Monday 26 May 2014

A test of Vivitar extension tubes for macro photography with a Nikon d5200

The following test was conducted to familiarise myself with the Vivitar extension tube set when used on my Nikon d5200. I thought the results might be useful for you too. The Vivitar macro extension tube set contains three elements, giving an extension of 12 mm, 20 mm and 36 mm. They can be used in combination to give a maximum extension tube length of 68 mm. they have electrical connections which allowed me to use my Nikkor 18 to 55 mm and 55 to 200 mm lenses, theoretically allowing autofocus and aperture control.

I used a Daisy as the test subject and the one I chose was 20 mm in diameter across the flower. The camera was mounted on a tripod and I used the extension rings in increasing lengths through the series: no extension tube, 12 mm, 20 mm, 32 mm, 36 mm, 48 mm, 56 mm, 68 mm.

I set the camera to fixed aperture control at F5 .6. and deliberately focused the lenses manually. Several pictures (between three and 20) were taken to capture the focus of the flower from the closest to the furthest distance from the camera.

I captured raw images, optimised for contrast and produced JPEGs. In the first series of images in this article, I combined all the different focus shots into a focus stack using Helicon Focus Pro software. In the second series of images in this article, I chose an image with one point of focus on the flower and cropped it so that you can see the change in depth of field (depth of focus) with increasing extension tube length.

All images are also available to view in larger format at

Stacked focus images with increasing tube length.

Nikkor 18mm – 55mm lens, set at 55 mm:

hand held, in field, no extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, no extension tube = 1x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 12mm extension tube = 1.8x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 20mm extension tube = 2.2x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 32mm extension tube = 3.2x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 36mm extension tube = 3.4x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 48mm extension tube = 4.3x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 56mm extension tube = 4.8x

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 68mm extension tube = 5.9x

Nikkor 55mm – 200mm lens, set at 200 mm:

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, no extension tube = 1x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 11mm extension tube = 1.3x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 20mm extension tube = 1.5x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 32mm extension tube = 1.9x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 36mm extension tube = 2.0x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 48mm extension tube = 2.4x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 56mm extension tube = 2.5x

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 68mm extension tube = 2.8x

Without an extension tube, the Daisy head fills about one third of the screen width with the 18 to 55 mm lens. With the 20 mm extension tube, the Daisy is magnified two times and fills the height of the picture. The final magnification achieved at 68 mm extension tube is nearly sixfold. Theoretically you could reach even higher magnifications by using a shorter focal length. However the subject is then so close to the lens that it is shaded and difficult to illuminate with natural lighting.

For the 200 mm lens, the Daisy fills about 1/5 of the image width without any extension tubes and the image is magnified to a maximum of 2.8 times by the time you use the 68 mm extension tube. Here you can increase the magnification by decreasing the focal length down to the minimum of 55 mm or anywhere inbetween.

Single focus images with increasing tube length.

Nikkor 18mm – 55mm lens, set at 55 mm:

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, no extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 12mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 20mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 32mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 36mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 48mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 56mm extension tube

Nikkor 18-55mm lens, 68mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm – 200mm lens, set at 200 mm:

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, no extension tube (camera shake!)

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 11mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 20mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 32mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 36mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 48mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 56mm extension tube

Nikkor 55mm - 200mm lens, 68mm extension tube

These image series clearly demonstrate how your depth of field (depth of focus) decreases with increasing image size. This holds true if you start with the smallest image taken with the 200 mm lens through to the largest image taken with the 55 mm lens plus extension tubes.

The heights difference between the base of the Daisy in the top is about 3 mm. With the 55 lens, you just about have everything still in focus with the 12 mm extension tube if you set the focus point about halfway between top and bottom. With wider extension tubes you then have to think about choosing what you would like to have in focus or photographing a series of focus slices that could be combined in focus stack. With standard pictures, changing aperture size down to f11 or further does give you a greater depth of field. However the effect is minimal when you are photographing so close to the subject, so it’s better to keep the aperture open and let more light in.

If you need to take a picture quickly, with a high degree of focal depth, I recommend using a compact camera on its macro setting. As you can see below, you can achieve good results this way too.

Daisy taken with macro setting on Olympus fe compact camera


I found the Vivitar extension tubes easy to use. For really close macro work, I recommend using a tripod and taking pictures at different focus through the subject. If you have an external release cable, use that to avoid camera shake. Otherwise, either use the timer control or the timed multiple exposure setting, taking a series of pictures at about three second intervals, which allows you to manually adjust the focus in steps.

Out in the field, I’d probably use the 55mm-200 mm lens for handheld shots at intermediate focal lengths. From past experience, I would use a fixed focus and take multiple exposures.

For quick photography where a high depth of field is required, I would use my compact camera instead.

Reference: for Depth of Field technical calculations:

Friday 23 May 2014

Still relevant today: The Huntingdon Witches, Witch-hunts and John Gaule

Modern Lessons learnt from seventeenth century pamphlets on “The Witches of Huntingdon, their examinations and confessions” (Norris Museum collection, available in full online at and the voice of relative sanity against the witch hunts by preacher John Gaule “Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcraft (in Norris Museum collection, available in full online at

Fifty-three years after the Witches of Warboys were examined, convicted and hanged (see, England in 1646 was a more insecure place, in the unrest of the English Civil Wars.

One man gathered a team to create the most aggressive witch-hunts ever to occur in Britain,. The perpetrator was Matthew Hopkins, self proclaimed Witch-finder General who acted as an informer with the help of John Sterne. “Witch-pricker” and assorted women knowledgeable in finding “witches marks” on the unfortunate victims ( In 14 months, they travelled to towns in the East of England, then nominally under Parliamentarian control and caused the deaths of around 230 so-called witches, mainly women.

With the Witches of Warboys pamphlet, there seemed to be a more logical thread and you could see the terrible inevitability of how three people came to be condemned. With the examinations and confessions of the Huntingdon Witches, we were in a further fantastical realm of imps in the forms of animals that would suckle at a witch and kill men or cattle in return.

Reading further around the subject after having photographed and uploaded the pamphlets, I learnt why this might be.

It will surprise many who are aware of the bloodthirsty nature of the early sixteenth century, that torture of witches to gain confessions was not permitted in England. This was in marked contrast to the rest of Europe where it was almost an obligation.

However, just as western forces in Iraq were not permitted to use torture to extract information, those with a vicious streak could find alternatives. Matthew Hopkins's practice was to have the accused witches stripped, shaved of all bodily hair, made to sit in painful postures for more than a day, with sleep deprivation. Ducking, although also not legally approved could also be used. The left thumb was tied to the right toe and the right thumb to the left, a rope was tied around the unfortunate victim and they were thrown into the water to see if they sank or swam. If you swam, water was trying to reject you – so you were a witch.

Returning to the pamphlet of confessions of the Huntingdon witches, you now read them as the confessions of people who had been subjected to torture in all but name and who might well have been hallucinating at the end of their trials. They were inevitably convicted by local justices of the peace, hanged and then probably burnt.

John Gaule, a preacher at Great Staughton, mounted sermons against the witch hunters and their practices and his arguments were summarised in his booklet mentioned above. Interestingly, he included a letter by Matthew Hopkins that was trying to belittle John Gaule and also seeking to get assurance of safe passage if he visited Kimbolton to find witches there.

John Gaule himself believed in witches. However made five main arguments in his sermon:

1. That all witches, even if they claimed to act for the good, were actually tempted by the Devil and acting out his work.

2. That there are witches who DO commit evil acts (and who must therefore be caught and punished)

3. That there are those who have been tempted by the devil in spirit but have NOT translated this into active sins or crimes (and who has not had sinful or just plain stupid thoughts). That these should be treated more leniently.

4. That superstition and narrow mindedness make it easy for those who are different to become the persecuted.

5. Therefore, that trials of witches ought to be done dispassionately by a jury of educated people who can better distinguish between accusations through spite and superstition and those that are cases of actual malicious harm by witches.

Whilst from a present day view, John Gaule might not seem that far removed from the witch-finders, his rational arguments did make the authorities take stock and begin to question whether the witches found by their witch finders were really such. Within a year, the “Witch-finder General” Hopkins disbanded his crew and settled down to write a book justifying his view.

By the end of the century, Witch trials and executions were dying out.

The reassuring message from these two pamphlets is, that it is right to seek a fair trial and hearing. And if you think, is it relevant today, just look to our current news with its sometimes volatile views on sectors of society, from gays to gypsies, from immigrants to bankers, on child molestors to visibly different members of any religion. There are still chilling examples where suspicion and rumour have led to the deaths of innocents by those who take the law into their own hands.

Our legal system might appear cumbersome, expensive, sometimes incomprehensible and apparently unfair to the victims. But it does have the ambition of dispassionate justice, uses evidence, argument and counterargument. Just take a look at the news to see what happens otherwise in the rest of the world where the law breaks down or is inaccessible.

Having a justice system that strives to be fair is infinitely preferable to the lynch mob who might otherwise turn up on your street looking for victims and a convenient lamppost.

I’m grateful that John Gaule took a visible stand in England, that eventually brought to an end the type of cruel fate the Witches of Huntingdon had to endure. And where would we be if local museums like the Norris Museum did not exist, who preserve such legacies for future generations.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

How raise your company from the ashes - Forward Composites

Executive summary.

Paul Jackson’s inspirational story. Beginning with a career through the successes and decline of Lola. The dark days of receivership and redundancy. Paul’s tireless efforts and belief in the company’s values and people. A new company, Forward Composites, rising from the ashes with Paul Jackson and Ed Collings at the helm. Finding new clients, surviving a fire and looking forward to a prosperous future. A summary of the story as I heard it at the Cambridge Network event at the Hauser Forum on 20 May 2014.

Paul Jackson, MD Forward Composites  
Networking before Paul Jackson's presentation


Paul Jackson was the last man left in a building in 2012, after having made everyone else redundant. Curious potential buyers might see the solitary figure as they peered through the door with just another lot number on it.

Paul had left school at 16 to become an apprentice pattern maker. He joined Lola, and worked his way through the ranks and engineering into management at Lola Composites, based in Huntingdon. He was still passionate about what the composites part of the company and a highly trained workforce could offer, if only given a chance. Even when three sales fell through and company was put up for auction, he was looking for potential business contracts.

Rising from the ashes

On the very day that the company was supposed to be auctioned off in April 2013, Paul took the critical step to move from employee to managing director of his own business, and bought it at the very last minute. He used his own money and finance from an equally convinced colleague, Ed Collings, and an investor brought on board.

Forward Composites was born.

Presentations to potential clients had paid off. The existing machine tooling facility for carbon fibre composites appeared convincing to Thales, producers of the Watchkeeper UAV. Forward Composites secured a winning multi-million UAV contract.

Paul had kept in touch with former highly skilled employees, they returned on his invitation to build the new team.


Within the first year the company was success, having a turnover of £4.2 million. Forward Composites now employed 92 people.

In addition to Thales, clients now included Bombardier; B/E Aerospace, for whom they provided plane interiors; BAE Systems, building large-scale models; and a demo show car for Hyundai.

With a twinkle in his eye, Paul Jackson commented that their carbon composites in the new Mercedes F1 engine contributed towards Lewis Hamilton’s success in the current season.


Yet it could all have gone up in smoke, when the company was hit by a major fire on 31 January 2014! Paul dashed over with the keys and building plans for the fire crews so that they could enter and deal with the fire as fast as possible.

Determined to keep the company going, Paul redirected the staff to an affected parts of the site to continue the work. For once, the delay in receiving a major piece of machinery destined for the fire damaged hall was a godsend, it wasn’t in the building at the time.

Forward Composites managed to survive an event that would have put many other companies out of business.

Community, family.

One of Paul’s key visions was to create a feeling of community, even family, amongst the team of now 92 employees. This is not just through consultation, active involvement and contribution to the running of the company. There is also a large social element and the company even has its own band.


Paul also worked hard to build strong relationships based on trust, with clients and external contractors, persuading them to come back on board. Products were delivered on time and Forward Composites believed in prompt payment. As many businesses in our area know from their own experience, such practices build a high degree of positive trust in your client.


The prospects for Forward Composites look promising, with an expected annual turnover of over £7 million for the second year.

The audience at the Cambridge Network event gained a great insight into how a positive conviction in the ability of one’s company, equipment and skilled staff, and trust, can lead to success.

Paul Jackson was undoubtedly the driving force that led to the birth of Forward Composites. Having built a team, the organisation has been transformed from a one-man company to a business that can continue in its own right.


Paul Jackson’s inspirational story gave us an insight both on his personal development as an employee through the successes and decline of Lola, and as the current managing director of Forward Composites in Huntingdon. We were taken through the dark days of receivership and redundancy to a new company, Forward Composites, rising from the ashes with Paul Jackson and Ed Collings at the helm. In addition to Paul’s enthusiasm and commitment, we were also reminded of the real value of building trust with your clients and suppliers and a great relationship with your team. This was a summary of the story as I heard it at the Cambridge Network event at the Hauser Forum on 20 May 2014.

If you, your company or organisation has a story to tell, please get in touch with me, Dr Chris Thomas, Milton Contact Ltd, 01223 440024,

Thursday 15 May 2014

A unique Cambridge snapshot in time: The book "DraWing Architectural Design Competition 2013"

DraWing Architectural Design Competition 2013 is a book that provides a documentary of Cambridge, its business and creative community, and their views of a future Cambridge as imagined in 2013.

The book captures a particular moment in time in Cambridge and a particular character. The country was just about to come out of recession; the Cambridge-based company, Marshall, was willing to consider a redevelopment strategy in the light of its history within the community; Cambridge architects were given a chance to showcase their ideas; and local communities, organisations, artists, councils and academia had their input to this project. The Marshall Wing development may go in a totally different direction in the future, but we have a record of where we thought we could go in 2013.

Here are my personal perspectives on how this book came about; as the book’s publisher, an artist involved in the Public Art Steering Group for the Wing development and as a local businessman living in Cambridge.

Marshall – a company with a sense for Cambridge

With over a century of tradition, Marshall of Cambridge has been part of the business community ever since David Marshall saw the opportunity provided by the first motorcars that he saw in France, back in 1905. The company formed a strong base in mechanical engineering, first servicing cars and ambulances in the First World War. It then grew into becoming Cambridge Airport, initially for the flying circuses, expanding into aircraft maintenance and then becoming the training ground for 20,000 pilots during World War II. And afterwards, they designed and manufactured the iconic drop-nose for Concord here in the city.

Marshall owns a substantial area of land opposite the iconic art deco entrance to its airport site. An outline planning application has been submitted for Wing, a development of up to 1,200 homes, a primary school, commercial elements, public open space and associated development. Rather than the site being a purely commercial venture, Marshall has a sense of tradition and wishes to infuse some of Cambridge’s quintessential nature.

Artists and communities consulted on Wing

Our Public Art Steering Group
I found out about the planned development almost coincidentally, when invited to take part in the Public Art Steering Group, seeking community and creative input right at the early stages of planning. Emma Fletcher, Property Director at Marshall, was the lead for the company and Matthew Lane Sanderson was the artist brought in to manage the group. I remember meetings in winter, in the unheated Fen Ditton Village Hall, where only lively discussions and hot drinks kept us warm. We started off with a small collection of members and grew at every further meeting. We migrated to warmer rooms and continued until our final report was collated and handed over to Marshall; you can see it here: (

The DraWing Architectural Design Competition 2013

Emma was already thinking about the next stages, namely what could the buildings look like? Important factors were a decent living space, a sense of Cambridge and a degree of affordability in a city where many cannot afford to live and work. I was interested in these aspects but not necessarily expert myself, so invited along fellow participation group member and independent architect, Cambridge Association of Architects' Mart Barrass, to a talk with Emma.

Emma floated the idea of an architecture competition, where local Cambridge architects could present their ideas and visions of a future Cambridge residential development. I thought it was brilliant idea. With Mart’s help, we set up a meeting with other Cambridge Architects.

Marshall set to planning the competition during 2013, establishing guidelines and potential prizes. The result was the online invitation and brief. The idea was to favour the individual architects themselves and make it accessible to both students just entering the field and to professionals. Entries were in the form of designs printed and delivered on two A3 boards. In parallel, I suggested that digital copies could be sent, which we would then compile into a book as a permanent record of the event.

The entries came in, first a trickle and then a flood in the final closing days. On the evening of the 27th November, the entries were all displayed on the walls of the old Marshall Parts Building on the North Works. Guests and entrants arrived for the viewing. Everyone was given small coloured adhesive tags to mark the pictures they thought best as part of finding the day’s public vote. The hall buzzed with conversation around the exhibits.

The ideas competition asked entrants to explore the character of Cambridge. Some might have visions of established ancient colleges and Victorian or Edwardian Mews, perhaps with a small concession to the technological links with Marshall.

What was unleashed was the playful creative side of Cambridge, yet with a serious aim of providing living spaces that were energy-efficient, aspirational and in many instances, fun to live in. The 34 entrants with 62 submitted designs were architects and students who either: lived in Cambridge; studied in Cambridge; visited Cambridge; and perhaps some who had simply heard of Cambridge. We residents take our little city for granted most of the time, not quite grasping its global and international impact and reputation.

People's Choice Competition Winner

The judges came from academia, business, parish, city and county councils, the architecture profession and custodians of Cambridge’s history. The prizes were given and awards handed over with much applause. All agreed it was generally an excellent competition and evening. The exhibits were left on the walls for the next three days to allow further public viewing, showcasing Cambridge’s architectural talent. Winners and more information:

Producing the book – A Record of 2013

The competition being so close to Christmas, we decided to wait till January to get started on the book. After all, we had asked all entrants to provide their contributions in the form of no-nonsense high resolution JPEG images. The plan was to simply drop these into a book template with an introduction at the front and information about the prize winners and event afterwards.

January. Chris Ellis, Emma’s Development Assistant, took over the liaison role.

Using cloud technology to share and exchange files, Chris sent over the material and I began to look at the gigabytes of digital entries that we had received. Instead of straightforward image files, I found a kaleidoscope of different formats, and a backlog of entries still to be received. Sometimes you can have too much creativity.

Fortunately, here at Milton Contact, we had several tools on hand and were able, over a number of days, to convert each and every entry into standard sized JPEG images that accurately reflected the originals. Then the core of the book, over 130 pages was designed and assembled. It “just” remained to add the introductory and the concluding sections, about 20 pages in all.

If I wore a hat, I would take it off to Chris Ellis. Acting as the touchstone between what needed doing at Marshall and at Milton Contact, he remained calm and unperturbed. No matter what came his way, he dealt with it; from the need to get information from a holidaying contact in remote areas of Peru, to the delicate and important issues of changing names, partnerships and attributions.

At last, the book was finished, proofread, approved, edited, approved again and finally ready to go to the printers in April. We chose a Cambridge company, the aptly named Cambridge Printers on Mercers Row. Because the book files were so enormous, I had to deliver them personally on a memory stick one mid-morning. By late afternoon, Steve Vaughan and his team had produced a beautiful full-colour proof. Just about to leave on a Bank Holiday weekend, I diverted via Marshall the next day, so Chris could see the proof and check it. A week later, I was able to deliver the final print run of the perfect bound copies of “DraWing Architectural Design Competition 2013” to Marshall.


Yes, every book that Milton Contact works on is unique. However this one captures a particular moment in time in Cambridge and a particular character. The country was just about to come out of recession; the Cambridge-based company, Marshall, was willing to consider a redevelopment strategy in the light of its history within the community; Cambridge architects were given a chance to showcase their ideas; and local communities, organisations, artists, councils and academia had their input to this project. The Marshall Wing development may go in a totally different direction in the future, but we have a record of where we thought we could go in 2013.

Title: DraWing Architectural Design Competition 2013
Compiled and Edited by: Chris Ellis, Emma Fletcher, Nick Davie and Chris Thomas
Published by Milton Contact Ltd
ISBN: 978-0-957-1959-8-1
Perfect Bound Paperback: 154 pages
Copies available from Marshall of Cambridge (Airport Properties) Ltd.
RRP: £47.00

Sunday 11 May 2014

Our Prize-winning author and a celebration of local historians

“Hildersham, where’s that?” Was my first thought when I heard that Sue Aldridge and her friend Beth Lane were to receive awards from the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History in the church there on Saturday, 10 May, 2014. It turned out to be a picturesque village, strung in a ribbon that straddled the river Granta. The interior of the Holy Trinity Church, where the event was taking place, was a Victorian gem of church painting.

Prize winners Beth Lane and Sue Aldridge for work on "Memories of RAF Witchford"
“Memories of RAF Witchford” was the book that Jane and I had the privilege of publishing for Sue and Barry Aldridge. With Barry in a care home, it turned out to be a major project involving Sue, Beth Lane, Jane and myself. The collection of memorabilia at RAF Witchford formed a focal point for those who had served there and their families, looking for the personal link. The book provides a unique opportunity to take those memories back home. So far, Sue has managed to sell over 500 books.

The awards ceremony by the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History was also a celebration of others interested in history, those who often toiled for years alone, pursuing a personal interest to keep alive the memory of local stories and places.

The afternoon turned into a fascinating event. I learnt that the Cambridge and nursing homes were originally set up to cater for the poor students of Cambridge; that the Cambridge pumping station basement had to be illuminated by oil lamps in the days before even gas lighting was considered; the pubs of Histon and Impington have a long history going back into the 17th century; and that Cambridge has a rich rock musical heritage starting in the 60s that would otherwise have been lost!

Full details of all the awards and prizes will be up shortly on the webpages of the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History at The photos I took are available at

Thursday 8 May 2014

The Witches of Warboys – how a single careless sentence can kill

Coming across a sixteenth century pamphlet on the trial of witches in Warboys was an intriguing insight into the dangerous world of the time.

The full title of the 110 page pamphlet from the Norris Museum collection was “The Most strange and admirable discoverie of the three witches of Warboys, arraigned, conducted and executed at the last Assises at Huntingdon, for the bewitching of the five daughters of Robert Throckmorton Esquire, and divers other persons, with sundry Devellish and grievious torments: And also for the betwitching to death of Lady Crumwell, the like hath not been heard of in this age.”

First Jane, the daughter of Robert Throckmorton was attacked by stomach pains and seizures. These became associated with the presence of an old lady, the 76 year old Alice Samuel. Though the parents and household initially sought not to blame Alice, events would soon conspire against her as the other four children of the household and some of the staff became ill and began point the finger at her.

It has been postulated that perhaps ergot poisoning of ryebread could have been to blame. I could not help feeling that whilst this might have initially been the case, something more sinister could have occurred.

If you read the pamphlet, you see how different people tried to find a rational explanation by taking children to different locations (away from the house) – where seizures would cease. Or by confronting the child with the elderly Alice either by sight or by touch – in which case the seizures would occur.

My personal take on how the situation developed was that perhaps the children took a dislike to Alice and then either deliberately or through autosuggestion initiated siezures and spasms in her presence. In some instances, it is quite clear that believing themselves possessed by an evil spirit, the children had a wider latitude to indulge in misbehaviour, verbally and physically. Could malicious child play have led to tragic results?

And the final, lethal straw – a misplaced phrase by Alice when protesting her innocence. Lady Cromwell, a friend of the family (and Oliver Cromwell’s grandmother) visited and wanted to cut off a lock of Alice’s hair as part of a witch’s test. Alice, insulted, responded with "Madam, why do you use me thus? I never did you any harm as yet." That night Lady Cromwell had nightmares and later died.

“As yet” was misinterpreted as “well I could hurt you if I wanted to!”

Eventually Alice, her husband and daughter were all implicated in witchcraft and murder, even persuaded to confess and give the names of the spirits they set upon the children. They were hanged after a trial in 1593 for murder by witchcraft.

This all occurred in Warboys and at the Assizes in Huntingdon. The story was put to paper, presumably by Thomas Man and John Winnington.

Now we come to a positive element in this pamphlet. The printing was done by the “Widdowe Orwin”, in London, the seat of nearly all the country’s printing presses at the time. In the sixteenth century, women were not allowed to have property and certainly played a secondary role to their men in society. However, when printer William Orwin died in 1593, his widow was in the unusual situation of being able to continue working the presses, publishing eight works in all, of which this is the one quoted most often. Of course, she would have lost all her rights to property again on re-marriage.

Four hundred and twenty years on, she was still helping me as I digitised her work. The care taken with the printing ensured that the first word of the next page appeared at the bottom of the previous one. Whilst leafing through the delicate leaves of the pamphlet, I had a clear guide as to whether I had skipped a page due to them sticking together.

I could not find out more about this lady, the Widow Orwin, who produced a pamphlet “To be sold at Pasternoter Rowe, at the figure of the Talbot”.

Perhaps someone else can take up the flag.

I did learn that a misplaced word can have unexpected and deadly consequences.

You can read the full pamphlet online, in the digital archive, at

Thursday 1 May 2014

A very modern 16th century comic book: The Virgil Solis 1562 illustrated Bible

Superhero and Manga comics may be the popular entertainment of today. In the 16th century, where illiteracy was still rife, the printing industry was turning out illustrated books to complement printed texts. The Norris Museum in St Ives, Huntingdonshire, UK holds two such books from this period. This article is about “Biblische Figuren des Alten Testaments / Biblische Figuren des Neuwen Testaments” (Biblical pictures from the old Testament/Biblical pictures from the new Testament), by Virgil Solis, 1562. Norris Museum catalogue entries 89/201. I had the privilege of photographing the entire book and making it available online.

Jonah about to be swallowed by the whale, by Virgil Solis

This was, in its way, a thoroughly modern interpretation of the Bible for its time. The figures in the beautifully illustrated woodcuts are all dressed in contemporary 16th century costume, from farmers and maids to soldiers, merchants and ladies. Apart from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, of course! Rather than being just flat images, these woodcuts have perspective. There is the main action in the foreground and then you’re eye is led to see what is beyond that, often leading you further into a magical world.

Initially the picture seems to be all in one, a large central image surrounded by detailed carved frames. However, as you wonder through the book page by page, you notice some repetition in the frames. This would suggest that the central panels and the frames were separate elements within the printing process. The frames themselves also vary quite widely in detail and content. In some I particularly enjoyed the depictions of animals and in another, insects.

Add caFrames are separate from the central panel. This one is rich in insects!

The author of the book, Virgil Solis, was a renowned artist, well-known for his woodcuts. It’s not clear whether he was born in Nuremberg or came there from Zurich at a young age. His work initially consisted of direct copies, for example of Holbein in the 1530s. He continued to use the work of other artists of his age as a template, but became freer in his interpretation and style. Apart from the incineration Bible of 1531, it wasn’t till the 1550s that we see book illustrations with his work come to the fore, in his so-called Nuremberg period.

The most important part of his life from our point of view, it is his association with the publisher printer Sigmund Feyerabend. Solis’s contribution to the 1560 Bible cemented both their reputations. This version contained 74 illustrations without frames and dealt with the old Testament. The 1561 illustrated Bible broadly contained the same illustrations as the 1560 but the text version also expanded into the new Testament. Here the illustrations were surrounded by frames.

Sigmund Feyerabend obviously decided to capitalise on the success of the early Bibles to produce an extended illustrated edition in 1562, and it is one of these copies in the Norris Museum. Here, the number of illustrations by Virgil Solis was expanded and they were printed surrounded by a variety of 31 different frames. This illustrated Bible would act as the template for future editions and also derivatives by other artists.

We don’t really know very much at all about Virgil Solis. Even the date of his death, 1562, is possibly open to debate. But he left a legacy of woodcuts that would be used for printing books through into the 17th century.

If you have some time, sit down and gently leaf through the “Biblische Figuren des Alten Testaments / Biblische Figuren des Neuwen Testaments” and simply enjoy the beauty, variety and storytelling in these wonderful woodcuts by Virgil Solis.

This book is now available online for you to read in your own home or place of work at the Internet archive,

Don't wait 450 years, you can ask me to tell your interesting stories now!


Information on Virgil Solis and his Bible illustrations was extracted from another book, also on the Internet archive; “Virgil Solis und seine biblischen Illustrationen für den Holzschnitt (1889)” by E von Ubisch: Book digitized by Google from the library of Harvard University and uploaded to the Internet Archive by user tpb.