From 1896 to 1926 – part 1

E.G. Turner

Edward G. Turner, from

It’s time for a new series. Edward G. Turner was a film exhibitor and distributor from the earliest years of British film, whose company Walturdaw continued for decades thereafter. In 1926 he wrote a series of articles for the Kinematograph Weekly (great rival to The Bioscope) on his memories of the industry. ‘From 1896 to 1926: Recollections of Thirty Years of Kinematography’ (originally published 17 & 24 June, 1 & 15 July 1926) is marvellous source of information on the first years of the British film business, particularly renting (distribution) where Walturdaw were undoubted pioneers. It’s an anecdotal stuff, occasionally homely stuff, but with revealing gems along the way. Anyway, let’s start…

The founders of the Walturdaw Co. Ltd., of whom the successors are the Walturdaw Cinema Supply Co. Ltd., were E.G. Turner and J.D. Walker, and the month of August in the year 1896 saw the beginning of their activities in the kinema industry when they purchased their first machine from John Wrench and Sons, of 50, Gray’s Inn Road.

At this time there were only two other makers of machines in the world’s market: R.W. Paul, of Hatton Garden, and Lumière, of Paris.

Within a short period, Beard, of old Kent Road, Haydon and Urry, of Islington, Hughes, of Kingsland Road, Levy Jones. of Hoxton, Reay, of Bradford, Thomassin, Ottway in St. John Street, Islington. Later the Edisonagraph, Mutoscope American Biograph and Pathé came into existence.

The First Posters
At this period our office was at my private address at 111, Great Eastern Street, E.C., and we started out under the grand title of The North American Animated Picture Company. Our entertainment consisted of animated pictures, and Edison’s phonograph.

Our first poster invited the public to view “The World’s Wonder – THE CINEMATOGRAPH, by which the Public would see Trains in Actual Motion coming to rest at Platforms and Passengers Alighting – Trees Gracefully bending in the Wind – Waves breaking on the Sea-shore, and the Fattest and Thinnest Wrestlers in the World would go through their Performance in Animated Photography – Also Edison’s marvellous invention, the giant Phonograph”. We invited the public to come, and not only hear this instrument, but have their voices recorded and reproduced before the audience.

For our first display we hired the hall adjoining the Constitutional Club, Guildford, from Monday, November 16, 1896, our takings that night being £8 1s 1d. the intervening days up to Friday, November 20, were used in posting our bills and distributing handbills from door to door at Godalming, ready for the show to be given there on that night.

The display was duly given, our receipts being £7 4s 6d. The show went well and we were told that if we stayed and gave another show on the following night, Saturday, we would do well. We returned to our diggings, and there I found a telegram awaiting me, telling me of the arrival that night of a new addition to my family – a bonny girl – born at 8.30, whilst I was actually showing our films in the Public Hall, Godalming.

I believe the name of Godalming means “The Gift of God,” and so this child of mine makes it impossible for me to forget my entry into the kinema world; and she can truly be described as a child of the kinema. All her life since leaving school has been spent in the industry, and she, with her husband, now are in charge of a very sucessful little kinema in the country.

So we thought our luck was in, and we decided to stay anoter night to celebrate the event – but how to let the public know? Mr. Walker, always a man of brains, and being handy with paper and scissors, cut out in white letters the necessary announcement, and I next morning made a frame 3 ft. wide and 12 ft. long, with handles at each end, covered it with turkey red, pasted on the white letters, and there was our advert. ready. I got two lads to carry it about the streets, telling them to go anywhere where people were to be found.

A 2 o’clock, while standing outside the hall, we heard strains of a band playing the “Dead March in Saul” – it was a military funeral; it passed by us – first the band, then the body, the mourners walking behind – and directly behind them as part of the procession were out two lads and out advertisement!

Nothing could be done without creating a scene, so we let them pass on. Later, in very cross tones, I asked them why they had done such a thing, and their reply was “you told us to go where people would see your notice, and everyone in Godalming has seen it now”.

Anyway, we took £7 that night!

Beard is Robert Royou Beard; Reay is Cecil Wray. For a rough equivalent of present day prices, multiply the figures Turner gives by 100. The baby girl’s name was Ethel. Next up, the films that they showed.

3 responses

  1. Glad you like it. The Turner articles are full of minutiae of interests to nerdy ‘experts’ in early British film like me, but they are also an entertaining and informative read generally. There’s a lot of them (a least a dozen posts, I reckon) yet to come.


  2. have you got a contact number or email directly
    how have you found out so much about edward george turner and his i think grandfather jd walker ( i think in the early 1920 jd walker was very unhappy with the sale to paramount gb that jd walker moved to the states or canada and started again ) and walturdaw have you got any of the old films or the sales books
    i await ahopefully a speedy reply

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