Look Back With Little: A historic snapshot

William Potts
William Potts

In “From Banbury Cakes to a Bushel of Sweetmeats” Barry Davis introduced his chapter on Still and Moving Pictures by commenting “Photography was very much in its infancy during the Victorian and Edwardian periods”.

First news of this development took the form of a small box advertisement inserted into the Banbury Guardian for May 3.

This announced the intention to launch a society for Banbury and neighbourhood by means of a public meeting to be held in the Chemical Lecture Theatre of Banbury Municipal School in Marlborough Road on Thursday, May 10 at pm (this building now includes the public library).

Much uncertainty surrounded the event but nevertheless there was a pleasing level of attendance by “local photographers and votaries of the camera”.

The business of the evening started with the huge advantage that SH Beale was able to use his influence within the school to make available to future members the facilities of a dark room and large lecture theatre. The former was to cost users 3/- (15p) per head per year. Other charges covered entrance to monthly gatherings 2/6d (12½p) and an annual subscription to the Society of 5/- (25p). A final statement made clear that ladies were welcome.

The composition of the committee reflected another comment by Barry Davis, namely that “it was not unusual for photographers to be active in other ways as well”.

W. Potts was Banbury Guardian editor, S H Beale a senior figure within the Municipal School, A J Brummitt a toy shop owner in Parsons Street, T Blinkhorn a South Bar photographer and T E Orchard a Bridge Bank builder.

Other members were WN Andrew of Bodicote, F French of Adderbury and WE Wood

In the chair, but also secretary, was John Davenport.

This springtime gathering was very clear about its programme, which was to feature lantern evenings and meetings based on the reading of practical papers as well as occasions when members work could be exhibited.

In all 29 people signed up to a monthly mix of these activities and agreed to come together at an annual general meeting on Monday, October 29, 1894.

Amongst the lecture evenings which proved extremely popular was one entitled “the Photographic Survey of the Heavens”.

The speaker was Mr F A Bellamy of the University Observatory at Oxford. His address followed in the wake of a conference of astronomers which was held in Paris and involved representatives from 17 Observatories including Oxford.

The subject of this gathering was the task of photographing the whole sky.

This had been inspired by a desire to obtain information about faint stars and subsequently make star maps.

Mr Bellamy managed to borrow original negatives from Professor Turner, who was a Professor at Oxford.

Unsurprisingly advanced news of this meeting ensured that there were many visitors as well as members.

Equally popular were meetings at which there were presentations of lantern slides secured from the editor of the “Amateur Photographer”. Subjects embraced American and English scenery as well as architectural features.

William Potts appears to have been responsible for operating the slide lantern.

By the Annual General Meeting of 1897 the membership had grown to 32.

Monthly gatherings had included a joint excursion with the Birmingham Photographic Society. This was a visit to Edgcote and Canons Ashby, which provided an opportunity for enthusiasts to improve their amateur skills.

It was the same year that Mr Davenport received some recognition for his services to the Society.

Members had to find a successor and achieved this by appointing Seymour Beale as secretary as well as treasurer. The committee remained broadly the same except that local book dealer H B Stanley became involved. As a stockist of local books he was keen to include high quality illustrations of Banbury and Stratford.

l I am grateful to Ruth Parry for drawing my attention to the Banbury Photographic Society and its activities.