A Hundred Years of Cambridge Camera Club 1902-2002

Charles Hall (Archivist)

Photography had been much in evidence here in Cambridge from early times. As early as 1855 the Gazette was extolling the virtues of a new process being used by Mr Sarony at his establishment on Parker's Piece. This was one of the many professional photographic studios Cambridge has had over the years.

In 1882 the Gown Club i.e. "The University Photographic Society" was founded complete with its own premises at No. 2 St Mary's Passage. In early May 1890 a Town Club was formed, to be called the "Cambridge Camera Club". Its first president was a Mr F. Morley, Treasurer and Secretary Mr Brown. (note: as an incentive there was no entrance fee if joining before the 1st June).

It held its first exhibition at the University Photographic Society rooms in January 1891. However, well before the turn of the century both of these had floundered and all that was left was a photographic group under the umbrella of the YMCA. In fact a letter appeared in the local paper in September 1899 headed "Why not a Photographic Society".

The Cambridge & District United Horticultural Society started to have a photographic element in their annual show held in the Corn Exchange, the profits of which were devoted to the funds of Addenbrooke's Hospital. Also the annual Photographic Convention was held in 1902 here in Cambridge (previously in Newcastle/Oxford). Who organised this and what happened is not clear but these two events lead to some exchange of letters in the Cambridge Daily News.

The result of which was a "meeting of a few gentlemen interested in Photography by invitation of Mr Squires". Following this, arrangements were made to discuss the formation of a Camera Club for Cambridge on Wednesday 24th September 1902, 8:30pm at Llandaff Chambers, Regent Street. "I trust that all those ladies and gentlemen in Cambridge and the District who are interested in Photography will be present" wrote C.S. Addison 18th September 1902.

This meeting and a further one on October 8th decided on the name "The Cambridge and District Photographic Society" and set up the first rules and found the first meeting room. The first actual club meeting was held on the 14th October 1902 and took the form of an "At Home" in the club room at the Prince of Wales Public House Honson's Passage.

It is interesting to note that the reports in the newspapers of the day are far more detailed than the minute books.

The first lecture was given on 27th October 1902 by H.W. Bennet FRPS, yes! Even then photographers had letters after their names. The Royal Photographic Society was inaugurated in 1853. This "Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society" gave a talk on "Exposure and Development". 66 members were present.

At the next meeting Mr Redfern gave out medals following the Exhibition and the first of three lectures on colour photography was given. These were followed by lectures on Pictorial Photography by the Rev Campion, The New Kodak developing machine and velox paper by Mr Addison, The Cardon Process demonstrated by the Autotype Company and the Ozotype process. People came to speak from some distance away, Mr H Newson Secretary of the Fakenham Society gave a lecture on the "Cycle and Camera". In 1905 membership was opened to undergraduates and in 1907 we find the first reference to a lady member, a miss Sanford, who won the set subject competition.

Cine work has been part of the club for years and one of the first lectures on the subject was given in 1909.

1090 saw alteration to the building allowing the club to rent two small rooms for permanent use, a darkroom and club room or reading room.

Some use was made of the St Andrews Street Lecture Hall and the room at Llandaff Chambers.

By 1910 there were enough clubs in the Eastern Counties to consider the formation of a Federation. The driving force was Mr Edward Peake, secretary of the Norwich Camera Club. All of the founding meetings appear to have been held in Cambridge and our own Dr Bansell was the first President of the East Anglian Federation of Photographic Societies. Mr Peake regularly came over to speak and eventually joined and became president in 1923. We have provided several other EAF presidents, including the first lady Mrs K. Moore in 1936/7, many judges, lecturers and have hosted EAF events. In 1911 there was an EAF Class opened of members of societies in the federation at the Club Exhibition and in 1912 Mr T.H.B Scott FRPS the then president of the EAF gave a talk on Bruges.

Also in 1912 there were contacts with Japanese societies and Mr Farren was the club director of the East Anglian School of Photography, another idea of Mr Peake.

In 1913 premises were taken in Ram Yard and a darkroom was constructed. These rooms were available 24 hours of the day and seven days a week and were the club's headquarters for nearly thirty years, we even had our very own caretaker.

Meetings continued to be held during the first World War and soldiers stationed in Cambridge were able to attend.

During the twenties and thirties membership increased, outings were arranged, print criticism and discussion groups held in member's homes and a folio was circulated.

The Second World War brought raids to Cambridge and in 1941 Ram Yard was hit. The following day all that could be was salvaged and new premises were found in the Technical College with a small darkroom in the basement.

Two years later the meetings were held in the Henry Martin Hall and then in the Wesley Chapel Library.

Back in 1904 a Photographic Survey of the County was mentioned, and in the forties a committee was formed with the Antiquarian Society to make a Cambridge Photographic Record. Whether this happened is not known, but a Cambridge Photographic Record has since been made in the late 1990's using digital equipment and was presented to the Cambridge Collection on a CD.

With a large number of keen members, discussion groups began to be formed in 1951, firstly at the Eagle Hotel (mainly on chemical processes like fermentation and distillation) and then at the Y.M.C.A. These proved to be very popular.

1952 was the Diamond Jubilee Dinner at the Golden Hind Hotel and the meetings were held in the Restaurant of the Victoria Cinema as was the exhibition. This year also saw the club involved with the reforming of the Cambridge University Photographic Society with whom we held annual print and slide battles for many years. They were finally wound up in 1998.

Premises were rented in Carlisle Road as a headquarters and darkroom, again 24/7 giving space for more social activities like discussion groups and a studio and a further move to the University Assistants Club for meetings occurred. The council was meeting in the EROS Café in 1953.

The early sixties saw exhibitions being held in the Coal Utilisation Council offices in St Andrews Street.

Meetings and the darkroom/studio move in 1964 to 52 Regent Street, behind the Granchester Post Office again 24/7. The club became involved with the Cambridge Arts and Leisure Association "CALA", a group with great plans but no money for a major arts centre on Newmarket Road. However, they started off with the old civil defense headquarters in Warkworth Street where we moved to in 1971 and installed a darkroom. Problems with space and a poor roof found the club at Netherhall School for four somewhat unhappy years (the darkroom stayed at CALA) before a move back to Wesley Chapel Hall in 1981 and an interesting darkroom in Blinco Grove. The redevelopment of the Wesley site prompted the move in 1987 to the Cockcroft Hall, maintaining the darkroom until 1997.

Other people who have lectured to the Cambridge Camera Club in recent years include:

  • Colin Garrett, the railway photographer
  • Richard Wilson and the Kodak audio-visual presentations
  • Sir George Pollock with "Pictorial Peepshow" - two screens and four projectors
  • Frederick Gandolfi from the family firm which, at the time, was still making hand-made mahogany & brass cameras