Ask any fan of classic rock or heavy metal to name one of their all time favourite albums and Led Zeppelin IV will rank highly – it contains Stairway to Heaven, after all. A big part of the appeal is the memorable cover portrait of an old guy carrying sticks, hanging on peeling wallpaper in what we assume is an old house about to be demolished.

Indeed, the album artwork is replete with mystical and evocative imagery, and the original photograph of the senior with sticks has now been found. It turns out he was a thatcher called Lot Long (1823-1893) from Mere in Wiltshire, about 30 minutes by car from Stonehenge.

Lot’s identity was unearthed by Brian Edwards from the University of the West of England in Bristol, who instantly recognised the picture when leafing through an old album of photographs as he researched something else.

Lot Long, Led Zeppelin IV

Little did Lot Long suspect he’d be immortalised on a classic rock album cover. Credit: Wiltshire Museum

Led Zeppelin IV – a thatcher’s tale

The image was originally called A Wiltshire Thatcher. ‘A part signature matching the writing in the album suggests the photographer is Ernest Howard Farmer (1856-1944), the first head of the School of Photography at the then newly renamed Polytechnic Regent Street,’ said the Wiltshire Museum, which has acquired the image.

‘Now part of the University of Westminster, Farmer had worked in the same building as the instructor of photography since 1882, when it was then known as the Polytechnic Young Men’s Christian Institute.’

Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin IV

A print of the image caught the eye of Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. Credit: Geoff Harris

Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant apparently stumbled upon a framed print of the image in an antique shop near the house of guitarist Jimmy Page – the rest, as they say, is rock and roll history. Led Zeppelin IV came out in 1971, and set the already well-respected band on the path to a global glory that seems to get stronger with each decade.

‘It was quite a revelation,’ Brian Edwards, himself a keen Led Zeppelin fan, told the BBC. Wiltshire Museum will be including the iconic image in an exhibition running from 6th April 2024 – 15th September 2024.

Further reading
Greatest album photography:
Houses of the Holy
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sticky Fingers
Wish You Were Here

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