Reprinted from Newsletter 90, dated 1999 February

Mike Mathias and the Tor

Jan Morland

A talk by Mike Mathias

A film reel showing various photos of Glastonbury Tor
A film reel showing various photos of Glastonbury Tor

Michael Mathias and his slide collection were the main attraction at the AGM on October 19. Mike, who retired in June 1995 as editor of the Mid-Somerset Series of Newspapers, has over the years taken a vast number of slides of the Tor in all its moods, from all directions, and in all lights — day, moonlight, sunset silhouetted, strange camera effects, reflections.

Many of his images have interesting stories behind them—for example, a view of the Tor with the Brue in the foreground. On his first attempt at this picture he came across a reed-cutter at work and asked him to leave a fringe of reeds along the bank in a certain spot. Michael returned the next day when the light was right and obtained a dramatic picture which was later turned into a postcard.

Another series of photos showed how he achieved an image of the Tor with the midsummer sunrise behind the tower. Being at the right vantage point at the right moment (and weather), required a great deal of planning, and even so, a lot of luck. The camera doesn’t always record the image as the eye sees it, which occasionally leads to a surprisingly successful picture. Nevertheless, out of perhaps 100 photographs only a handful would turn out to be acceptable.

In the early 1980s Michael published eight postcards and two posters. The posters are now out of print, but the cards are still selling; he donated a selection of these to the society for sale.

Glastonbury Tor seen in black and white from a distance, with the sun rising directly behind the tower.
At last, the photo Mike set out to snap: the summer sunrise right behind the Tor. (It’s much much better in colour.)

I wonder if Mike knows that one of his pictures went to the European parliament.

In early 1988 four of us from the Conservation Society went to an environmental presentation at which we managed to persuade Margaret Daly, then our MEP, to sit at our table for lunch — a merry gathering it was. She mentioned that at Strassbourg she had been given a rather dull office with orange-painted walls and no pictures. Would she accept as a present from the Glastonbury Conservation Society a picture of the Tor in the sunset?   “Yes, that would be marvellous.”

In March 1988 Daniel Cotton, one of our members from West Bradley, was county chairman of the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs. He was to attend the conference in Strassbourg as the UK representative. Would he take one of Mike Mathias’ posters to Margaret Daly? “Of course.”

So, having moved in the rarefied atmosphere of the conference on “Europe’s countryside for the year 2000” among delegates from Austria, Finland, West Germany (as it then was), Eire, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, and all countries of the UK, David Cotton presented our picture, Mike Mathias’ picture, to our member of the European parliament.

I don’t know if you were aware of this tale, Mike, but it seems a fitting way of saying thank-you for your most enjoyable, impressive, and at times astounding presentation to us.