Croydon Camera Club
Croydon Camera Club

Croydon Camera Club History: 1890-2000

The Club: Creation of Croydon Camera Club
A Centenary Of Photography


Photography as we know it today still uses the basic technique discovered by Fox Talbot in August 1835 when he made a negative from which any number of prints could be produced.

Wet Plates and Dry Plates, 1851

But in the intervening 150 years the methods of producing the negative have changed greatly, principally in two ways: the substitution of a "dry" sensitised coating instead of the earlier "wet", and or roll film instead of glass plates. The "wet plate" process was introduced to the public at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The early amateur photographer of that time had to coat a glass plate in darkness, sensitise it, place in camera and expose, and then develop all within about 10 minutes. Not only did he therefore have to have a camera but a portable dark room as well. The whole package was hand crafted down to the lens and barrel and at today's values (1990) would set you back the equivalent of about £800. Hence the numbers of "amateurs" were generally to be found amongst the "gentry" of the land.

The disadvantages of the "wet plate" process led to the development of the dry plate which as its name implies was sold to the photographer already coated and sensitised ready to be placed into the camera. After initial problems with bringing a new process onto the market before it had been completely proved, the popularity of the dry plate established itself as the negative material and there were four major manufacturing firms, one was Wratten & Wainwright established in 1878 in a factory in Canterbury Road, West Croydon; a partner was Frederick Charles Luther Wratten (1840-1926). In attempting to discredit the product, rival manufacturers began to refer to the firm as "Rotten and Aint-right" but this joke died out as photographers began to appreciate the very high standards set by F.C.L. Wratten, as well as by the technical skills of the chemists whom he recruited to produce his "London" dry plates as well as the incomparable Wratten filters and safelights in use today.

Film, 1880

Croydon now had by the 1880s, its own photographic industry supplying an increasing amateur demand now that cameras were cheaper and more readily available though still not mass produced. Having got rid of the "wet" process, could there possibly be a lighter base than a glass plate? There was, and in about 1880 the firm George Eastman Ltd in America started to produce a film made of gelatine covered celluloid. In 1891 this was made into roll film with a paper back which could be placed in a simple camera without use of a dark room. Amateur photography had arrived, particularly when the photographer was encouraged to return the camera and film for processing under the slogan "You press the button - we do the rest". So we now have the name of Eastman Kodak to remember and what next in photography? Well, if you have a roll of film and you make it long enough can you not having "moving" pictures of greater continuity then before, particularly if you have a special camera.

The Movies, 1890

Enter William Edward Green born 7th September, 1855, the inventor of Kinematography, who married the daughter of Baron Friese of Switzerland, on 24th March, 1874. Passionately interested in photography he opened a studio at 109 Queen's Road, Bristol and perhaps to enhance his business he added his wife's name to his own, becoming known as W.E. Friese Greene - with an added "e". For 15 years he devoted every moment to perfecting his kinematographic process and on 10th May, 1890 he was granted Patent 10131 for an invention for "The Formation of Photographic Pictures of Movements of Animals or moving Objects". But having been credited with the invention he failed to capitalise and went bankrupt in 1891 and again in 1903. But in between those times he paid a visit to Croydon.

What next? Create Croydon Camera Club

With this upsurge of discovery and inventions it is no surprise that the thought of establishing a photographic society in the growing and prosperous town of Croydon should have occurred to a man already well known in the photographic world.

Such a person was Hector MacLean, then aged 37, who knew everybody and was a regular contributor to the Press on photographic topics. It was he who. called a meeting to be held in Room 2 of the Public Hall, Croydon, on the evening of 25th February 1890.

After explaining the growth of the movement for founding a camera club for Croydon and District and the advantages such a club would offer, together with an outline of how it would be run the first resolution was put to the meeting:

"That it is desirable to form a Photographic Society for Croydon and District"

The proposer and seconder were Mr E. F. Smither and Mr A. J. Sargent and the Resolution was carried "nem con". Not unanimously; not even with enthusiasm, just "nem con" as if some of those present were reserving to themselves the right to argue the point later on. Thus from its inception did the Club establish a trait which it was to carry through its 100 years history - i.e. the right to argue.

The second resolution fixed the amount of the annual subscription at half a guinea (10/6d) or approx £70 in 1990 money.

The third resolution was to form a pro-tem Committee to draw up the rules an find a meeting room. The Committee consisted of three nominees of the Chair (Smither, de Clercq and Barker) and three nominees chosen by the Meeting - Messrs Plimmer, White, and Bishop. Thus was a Club formed in Croydon for photographers. It will not have escaped the observant that by the definition of the first resolution the Club should have been called "The Croydon and District Photographic Society" but this never happened and its only recorded name has ever been "Croydon Camera Club".

This substantial change from the intent of the founding resolution may have something to do with the strength of character of the Chairman in stamping his personality firmly on the Club which in later years was to prove his undoing. Thus in 1890 there was in Croydon a photographic society of some 40 members, and a plate manufacturer on the doorstep, excellent rail communications from the coast and up to London and the headquarters of the Photographic Society (not the Royal till 1894). All seemed set fair for a runaway success to last 100 years.