ‘Thrilling Stories Committee’ (1892). I feel I would love to live in era when stories were marketed as ‘thrilling’.

All of these images and so many more are online at https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary. They were automatically generated by the Mechanical Curator – a program that posts images from the books the Library has digitised – and then catalogued by a team of hardworking volunteers.

There is so much fascinating material to explore and use as inspiration. Best of all, each image is entirely copyright free (being so old), which means you can copy pictures and use them in your own creative projects. Be warned, however: you may find that you procrastinate in starting that creative project, because you are so immersed in antiquities!

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