Found in the basement cellar of a shop in Blackburn Lancashire England were over 800 short films of Edwardian life in the North of England. They were made by the partnership of Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon and the films they shot were of local people and events. It is a remarkable glimpse into history. They made the films to be shown at the Music Hall, Town Hall, or Fairgrounds. They were made for commercial reasons with the sole intention of putting ‘bums on seats’ after all, for people to see themselves on a projected screen was something new and quite wonderful!
Between 1897 and 1913 Mitchell and Kenyon made hundreds of short films depicting the everyday lives of ordinary people, and when the business closed its doors in the nineteen twenties their original negative film stock was left hidden away in the basement of the shop. Here it lay for years simply collecting dust until 1994 when a building contractor found three large metal drums containing hundreds of Mitchell and Kenyon films. The films were passed to a local film historian who in turn gave them to the British Film Institute Archives in Hertfordshire.
The film stock was nitrate, very delicate, and highly flammable, although the coolness of the basement must have helped to preserve the material from utter decay. The films were brittle, but the originals were painstakingly re-photographed onto modern film stock, a process that took around three years. They now form one of the largest collections of early non-fiction films in the world.
Kenyon had originally made penny slot-machines, and Mitchell had been a stills photographer. At the time they set-up in business together the moving image was the hi-tec of its time. Many of their films show people leaving work and putting as many faces on the screen as possible was their aim, after all, this was a paying public! They could watch themselves in showings at the Music Hall, Town Hall, or local Fairground. Mitchell and Kenyon would hand out lealets telling of the showing times and where, and saying “See Yourselves As Others See You”
Mitchell and Kenyon did also show the prosperous side of Edwardian life in visiting other larger towns and cities with their camera and they also made a number of rather stilted dramas that were less accepted by the public who really loved their ‘local’ films.