Kershaw of Leeds

For illustrations See Gallery

Click inside that page to see titles and controls

The name of Kershaw would not impinge deeply on the Tubbs family history if it had not been for the fact that at one time I was a student, of sorts, living in Leeds in various houses under the shadow of Kershaw’s works on Harehills Lane, now the site of a mosque. The delightfully named fforde Green public house down the road was said to be the biggest outlet for Tetleys on their estate. We tried to assist. It is now offices and showrooms, so they are still missing me. Hands up if you know where Yorkshire’s finest is now brewed. Yep! Wolverhampton.

The historian of Kershaw is John Vaughan. His book The Kershaw Camera Story  has been privately published using Blurb in four editions of ilmited numbers. He was highly assisted in his research by the late Pam Caudwell. I came late to serious Kershaw collecting and was lucky to buy one of the last copies of the Final Edition. The cameras are mostly  listed in detail on Camerapedia, and therefore this is a personal account. One of these days I will reach up to a copy of McKeowns Camera Guide which is the price of a middle of the range collectible camera. Kershaw folders are not particularly expensive, with a few rare exceptions and the hard to find Peregrine fitted with Taylor Hobson (TTH) lenses. The two major public resources are at Armley Mills in Leeds and the Leicester Pumping Station Museum next to which is the National Space Centre.

By that time Kershaws was part of the Rank Organisation under the directorship of the fearsome John Davies who had rescued the Rank Organisation from near bankruptcy in the early 1940’s. Rank’s primary interest in Kershaw’s was probably its wish to vertically integrate, and also to get its hands on some nice contracts with the military. Rank Organisation were distributors of films and owners of cinemas, which later led them into Bingo and other leisure activities. How a cinema organisation could get into difficulties when most people went twice a week is anybody’s guess. Their trade mark of course is the big brute beating the daylight out of a gong, which one is told was in reality made of plaster of Paris. So many childhood illusions, alas!  And where did they get the noise from? It can just be seen in its stylized logo form on the attached picture, purchased at some cost from Leeds City Libraries. One of Kershaw’s main lines of business was the production of cinema projection equipment. This was sold under the Kalee brand. The name derives from the initials of A. Kershaw and Leeds, their home, and they were making projectors from at least 1906. Later the Kalee equipment was branded  by British Thompson Houston, so possibly Kershaw’s involvement was then just the optics. BTH features most prominently in history through the dotty antics of Lady Houston (with an O Lord Hattersley) who sponsored the Schneider Trophy aeroplanes developed by Supermarine and Rolls-Royce, but they also made printing equipment bless them and were later sponsors of Whittle’s jet engine development when the Air Ministry was in denial, so dottiness has its uses. They provided the site in Lutterworth for Power Jets Ltd, Whittle’s company.

Who made Marion?

Kershaw had been making cameras for a long time, though this is masked by the Blue Book, the camera collectors’ handbook. The made field and studio cameras, press cameras including the famous Reflex and a wide variety of folding Vest Pocket and other medium format cameras. For many years they billed the press camera as the best camera in the world, an increasingly exaggerated claim, alas.They never branched into 35mm miniature cameras and withdrew from the consumer camera market under Rank Control. They list camera production only under Marion & Co Ltd, which makes the whole story a little inscrutable to the outsider. Marion et Cie were stationers based in Paris in London as early as 1862. The Blue Book lists Marion cameras from the 1890s and then as being made by Kershaw in 1905 using a Kershaw patent mirror reflex mechanism. Marion was based at 3 Soho Square, London and the telegraphic address of Noiram (geddit?) was retained after the later merger. The building still exists. Soho was therefore only ever a brand name. Kershaw and Marion/Soho became formally linked on the amalgamation of seven companies which formed Amalgamated Photographic Manufacturers aka APM in  1921. This soon demerged into two separate organisations, APM and APeM. Amalgamated Photographic Equipment Manufacturers eventually became part of Ilford, and all its constituent companies were more concerned with film than camera manufacture.

The directors of Kershaws were said to be keen ornithologists and later Kershaw/Soho cameras are found with names such as Myna, Pilot,  Penguin, King Penguin (Kershaw Soho (Sales) Limited), Curlew, Raven and Peregrine. Commentators, bloggers and netwits tend to concur that these were all manufactured by Kershaw in Leeds, and a trade advertisement of 1925 confirms this claim.  In 1925 the senior range of folding Kershaw roll film cameras rejoiced in trade names such as Altrex, Beltrex, Celtrex and Deltrex. ..Laltrex. Can you spot a theme folks? These were usually branded as APM and were based on American Ansco designs but fitted with Kershaw optics. The ..trex names usually appeared only on boxes and instructions and rarely on the cameras. The combination of branding,  film and plate sizes, lens options from Kershaw, Ross and others etc make this a bewilderingly complex field for collectors.

By the 1950s Kershaw give their London address as 37-41 Mortimer Street, so possibly the move was necessitated by bomb damage. As an aesthete Herr Hitler would have very much regretted wrecking 3 Soho Square, I’m sure. The frontage is intact, but anything nay have happened inside. There are other names though, such as “B” and Cadet,. The Rajar No 6 camera is fairly easily found. It is said by Blue Book to be one of the earliest Bakelite cameras, from around 1929, though the Rajar company was APeM rather than APM.  No 6 refers to a proprietary Rajar film format with charming wooden spools. I assume that other formats will turn up. Two Rajars can be found in what was then India, now Pakistan so we are breathing exotic air here.  

A major contribution by Kershaw to the war effort was the very considerable mass production of binoculars, using  German made die casting equipment installed under the noses of the Nazis. After the war they branched out into Opera glasses with moulded bodies in a range of bright colours.

After the war Kershaw designed a camera to rival Zeiss and Leica in quality but sticking with medium format and without ripping off the Leica designs - there is a book describing 300 Leica copies, flattery if you like - these are rare and expensive as are fairly rare Curlews and extremely rare Peregrines. Reids, also sold with a lens by Taylor Hobson, also of Leicester, long the manufacturer of the Cook lenses used by the cinema film  industry, including Hollywood. Taylor Hobson also became part of the Rank Organisation, though it escaped and there is an independent company to this day trading under the Cook nameas well as a Taylord Hobson which now concentrates on metrology. By the mid 1950s upmarket Kershaw cameras were being sold with Taylor Hobson lenses. Curiously the Leicester Industrial Museum at the Abbey Pumping station concentrates on Kalee equipment (i.e. from Leeds rather than Leicester) and there is currently nothing on display from Taylor Hobson. There’s more of it at Armley Mills in Leeds. Most Kershaw Soho folding cameras are low to middle quality; they are not very rare and are not hugely expensive to collect, you’ll be pleased to know.

The Tubbs has been collecting cameras since 1965, starting big with a whole plate mahogany Thornton Pickard and wisely holding off for a long time after that, most recently concentrating on folding cameras of English and German manufacture, especially Kershaws. I’ve worked out that of clockwork toys, cameras are the best value because when you take a picture it’s all your own work to keep but when you tell the time from a watch it’s anybody’s and you aren’t even holding it for the next generation. I first bought a Kershaw a few years ago at the late lamented Sydenham collectors’ camera shop which was a favoured haunt of DB Tubbs The Zeiss Icon historian,  as well as me and dangerously close to the London Tubbs’ residence

A glance at the patents applied for by Rank , for example (http://patent.ipexl.com/assignee/By_Organisation_458.html) (site unavailable 2016)

Show that their interest was in Fibre Optics. Somebody joined the ranks and filed patents. Their work in the 1970s  was either commercially secret or subject to the Official Secrets Act but it was concerned with two major projects I believe, EVR or Electronic Video Recording and night sights for the military. My picture of the Rank EVR was taken in the national collection in Bradford. Bunches of fibre optics were known to escape the works for use in ornamental lamps.

                11

Perfect Harmany

The Rajar company was based at Mobberley in Cheshire. They built a new factory there after moving from Liverpool around 1903. This is approximately the same site that now houses Harman Laboratories, the successors to Ilford who still make film and chemicals hooray! The Ilford name was selected by Mr Harman following a trade mark dispute with Marion over the original Britannia trade mark. So you see it is all rather incestuous and complicated. The works in Watford and Southgate were also APeM companies which finally merged with Ilford in 1928.