Sometime in early 1910, the film pioneers the Gobbett Brothers,
who had formed the Precision Film Company Ltd two years earlier, built and opened the first film studio in Walthamstow. The innovative design of a brick ground floor containing offices, dressing rooms, carpentry and paint shops etc. and a first floor studio consisting of a glass and steel structure rather like a giant greenhouse, was much imitated by later studios. The studio itself was 100ft by 40ft and was fitted “with every device for the staging, if necessary, of the most complicated films.” Film processing and developing however were done at another site in the Whipps Cross Road in Leytonstone.
With the initial success of Precision other companies soon followed (Cunard/Broadwest Films, British & Colonial and I.B. Davidson) and within a few years Walthamstow had become one of the most important centers for film production in UK film history.
Production at the studio produced few notable films, a version of East Lynne being an exception and the Gobbett Brothers had achieved some fame (and notoriety) with their production Anarchy in England which retold the story (using actual locations) of the Tottenham Outrage in which Lettish anarchists had escaped after a bodged wages snatch by high jacking a tram along the Lea Bridge Road before being cornered and committing suicide rather than surrender to the police.
However like many of the British film pioneers existence was often a precarious living of hand to mouth. The initial success of the studio was short lived and so by 1915 the studio had closed. On 29th November in that same year Thomas Gobbett died at the age of 34 of pneumonia in West Ham. His occupation was given as designer and maker of cinematograph machines. Whether the decline and demise of the studio was in any way connected to Thomas’ death we may never know, but with its closure an important chapter in the history of British cinema was also over.
The other Walthamstow studios would suffer a similar fate to Precision and 1924 became the year of a great slump and what would become known as “Black November” saw off these fragile enterprises – the nature of film production in the UK became, for the local studios at least, finally unsustainable.
As a footnote another of the Gobbett Brothers, R.F Gobbett, was director of the Cunard Film Company from 1914 until 1915 when it too folded, only to be taken over, and the studio renamed, by the Broadwest Film Company. This could also explain the fact that Cunard/Broadwest Studios copied the Precision Studio design and construction.
N.B. Precision Films also produced a film entitled “Tottenham Shooting Affray” in 1909 and although it is credited separately from “Anarchy in England” it does beg the question whether they were the same film or at least of the same subject matter. Unfortunately neither have survived for comparison.