IB Davidson

The last studio to gain prominence during these early days of British cinema was I.B. Davidson who used a converted horse tram shed at 588 Lea Bridge Road (the remaining parts of which were recently demolished to make way for new housing development). Davidson’s studio was a "dark stage" studio making it unique in the area in that they used artificial lighting exclusively.

It was smaller than the other studios measuring a mere 60 feet by 40 feet. They seemed to specialize in spy stories (“Anarchists” running amok), sentimental films  and boxing films. Their productions were sometimes marketed as Tiger Films. Two of their original stars were the legendary “Bombadier” Billy Wells and Victor McLaglen. McLaglen got his start in film acting appearing in The Gay Corinthian after being persuaded by producer A E Colby to give up boxing as a profession. Like B&C they fell victim to Black November and by the end of 1924 were out of business.

 

THE LOCATION

588 Lea Bridge Road

Walthamstow

E10 7DN

 

Cunard / Broadwest

The Cunard Film Company Limited moved into their purpose-built studio at 245 Wood Street in October 1914 (just down the road from the Precision studio). The studio's design owed much to the earlier Precision building. The fact that one of the directors was R F Gobbett (a founder of the Precision Studios) may have been the reasoning behind this. The studio had a 115 foot by 45 foot glass roofed daylight stage with extra lighting from 30 Westminster arc lamps. It also boasted having great sliding doors opening onto a concrete platform from which the cameramen could work. 

 

The new studio’s mission statement was: “to build a company that produces refined and high-class dramas.” However like Precision, Cunard soon folded, having completed only 8 feature-length films, after the death in 1915 of its producer Wallet Waller and The Broadwest Film Company took over the studio in January 1916.  Broadwest became one of the top studios in the country famous for their literary adaptations and current stage successes and was run by the charismatic Walter West. West, who had only started making movies in 1912,  was a master of PR constantly promoting the studio and it's stars  - notable future Hollywood stars such as Ronald Coleman and Anna Neagle got their start in film there and other players in what became Broadwest’s “stock company” included Gladys Cooper, Clive Brook, Violet Hopson (who married Walter West) and Stewart Rome. 

Always struggling for cash West was constantly launching fundraising share issues but it could only postpone the inevitable and Broadwest finally went into receivership in 1921 and although other smaller companies took possession of the building at various stages (British Filmcraft Ltd, Metropolitan Films Ltd, Audible Filmcraft Ltd) it never again saw the intensive production seen under Walter West's stewardship. The final remnants of the original building burnt down sometime in 1959 to be replaced by the current building.

 

THE LOCATION

 

245 Wood Steet

Walthamstow

E17 3NT

 

British & Colonial

The next company to open a studio in Walthamstow were the already established British and Colonial Kinematograph Company, who by 1914 were one of the top six film companies in Britain. In the summer of 1913 they made what is considered the first ever British epic The Battle of Waterloo shooting some scenes on Whipps Cross and by October of that year they moved into what was a former roller skating rink at 317-319 Hoe Street (now the former post office telephone exchange building). In 1916 B&C as they were known went on to make  the celebrated Battle of the Somme which with an audience of 20 million (almost half of the UK population of 1916) in just 6 weeks still remains the most successful British film ever made. another notable production from B&C was Tragedy off the Cornish Coast which was the first UK feature film to be made at a distant location from a studio.

Of note - one of the company who worked there was Ethyle Batley an early woman producer. Famous performers who worked at B&C were Jack Buchanan, Lilian Braithwaite, Violet Hopson and Stewart Rome (the last two would also be favourites of Broadwest Studios in Wood Street).   

 

THE LOCATION

317-319 Hoe Street

Walthamstow

E17 9BE

 

Precision Studio

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.

 

 

THE LOCATION

Beuleigh Court

Wood Street

E17 3PA