Croydon Camera Club
Croydon Camera Club

Croydon Camera Club History: 1890-2000

The Mees Years, 1904-1912

The club "technical guinea pigs"

Once the storm had blown over the Club settled down to steady work, increased its activities and its membership and in later years was fortunate in having a succession of Presidents whose qualities enhanced the status of the Club in the town.

Almost the first business that befell the new President was to find larger and better rooms and in October 1904 the Club moved into 128a George Street opposite East Croydon Station, there to remain for the next 29 years, a period of strength and growth only interrupted by the 1914-18 War.

Although no Club records now exist until 1930 it seems apparent that the pattern of meetings continued as laid down by Hector MacLean, namely the reading of the Minutes of the previous meeting before the introduction of the speaker, followed at the end by questions which were often very pointed especially if a new theory was being offered, for at this time almost every chemist was able and striving to produce a photographic plate a little better than his rivals. One way to success (or failure for that matter) was to use an established photographic society as a testing ground, the more members it had the better. Thus Croydon with its membership of over 100 and at inception the 12th such society in the country found its syllabus or Fixture List as it was then called, filled with dissertations on almost every aspect of the photographic process whilst being prevailed upon by presentation of trial packs to experiment with a manufacturers' products. S.H. Wratten of Wratten and Wainwright often provided plates in order to obtain members' opinions.

Mees joins Wratten & Wainwright, 1906

On the theoretical side of photography C. E. K. Mees together with fellow student S. E. Sheppard had begun a B.Sc research degree study on the photographic process but as no-one knew anything about the subject they were regarded at University College as "extremely eccentric and rather undesirable students". But after three years study in 1906 at the age of 24 he was awarded his D.Sc and was persuaded to extend his talents into industry. He asked fellow Club member S. H. Wratten if he had a job available as he wanted to do scientific research with a view to improving photographic products and processes. The result was that Wratten and his father incorporated the company and sold 25% of the stock to Dr Mees for £1250 and made him joint Managing Director, where he started work on 3rd April 1906.

Not long afterwards Wratten told Mees plate prices were being cut, profits were diminishing and that he must devote his energies to reducing manufacturing costs. Mees totally ignored these instructions and following researches produced the Panchromatic plate which marketed at premium prices with great benefit to the company's profit, and established the "Wratten Panchromatic Plate" as a leading firm of plate manufacturers.

In the same year there joined J. H. Keane then aged 40 and destined also to shape the future of Croydon Camera Club by his continuous interest and long periods of Presidency until his death on 25th October, 1958.

Kenneth Mees continued to influence photography in general with his development of panchromatic materials. The company had very little money for advertising so Mees put out technical booklets which would give people information on how to use the materials and thus Mees or Wratten & Wainwright were pioneers in the publication of what are now known as Data Books or Instruction Manuals.

Salt's Shutter Testing apparatus, 1909

In 1909 E. A. Salt perfected his Shutter Testing apparatus and gave a demonstration to the Royal Photographic Society on 23rd February with a full written description of its use and construction. The "Tester" was used in later years by members to check their shutter speeds and the apparatus still remains with the Club.

Eastman buys Wratten & Wainwright, 1912

Also in 1909 Mees visited the United States to assist the America Bank Note Co as a consultant on problems relating to counterfeit notes. During his stay he visited George Eastman the founder of Eastman Kodak Co in Rochester N.Y. and saw the Kodak Park Works. Three years later at the beginning of 1912 Eastman repaid the visit by coming to Croydon to see the factory in Canterbury Road where he was shown by Mees the work he was doing on panchromatic plates and colour filters. Eastman wanted Mees's services for research and to establish the Kodak Research Laboratory. Mees agreed on condition Eastman bought out Wratten & Wainwright. He did.

During the time he was a Director of Wratten & Wainwright Dr Mees continued to attend and had three colour prints in the Annual Exhibition (16th January 1907). On 26th April 1911 he delivered a lecture on "Time Development". He also exhibited in the Annual House Exhibition (24th-27th May 1911) judged by F.J. Mortimer FRPS. He was awarded his FRPS in 1910.

Lectures must end by 10pm... or else...

The Presidency of H. T. Dodsworth from 1910 to 1911 was marked by his determination to end lectures at a reasonable time. "It was noticeable that as the hour approached 10.00 pm a distinct restlessness appeared on his countenance, replaced by anxiety as 10.15 approached and transformed to a look of ill-concealed despair and a certain lack of vigilance as 10.30 was reached. At this critical time the Speaker had only to pause for effect, when the President was on his feet in an instant, congratulating the astonished Lecturer on having so ably presented his subject; he immediately proposed a vote of thanks and as the sound of acclamation died away, exit the President down two flights of stairs at a rate which extreme youth could only justify." A few of us could take note of this today!

The Mees Album

Mees continued his interest to the moment of departure for the USA in August 1912 aboard SS Minnehaha. In an emotional send-off by 40 members of the Club Dr Mees was presented with a commemorative album of photographs of and by members as a memento of his 11 years with the inscription "in the hope that it will recall old friends an memories of pleasant evenings". Little did they know to what eminence was Dr Mees to reach in his researches at Kodak, nor had anyone the thought that 41 years later in 1953 Dr Mees, then Vice President of Kodak, would be back at the Club to return the commemorative album for our Archives.

Also to mark the occasion in 1912 was established "The Mees Technical Competition" - the first recipient of the medal being A. F. Catharine, who was elected to the Club Council at the AGM in January 1912 together with C. Welborne Piper. The Perfector of the Bromoil Process still in use today.