On the occasion of the Society’s 100th anniversary in 1994, members Chas Wilmot and Albert Bale lovingly researched the history of the club and produced a souvenir brochure. The digital revolution was still very much in its infancy back then, but the brochure text is reproduced here to illustrate how much photography has changed (and how much it has remained the same) over the last 25 years. We look forward to writing the next chapter in due course!

Walthamstow Photographic Society, later to be renamed Walthamstow and District Photographic Society, was established on 20th June 1894. Or was it?

It is certain that this was when the Society came into being as an independent self-governing organisation, but the indications are that this was not so much when it was founded, but rather when it completed a process of evolution. It appears to have existed in embryo for some twelve years previously, and that its true origin goes back to 1882. It was in that year that the Walthamstow Literary Institute, later the Walthamstow Literary and Scientific Institute, was founded.

The annual subscription was ten shillings (50p) and for an extra five shillings (25p) per annum members of the Institute “could use the Dark Room at the Institute for developing photographic plates, the necessary chemicals and apparatus for that purposes being provided”. The Institute reported a falling membership in 1893 and it was probably because of this that the Walthamstow Photographic Society emerged as a separate entity.

The activities of both the Institute and later the Society were regularly reported in the “Walthamstow & Leyton Guardian”. A report dated 15 June 1894, naming Mr E J Naldrett as secretary, was the last to relate the activities of the Institute and in the following report of 22 June the Secretary was shown as Mr C S Scott who was the first to hold that post, which he held for the next three years, of the Walthamstow Photographic Society. As well as Mr Scott, minutes of those early years record the names of Messrs W Houghton, G Houghton, T Willats, W E Lane, T R Nunn and W A Longmore (President for many years) as being very active in the Society and who figured prominently as officers and members of the committee.

The first exhibition was held on 11 January 1895 when bromide enlargements, photo-micrographs and plantinotypes, in addition to lantern slides, were displayed. During the evening two ladies “delighted the audience with songs and instrumental music was played”. During the Annual Exhibition of 1897 photographs were taken with the aid of acetylene gas and several slides were shown by a lantern burning this gas. (A minute of 1901 records the authorisation to purchase 20 feet of oxygen for the lantern to be used at the Annual Exhibition.) Some photographs taken with Röntgen Rays and a Betts chromoscope were exhibited.

In the same year one of the members showed a hand or stand camera of his own design and manufacture, its specification being:- “A rapid rectilinear lens of French manufacture having a focussing arrangement; a Thornton-Pickard shutter for time and instantaneous exposures; rising front; swing back turning on two pivots in its centre; glass focussing screen; two viewfinders placed in a direct centre line with the lens and not at the front as usual; spirit level; and double backs to hold twelve plate. Total weight six and a half pounds”.

A newspaper report of the fifth annual exhibition held on 22 February 1899 records the name of Mr A Horsley Hinton, who subsequently became editor of the “Amateur Photographer”, among the exhibitors. It is not known whether he was a member of the Society as the advertising leaflet for the following year’s exhibition shows that he was to perform the opening ceremony.

Minutes of an ordinary meeting held on 21 April 1902 record that:- “The Secretary intimated that he had received a visit from a Mr West (who had previously written the “Photographic News” respecting the exclusive character of the Society) who wished to know whether photographers belonging to the working or artisan class would be welcomed as members. The Secretary had informed Mr West that the Society is the Town Society and was prepared to accept members of respectability and unobjectionable habits irrespective of their rank in society.”

Another minute from the same meeting states:- “The Secretary read a letter which he had received from Mr Woolford asking whether friends were allowed to attend the outings of the Society and to take photographs. After some conversation it was considered advisable to send a courteous and diplomatic letter to Mr Woolford that it was not desired to allow visitors to take photographs at the outings of the Society.”

Mention should perhaps be made of past members who are still remembered to this day:- Mr S Bridgen FRPS, a member for more than thirty years, a number of which he served as President whilst President of the Affiliation of Photographic Societies; Mr F G Newmarch FRPS, prominent photographer and lecturer; Mr S B Goddard, a local headmaster who was elected to membership on 21 December 1903 and remained so until his death in November 1959; and Miss D M Dodd ARPS. These last two are commemorated in trophies awarded each year at the Annual Exhibition.

Miss Dodd it is felt deserves particular mention, not only for her ability as a photographer (many will remember the excellence of her work, especially her delicately hand-coloured prints) but for her total commitment and loyalty to the Society. She became a member on 6 February 1922 and over the next sixty-six years was elected to every post on the executive committee, the duties of which were discharged in the quiet efficient manner for which she was noted. It was Miss Dodd’s determination that helped keep the Society active throughout the Second World War when membership was higher than at the present day.

During these past hundred years we have changed our headquarters many times including: Mission Hall, Vestry Road (rent for the year ended 24 June 1902 – £3): Marsh Street (now High Street) Church; Danecourt, Church Hill; McEntee Technical School; the old T A Centre, Chingford Mount Road, to name but a few. Our present meeting place is at St Luke’s Church Hall, Greenleaf Road, where we have met since 1976 and hope to continue to do so for many more. (Please note was written in 1994, in 2008 the WDPS moved down the road to the Greenleaf Road Baptist Church.)

Past, present and future

The club looks back on a hundred years of photographic activity with pride. Reference to old programmes show that many of our activities follow the same path. Some things may alter; we buy our equipment rather than make it ourselves; we rely on commercial developers and chemicals rather than mix our own; the tools of our hobby are smaller and much more complex.

Our forebears started the club in, what seems to us, the dark age. Cameras were large and simple. Films or plates took a relatively long time to capture an image. Everything took time and was expensive. All this has changed and we could be said to be in a golden age so far as tools and materials and the possession of these are concerned.

Today’s equipment is much more sophisticated and is relatively cheap. Modern cameras with their multi-functions and electronic circuitry were unimaginable a hundred years ago and could only just about be dreamed of fifty years later. Compared to those that our early members used, cameras such as we now have would have only been within the grasp of the very wealthy. Now technology has ensured a camera in every home. With modern design and manufacture they are precision instruments and not boxes made of wood and brass, or even cardboard.

At the conclusion of our first century we ask what the future holds. The equipment producers are already talking about digital recording of the image and realisation by electronic means. This suggests the use of recording tape or disks and we will see our pictures instantly on a television screen. On this screen we will be able to alter the shape and placing of our subjects within the picture frame; we will then be able to alter the colour values and when we have the picture to our liking we will be able to press a button and get as many prints as we want. It heralds the eventual demise of film developing and processing, and of photography as we know it. Just as processes of old have died out, so too with those we use today.

In time, even this will become old-fashioned. Maybe our children will create an image in 3D and be able to walk around it, to smell it, or even to touch it. Who knows? Walthamstow and District Photographic Society looks forward to the next hundred years and whatever methods are used we hope we will still be interested in the end product.