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My grandfather, the high-flying photographer

Kite
Christopher de Hamel's grandfather may have taken the first ever photo from a manned height - at just 6 years old Credit: Wesley Merritt

Christopher de Hamel’s forebear was strapped to a kite and handed a camera. What happened next?

I once gave a lecture which involved manuscripts formerly in the library of Lord Middleton. For a change of slide at one point, I showed an early aerial photograph we have at home of Middleton Hall, near Tamworth, and I remarked conversationally that this picture had been taken in the 1890s by my grandfather, then aged six, tied to a kite.

Afterwards people told me that this was not believable and they expressed outrage that a child could ever have been sent up on such a mission. With a little enquiry I found that the photograph had been reproduced in a book about the atmosphere published in 1897, simply describing it as having been recently taken from a kite flown at 400ft above the ground. I wrote to my father, then still alive, to ask for confirmation of the family legend.

The story is that...

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