Delve into the history of Oxford and Oxfordshire and you will inevitably come across Henry Taunt. The historical value of Taunt’s photographic work was appreciated in his lifetime and, thanks to a rescue job by Oxford City Library in the 1920s, around 11,000 of his images survive as prints (with Oxfordshire County Council’s Oxfordshire Studies service in Oxford) or as glass plate negatives (at the English Heritage National Monuments Record Centre in Swindon).

Henry Taunt was the complete self-publicist, summarising his philosophy in the ditty: The man who has a thing to sell And goes and whispers down a well, Is not so apt to cop the dollars As he who climbs a tree and hollers.

Taunt deservedly takes the credit for the quality of the work his firm produced but he didn’t take all the pictures himself. Many were taken by his paid employees, particularly Randolph Adams, who worked for Taunt for over 35 years.

More than 1,200 images, however, were the work of an independent commercial photographer, Frederick Ault, whose collection Taunt simply purchased and added to his own.

Frederick Ault was largely forgotten, but was saved from total obscurity only by the researches of Violet Howse in Stanford-in-the-Vale — and by the discovery of the odd Ault postcard.

Frederick Horatio Walker Ault was born in Dudley, then in Worcestershire, in 1846, one of six children of Herbert Ault, a timber dealer employing 62 men, and his wife, Elizabeth.

By 1881, Frederick was a photographer and science teacher living in the teacher’s house at Otterhampton, near Bridgwater, Somerset, with his wife Sophia, also a teacher, and four children. Since each child was born in a different place, the Aults clearly weren’t letting the grass grow under their feet!

Frederick is listed as a photographer and artist at Ogbourne St Andrew, near Marlborough in Wiltshire, in the 1891 census, and again in Swindon in 1901. By 1911, he also had a studio in nearby Faringdon and his advertisement in the Vale of White Horse Directory offered: ‘High-class Photographs and Photo Picture postcards of neighbourhood and chief places of interest.’ He promised prompt attention to orders for ‘Private Views, Groups, etc.,’ and claimed that his prices were compatible with good work.

For several years, Ault spent the summer months travelling round the Vale villages, taking speculative shots for the postcard market and carrying out private commissions. He attracted a crowd of people, and especially children, whenever he set up his camera and he was happy to include them all; as an artist, he may well have felt that they enhanced his compositions but he also perhaps considered that the people photographed were more likely to buy copies.

Surviving photographs showing family groups and individuals in front of their houses suggest that Ault encouraged commissions by house to house calls and wasn’t simply reacting to customer orders. Through his Country Life series, which featured a host of subjects from farming practices to political meetings, Ault recorded the contemporary scene more as a social historian than as a commercial photographer.

Henry Taunt must have become aware of Ault’s work in the Vale at an early stage and, given his hearty dislike of new-fangled film cameras, he would have appreciated the fact that Ault always used glass plate negatives for his photography.

When Ault died on June 27, 1914 at the age of 69, Taunt was quick to acquire his local negatives and thus vastly improve his own coverage of the Vale. Taunt’s advertisement in next year’s Vale of White Directory offered a full range of photographic services and promised a new book and more pictures of the area.

Instead, the Great War dragged on, taking most of Taunt’s assistants off to military service, and he was never able to make full use of Ault’s photographs before his own death at the age of 80 on November 4, 1922.

Ault’s negatives probably came to Oxford City Library with the Taunt collection purchased in 1924-5 but subsequent sorting diminished this number; the Country Life series, in particular, was heavily weeded because many of the images covered topics rather than specific places.

Struggling for space in an inadequate Central Library in the late 1930s, the city then passed most of Taunt’s and Ault’s Berkshire negatives to the Berkshire Archaeological Society, retaining only the surviving prints. These negatives were housed for many years at Reading Museum before being transferred to the National Monuments Record Centre in 1997.

The recent digitisation of all of Taunt’s remaining images has served to boost Frederick Ault’s reputation as a photographer and, thanks to the indexing powers of – available free of charge at Oxfordshire Studies and major Oxfordshire libraries — we now know quite a bit about him. Who knows, there may be many more Ault photographs still waiting to be unearthed!

You can see and buy copies of all these photographs on the web at or at I