Lord Snowdon

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | January 13, 2017 0

Farewell to Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon and son of Anne Messel (later Anne Parsons, Countess of Rosse) of Birr Castle, Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland who with John Betjeman was a founder of the Victorian Society.

A Polio victim in his youth, among his many other accomplishments he was a fearless campaigner for the rights of the disabled and against the stupidity of anti-vaccination ranters. He designed the modern electric wheelchair, for which he was granted British Patent 1230619 in 1971. The Squirrel wheelchair, as it was called, eventually went into production in Birmingham in 1989. Although the idea never really took off, in 1988, he helped pioneer a revolutionary new hearing device called The Link, which aimed to make a human voice audible to the hard-of-hearing over other sounds in a crowded environment and was intended to be cheaper than existing devices. He went on to design aids for the blind as well.

Lord Snowdon, the former husband of Princess Margaret, has died at the age of 86. The photographer, born Anthony Armstrong-Jones, died peacefully at his home today, the photographic agency he worked with has said. Buckingham Palace said the Queen had been informed, but did not comment further. Camera Press said in a short statement: ‘The Earl of Snowdon died peacefully at home on 13th January 2017.’ 

by Cecil Beaton, bromide print on white card mount, July 1965

In 2014, Lord Snowdon donated a series of his photographs, including ones of David Bowie, Dame Maggie Smith and Sir Laurence Olivier to the National Portrait Gallery.  The photographer turned his lens on the worlds of theatre, fashion and high society when he began his career in the 1950s. He later became the royal photographer after his marriage to Princess Margaret. He is known for his six-decade association with Vogue and in the early 1960s worked with the Sunday Times Magazine on documentary subjects from mental health to loneliness. The donation of 130 photographs from Lord Snowdon’s archive is one of the largest gifts ever received by the gallery, and several of the portraits went on display for the first time in 2014. 

Armstrong-Jones was the only son from the marriage of the barrister Ronald Armstrong-Jones (1899–1966) and his first wife Anne Messel (later Countess of Rosse). Armstrong-Jones’s paternal grandfather was Sir Robert Armstrong-Jones, the British psychiatrist and physician. His paternal grandmother was the daughter of Sir Owen Roberts, the Welsh educationalist. A maternal great-grandfather was the Punch cartoonist Linley Sambourne (1844–1910), and his great-great-uncle Alfred Messel was a well-known Berlin architect. 

Armstrong-Jones’s parents separated when he was young and as a schoolboy he contracted polio while on holiday at their country home in Wales. For the entire six months that he was in Liverpool Royal Infirmary recuperating, his only family visits were from his sister Susan.

After Eton he studied architecture Jesus College at the University of Cambridge but failed his second year exams and dropped out. He coxed the winning Cambridge boat in the 1950 Boat Race. After university, Armstrong-Jones began a career as a photographer in fashion, design and theatre. As his career as a portraitist began to flourish, he became known for his royal studies, among which were the official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh for their 1957 tour of Canada. 

In the early 1960s, Armstrong-Jones became the artistic adviser of the Sunday Times magazine, and by the 1970s had established himself as one of Britain’s most respected photographers. Though his work included everything from fashion photography to documentary images of inner city life and the mentally ill, he is best known for his portraits of world notables (the National Portrait Gallery has more than 100 Snowdon portraits in its collection), many of them published in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The Daily Telegraph magazine. His subjects have included Barbara Cartland, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Blunt and J. R. R. Tolkien.

He made a documentary film Don’t Count the Candles in 1968, for the US television programme 60 Minutes. On the subject of aging, it won an Emmy award. In 2001, Armstrong-Jones was given a retrospective exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Photographs by Snowdon: A Retrospective, which later travelled to the Yale Center for British Art. More than 180 of his photographs were displayed in an exhibition that honoured what the museums called “a rounded career with sharp edges. 

In 1974 he made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, on the Sharp Report on the mobility of the disabled. It led to his being invited to chair a parliamentary working party on the integration of disabled people which reported in October 1976. In January 1976 he had challenged the Royal Horticultural Society’s organisation of the Chelsea Flower Show by writing a letter to The Times which angrily attacked their failure to allow blind people to take guide dogs into the annual show. Then, the following year, he attacked the media and Prime Minister James Callaghan, for paying too little attention to the problems of the disabled.

Anthony Armstrong-Jones's mother and Oliver Messel's sister Anne, Countess of Rosse (1902 – 1992), with Michael, 6th Earl of Rosse and Mr Cecil Nice, Head Gardener at Nymans, the Messel family home in Sussex.

Anthony Armstrong-Jones’s mother and Oliver Messel’s sister Anne, Countess of Rosse (1902 – 1992), with Michael, 6th Earl of Rosse and Mr Cecil Nice, Head Gardener at Nymans, the Messel family home in Sussex.

Shortly after his divorce, he set up the Earl of Snowdon Award Scheme to provide bursaries for disabled students, using £14,000 from fees he received for photographs of the royal family. In September 1980 he was appointed president for England of the International Year for Disabled People committee. He attacked a decision to bar disabled Falklands soldiers and sailors from the City of London 1983 victory parade, and criticised the Princess of Wales’s father, Earl Spencer, for failure to provide public wheelchair access at his Althorp home. In 1988, he hit out at British Rail for the conditions in which the disabled were forced to travel.

At the second annual presentation of the Snowdon Award Scheme, Lord Snowdon attacked Butlin’s holiday camps for refusing to allow guide dogs admission to their sites, and the Church of England for threatening to get rid of a 400-acre adventure playground for disabled children in the grounds of a rectory.  In 1993 he took on the voluntary position of chairman of the Arts Council’s initiative to increase the employment of disabled people in the arts. Two years later, he became the first honorary president of the charitable trust ADAPT – Access for Disabled People to Arts Premises Today.

Lord Snowdon was continually facing new challenges in his determination to gain equal rights for the disabled and was frail in his later years, using a wheelchair or sticks because of a recurrence of his childhood polio.

We salute a life well spent. RIP.

Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, GCVO, RDI (7 March 1930 – 13 January 2017), commonly known as Lord Snowdon, English photographer and film maker. He was married to Princess Margaret, younger daughter of King George VI and younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II.

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