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emigrate to Hollywood and go on to win an Oscar for the John Ford film The Informer and Bombardier Billy Wells who became “the man who hit the gong” at the beginning of the Rank Films.

The Film Studios of Walthamstow When we think of film studios clustered around a single location we naturally think of Hollywood or at a pinch the Home Counties with Elstree and Pinewood Studios. We’d never think of Walthamstow in the same terms. But as film director Barry Bliss reveals, we’d be wrong.

Walthamstow was home to some of the most important UK film studios in the silent era and over a gloriously short-lived period between 1910 and 1926 Walthamstow became arguably the most important centre for film production these isles have ever known. The first of these studios, and more importantly, the first ever purpose-built film studio in the UK was situated at the junction of Wood Street and the Lea Bridge Road on a site now occupied by Beuleigh Court. The Precision Film Studios were erected in early 1910 by the Gobbett Brothers. This two storied structure was standard brickwork on the ground floor (for stores, dressing rooms, offices etc.) 38

and the first floor was a glass and steel structure, rather like a giant greenhouse, as early film makers preferred to use natural light as much as possible as artificial lighting was expensive and unreliable. This revolutionary design would become something of a template for later studios. Although this one only lasted until 1915 (by 1919 it had become a tool factory) the Precision Film Company did produce many films (from comedies Stop the Fight to costume dramas East Lynne to dramas Anarchy in England etc) most, if not all of which, have now been lost apart from fragmented remains. Next came British and Colonial Kinematograph Company who in 1913 took

over a former roller skating rink on the corner of Grove Road and Hoe street and created a studio that would go on to create the most successful British film ever made with their 1916 Battle of the Somme. 20 million people (half the UK population) watched Battle of the Somme in just 6 weeks. Also in 1913 a ‘Dark Stage Studio’ was set up at 588 Lea Bridge Road by the I.B. Davidson Company. This studio seemed to specialise in genre films involving boxing champions or exploitation films where anarchists ran amok with bombs (the bogeymen of the age). Notable names associated with the studio were the actor Victor McLaglan who would

By the mid 1920s Hollywood’s domination was complete and this ‘English Hollywood’ came to an fitful end. Few relics or clues remain to illustrate this wonderful moment in local history, with no known photographs of the British and Colonial and I.B. Davidson studio buildings at all and only a very poor quality illustration of Precision. Only Broadwest seemed worth recording. Maybe it’s about time we thought of commemorating these lost studios. If anyone has any photographic evidence of the studios we would be very interested in seeing them. e

Photo © National Film Archive

Broadway Studio’s Walter West filming on a Walthamstow street.

The last of the big four The Cunard Film Company opened their studio in October 1914 further down Wood Street from Precision at number 245 (now the site of Rumble in the Jungle). Obviously inspired by Precision this building was of a very similar design to theirs with laboratories, carpentry workshops, set decorators and costume makers (as well as dressing rooms and offices) all housed on the ground floor, allowing the first floor to be taken over completely as studio space. Cunard Films fared little better than Precision, and were soon taken over by Broadwest Films. Broadwest themselves created many notable productions becoming a leading UK studio and gave the likes of Ronald Coleman and Anna Neagle their start in film.

Profile for Paul Lindt

The E List - January 2017  

A guide to this month's cultural life in and around Walthamstow, Leytonstone, Leyton and Wanstead, East London, including a listing section....

The E List - January 2017  

A guide to this month's cultural life in and around Walthamstow, Leytonstone, Leyton and Wanstead, East London, including a listing section....