York & North Yorkshire

Rievaulx Abbey rediscovers Victorian 'virtual reality'

Rievaulx Abbey Image copyright Dr Brian May/PA
Image caption The slides helped the ruined Rievaulx Abbey become a Victorian tourist spot

A Victorian version of virtual reality has been brought to life by historical photographs of a ruined abbey.

Rievaulx Abbey, in North Yorkshire, is exhibiting the collection of late 19th and early 20th Century slides, which create a 3D effect when viewed.

Dr Brian May, the Queen guitarist, co-owns a company that has made a modern stereoscope viewer, a binocular-like apparatus, to look at the slides.

It allows people to see them as Victorians would have seen them.

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Stereogram slides were invented in the mid-1800s and create the 3D effect when viewed through the stereoscope.

Image copyright Dr Brian May/PA
Image caption The Victorian visitors were fond of romantic ruins
Image copyright English Heritage/PA
Image caption The pictures show the abbey almost overtaken with nature
Image copyright English Heritage/PA
Image caption Rievaulx was founded in the 12th Century but destroyed in 1538

The slides show the abbey overtaken by nature, as a pasture for sheep and often include pictures of visitors to the ruins.

The London Stereoscope Company has created the modern stereoscope to view the abbey as it was seen.

"3D was photography that gave you a feeling of reality, rather than just a flat rendition on a piece of paper," Dr May said.

Rievaulx Abbey was one of the first Cistercian abbeys to be founded in England about 1130.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Dr Brian May, the Queen guitarist, has a long interest in stereoscopic photography
Image copyright PA
Image caption Rievaulx Abbey "was a place of huge spiritual significance", said English Heritage

Dr Michael Carter, of English Heritage, has called the abbey "one of the most important abbeys in England and the setting one of the most beautiful".

It was destroyed by the royal command of Henry VIII in 1538 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Its walls became overgrown and monastic buildings vanished under soil and rubble. It was taken into state care 100 years ago and is now run by English Heritage and attracts more than 55,000 visitors annually.

Image copyright Dr Brian May/PA
Image caption The abbey is celebrating 100 years in the care of the state

The Rievaulx: Reviewed exhibition contains images from the 1870s up to the 1930s and is open until 5 November.

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