Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin | Credit: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

Researchers Discover the Identity of the Person on the Cover of Led Zeppelin IV

The famous figure on the cover of Led Zeppelin‘s untitled fourth album has puzzled fans of the band for over 50 years. Finally, the mystery has been solved: it’s a late-Victorian photo of a thatcher from Wiltshire. As reported by The Guardian, Brian Edwards, a visiting researcher at the University of the West of England’s local history centre, made this discovery during research linked to an exhibition he helped organise with the Wiltshire Museum in 2021.

Edwards’ research explores various sources about Wiltshire’s history, like paintings, photos, artifacts, and memories. His surprise find happened while looking into early Stonehenge photos, leading him to the image featured on Led Zeppelin‘s classic album. Edwards says Led Zeppelin’s music has been with him since he was a teenager, and he hopes this discovery of the Victorian photo brings joy to the band’s surviving members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones.

How Led Zeppelin’s iconic album cover mystery unraveled

Led Zeppelin IV | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Released on 8th November, 1971, Led Zeppelin IV has sold over 37 million copies worldwide and features the hit ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ The album’s cover lacks the band’s name or title, instead displaying the framed image of the stooped man, often mistaken for a painting, on the wall of a partly demolished suburban house. The back cover shows a block of flats, believed to be Salisbury Tower in Ladywood, Birmingham.

The image’s journey began when Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s lead singer, found a framed, coloured photo of the original thatcher image in an antique shop near guitarist Jimmy Page’s Berkshire home.

The original image comes from a Victorian photo album titled Reminiscences of a visit to Shaftesbury. Whitsuntide 1892. A present to Auntie from Ernest, which features architectural views, street scenes, and portraits of rural workers from Wiltshire, Dorset, and Somerset.

Beneath the figure, the photographer noted, “A Wiltshire thatcher.” Further research identified the thatcher as Lot Long (sometimes Longyear), who was born in Mere in 1823 and passed away in 1893. At the time the photo was taken, Long lived as a widower in a small cottage on Shaftesbury Road in Mere.

A part-signature in the album matched the writing style of Ernest Howard Farmer (1856-1944), the inaugural head of the school of photography at what is now the University of Westminster, formerly known as Regent Street Polytechnic.

The photo currently resides in the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. An upcoming exhibition, ‘Wiltshire Thatcher: a Photographic Journey through Victorian Wessex’, will showcase Farmer’s work, shedding light on his significant role in the development of photography as an art form. The exhibition also highlights the contrast between Farmer’s portrayal of rural and urban life in Wiltshire and Dorset, later influencing Led Zeppelin’s iconic album cover, crafted 70 years later.

Further Reading

Jimmy Page’s Daughter Scarlet To Showcase Music Photography Exhibition In Sydney

Here’s What Happened at Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert in London

Led Zeppelin Have Finally Won The Court Battle Over ‘Stairway To Heaven’

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