Compiled by Rodney Deval, ARPS, 2005
We made it! At our Reunion held at Willersley Castle from 30th April to 3rd May 2004 we celebrated the Centenary of our Club which has been in continuous existence, as a cultural activity of the Wesley Guild, since its formation in June 1904. This is no mean achievement considering that the Club operated without a break during the two World Wars and had until 1956 consisted of one monochrome portfolio with never more than around 20 members, if that. The success of the Club can only be attributed to the dedication and enthusiasm of its Officers and Members and the wonderful Christian Fellowship engendered through the folios and reunions.
Earlier versions of our history recorded events and Club personalities from 1904 to 1974 and 1974 to 1994, the objective now is to bring us up to date culminating in the Centenary Celebrations of May 2004.
In preparation for our 80th anniversary we had arranged for a Club lapel badge to be manufactured, to our design, by a specialist firm in Nottingham and these proved very popular. For the 90th anniversary Bob Winter, the General Secretary, designed an embroidered motif based on our lapel badge which would be available on a range of garments such as polo shirts, sweatshirts and pullovers. These too proved very popular and are regularly worn not only at our own reunions but also by members at other photographic events around the country, providing a talking point and valuable publicity. For the Centenary further supplies of the lapel badge were obtained.
Our 90th anniversary was held in accordance with “even year” custom at Willersley Castle , where the first reunion of the modem era was held in 1954 to celebrate our Golden Jubilee. The Chef prepared a celebration dinner, a souvenir menu was printed, and Frank Lawton our President proposed a toast (in non-alcoholic wine!). Afterwards Frank Lawton and Rodney Deval, one of our longest serving members, cut an iced cake baked and presented by Glenys Deval. The Wilfred Harrison Lecture entitled “90 Years and still going strong”, based on the Club archives, was given by Rodney. Photographs of early outings and reunions were copied onto reversal film and made into an audio/visual presentation, together with copies of prints and slides from the permanent collection. The updated Club History was presented to members and circulated later to those not able to be present. Sam Connolly preached at the Sunday service and after morning coffee the Club trophies were presented. The John Morton Tray, for outstanding service to the Club, was presented by Frank to Rodney.
1995 saw us at “The Links”, Eastbourne for our reunion week-end and AGM. The chair at the AGM was taken by Shirley Markham. It was reported that, after many years’ membership and service to the Club, Randal Bell had decided to cease active membership but that he would remain as an Honorary Life Member. Honorary Life Membership was conferred on Dennis Skelton who was celebrating 50 years of membership, and Wilf Barker who had just given up active membership in his 93rd year. The Wilf Harrison Lecture, entitled “Great Expectations”, was given by Shirley Markham LRPS assisted by her sister Marjorie. Eight Audio/Visual sequences of a variety of places including Zimbabwe , Russia and Canada were shown. After the Sunday service the presentation of trophies was made, the John Morton Tray was presented to Irene Davies for her long and devoted service to the Club, coupled with the name of her late husband Fred, a stalwart of the Club until his untimely death some two years previously.
Since the 50th Anniversary reunion the Club has held the AGM reunion week-end at Willersley Castle on even numbered years and alternately north and south on odd numbered years. The desirability of holding it every year at Willersley Castle due to poorer attendance at southern locations was again discussed and growing support expressed. It was reported that future reunions for ’96 and ’97 were already booked and the situation would be kept under review.
Members continued to organise and enjoy the informal autumn reunions first arranged by Arthur Riley at various northern locations including Southport , Bridlington, Whitby , Morecambe etc. but soon copied in the south. The ’95 southern reunion was held at Sidmouth and, after confusion over the booking date, coincided with the Sidmouth Carnival. Early arrivals were able to enjoy the fun-fair on the front and the Dentist’s car park at the foot of the Elysian Fields provided a grand stand from which to view the procession on the Saturday evening. Needless to say the photo opportunity did not pass unnoticed and many shots of the illuminated floats were taken.
In 1996 we mourned the death of several valued and long serving members. John King joined in 1953 when he lived at Southall and used to meet with other members in the London area to visit places of interest. He served as folio secretary mono A for 27 years, ably assisted by Marion who also acted as the Club’s minute secretary. John & Marion were awarded the John Morton Tray in 1983 and John was elected an Honorary Life Member in 1993. Eric Hyde, our vice-chairman, had not been in good health for some time but had continued to attend the reunions and serve the Club in various capacities as exhibition organiser, free-lance folio secretary and minute secretary. In a tribute Len Jackson said we had all lost a very good friend and colleague. We also mourned Jim Puckering a valued member of slide A and good friend to Bob & Marjorie Winter.
The 1996 reunion & AGM was held at Willersley Castle and, although we had lost a number of members since the last reunion, the general secretary was pleased to welcome new members who had joined as a result of “Photo‑breaks” at Moorlands, Whitby. These mid‑week holidays started in 1986 and were organised by Randal Bell, Alan Taylor and Rodney Deval each year in the spring. They provided lectures, outings and relaxation, proving very popular over the twelve years they ran and were well supported by Club members.
At the AGM, George Bates resigned as folio secretary colour prints and Brian Bostock was elected in his place. Usually at our reunions the Saturday afternoon is left “free” for members to organise their own outings to places of local interest. This year Roy Evans booked a coach for a trip to Hardwick Hall and Bolsover Castle which members found most enjoyable and instructive. On Saturday evening Tom Cross gave the Wilf Harrison lecture entitled “On the Trail of the Monks” when he enthralled us with the results of his personal investigations into the monastic traditions of the North Yorkshire area.
It was in 1996 that the first zephyrs of the winds of change began to be felt. The Freelance folio that had circulated for 28 years closed. This had encouraged members to exchange experiences of submitting their work to various publications and to help each other develop a style likely to result in acceptance. Over the years several members had articles published and others were commissioned to provide photographs of specific locations for books. But the market had changed and there were no longer the outlets previously open to amateurs. It was this year that the first approaches were made to gauge members’ interest in digital imaging and the possibility of forming a folio to encourage members to develop their skills in this field. Initial reactions were lukewarm perhaps because few, at that time, possessed the necessary computer equipment, but the seed had been sown.
1997 saw a further expansion of the Club by the formation of a second colour print folio. A number of prospective members had been waiting some months to join and it was felt only fair to try and accommodate them. Brian Bostock took charge of the new folio (CP-B) and Linda, his wife, the existing folio (CP-A). Both these folios were, in their initial stages, non-competitive but soon the members of the “B” folio voted to become competitive. Unlike the monthly slide folios the colour print folios circulate bi‑monthly as many of the members also belong to other folios. Although the general secretary is responsible for the overall direction of Club activities, each folio secretary runs their particular folio largely independently and there are variations between similar folios. Folio secretaries have at times been described as “benevolent dictators”.
The 1997 reunion was, to some extent, disrupted by travel delays due to bomb threats on the M6 at spaghetti junction and some members had to cancel their journeys. However most got through OK, if late. At the AGM our president, Frank Lawton, resigned after 6 years in that office, having previously served as folio secretary of S‑C for 20 years. Members were pleased to elect him as an Honorary Life Member of the Club. Kath Stevens FRPS succeeded Frank as president. Alan Goldsworthy who had served as secretary of S‑D stood down after 21 years service and was replaced by Les Jenkin, That evening Kath gave the Wilf Harrison lecture on her experiences during her varied career as a photographer, culminating in describing how she submitted hand tinted prints of Venice for her successful Associate and Fellowship panels of the RPS. It was later in 1997, on August 14th, that Randal Bell, who had been in poor health for some time, died. He had served the Club in various offices for around 21 years, but would be mainly remembered for his work as general secretary from ’70 to ’84 when with Beryl, his wife, he guided our affairs so efficiently. Although administration took up a lot of his time he was at heart a photographer, he gained his LRPS and was an exhibitor in local exhibitions in the Durham area. It was Randal who introduced Bob Winter to the Club, and Bob later became our general secretary.
Following the 1997 AGM at Abbot Hall a number of members decided to form an informal group to discuss and circulate information on digital imaging. The zephyrs previously mentioned had become a gale! Starting with 8 members the group was fully recognised as a folio at the 1998 AGM with Rodney Deval. as its secretary. The move recognised a trend in the photographic world with the rapid acceptance of computer modified images in publications, club work and major exhibitions. It is interesting to reflect on the development of the Club over the years from a single monochrome folio at its foundation in 1904 and members’ use of steadily improving cameras from plate cameras; roll film; to 35mm. Then with colour film re‑emerging after WW2 how home processed colour prints were accepted into the monochrome folio as members began to use colour negative material, and how with colour transparency film becoming more readily available a rapid expansion of the slide folios took place. Then trade processed colour prints were accepted in colour print folios. As with many other clubs we had our debates, 35mm will never catch on you can’t retouch the negatives,, colour is too garish, you can’t enhance the mood of a picture; slides are just point and shoot, you take dozens hoping to get one good one. But the developments were all welcomed, eventually, and the Club prospered as did many local, non‑postal, clubs. Now by embracing the digital revolution members are entering their work in the various folios, though with some reservations from more conservative colleagues. As with many other clubs former print workers are finding a renewed interest in making prints using images scanned into their computers, or digitally captured, and printed with the modem inkjet printers now available. Surely, “digital” is the way ahead, already in some areas reversal film is difficult to obtain, sales of film cameras are falling and the whole emphasis is now on the “digital” market.
With the use of computers in schools and their use for graphic art perhaps the viability of camera clubs will depend on their ability to attract this new generation of potential members. Already those clubs failing to respond to the challenge are closing through lack of support.
We had only just appointed Kath Stevens FRPS our Club president and were looking forward to her leading the ’98 reunion and AGM in that capacity when we heard of her death a few weeks before the event. It was Kath, who persuaded Bob Winter to accept the position of general secretary and she had been active in the Club for a number of years. It was very poignant that her entry in the annual exhibition at the reunion had won one of the major awards. Jim Stevens (no relation to Kath) a founder member of S‑C and Club chairman for 10 years also died in April ’98. Members always appreciated his pictures and his tactful but firm way of conducting our meetings, where everybody had their say but were encouraged to stick to the point. He was awarded the John Morton Tray in 1990. Leslie Jenkin who had been appointed secretary of S‑D in ’97 died suddenly in the autumn of that year and we were grateful to Alan Goldsworthy for taking charge again, on a temporary basis, until a successor could be appointed.
The ’98 Wilf Harrison Lecture entitled “Giant Pandas and Sleeping Dragons” was given by Pollyanna Pickering the well known wild life artist and conservationist, helped by her daughter who projected slides of their journey to remote areas of China in search of the Pandas. The talk and the paintings on display, and for sale, aroused great interest and it was sad that Kath was unable to attend the lecture that she had arranged for us. After Sunday service Alan Goldsworthy was presented with the John Morton Tray for service to the Club as folio secretary S‑D for 21 years; Marjorie Cansick retiring after 8 years as treasurer received a copy of the New International Translation of the Bible. Tom Cross, our retiring Chaplain, received a copy of one of Kath’s hand tinted photographs. Tom is one of the few, possibly the only, members to have joined as a result of an advertisement in the Methodist Recorder!
Publicity is always something of an enigma. How much is needed? How do you judge its success? For several years Kath Stevens and Roy Evans have maintained a selection of our pictures and publicity material at Willersley Castle . We have taken out advertisements in the conference edition of the Methodist Recorder and written features for Magnet, but although all of these have given widespread cover they achieved limited success in attracting new members. Undoubtedly the best method is by personal recommendation and by this method we have mainly been able to maintain a stable membership.
The ’99 reunion and AGM was held at Sidholme and we enjoyed the Devon countryside, blessed with good weather. The Wilf Harrison Lecture was given by David Birch LRPS entitled “Personal Views”, during which he showed some of his magnificent slides and gave us tips on how to improve our photography. The preacher at our Sunday Service was Prof Brian Gowenlock, formerly professor of chemistry at Herriot Watt University and a member of Roy ‘s congregation in Edinburgh now living in Sidmouth. During the presentation of trophies after the service Sam Connolly awarded the John Morton Tray to Tom Cross a former Club Chaplain and a consistently successful worker both in monochrome prints and colour slides.
The Millennium was to some extent overshadowed by planning for our approaching Centenary (in 2004). It was agreed that we should try to have an extended reunion to include the spring bank holiday Monday, giving an extra day to enable some extra activities to be arranged. The Wilf Harrison Lecture was given by Gordon Woodhead who took us to Africa on a Photo-Safari showing us many stunning slides of the wildlife backed up by anecdotes of the time spent taking them.
All clubs depend on the enthusiasm of members and their willingness to undertake administrative jobs and ours is no exception. The John Morton Tray is awarded each year by the president to a member who has given outstanding service to the Club. In 2000 Sam Connolly, president, presented the tray to Dorothy Dobson who had served the Club in many capacities, as trophy supervisor, auditor and latterly as treasurer, a position previously occupied by her father John Bissett who was appointed our first treasurer in 1966. We also congratulated Arthur Bower on gaining his ARPS with a panel of monochrome prints.
Our reunion week‑ends have always included a “Church Parade” ‑ being good Methodists! Initially we used to swell the congregation at the church local to where the reunion was being held but as our numbers increased and parking became difficult we held them in house. A feature started with the ’01 service was for members of the digital folio to design a cover for the Order of Worship for Holy Communion. These have featured Christian symbols, the location of the reunion and reference to our hobby. In having our own order of service Roy Kilner, our Chaplain, has been able to use prayers and a format suited to the theme of his service.
During the 2001 reunion at Abbot Hall the new Pine Lodges and swimming pool were in use for the first time, these not only increased the accommodation available for members but also increased their enjoyment of the week‑end. Membership had increased during the previous year and 5 new members were welcomed to their first reunion. It was also interesting to note how, over the last few years, that digital printing of images has increased interest in, and the number of entries submitted to, our print competitions at the reunions.
Ken Cliffe, who died in Sept ’98, had been scheduled to give the Wilf Harrison Lecture at the reunion 2001 and his widow, Ruth, very bravely offered to come and give the presentation he had planned. Our thanks were so ably expressed by Sam Connolly at the end of the show. This year John Stevens was selected by Sam to receive the John Morton Tray, John had not only been a great support to Kath in all her work for the Club but also a valued contributor in his own right. He stored and serviced our exhibition stands for a number of years, transporting them to our reunions and worked quietly in the background in many other ways. This recognition was richly deserved. We were very sad to record his death in 2003 only two years later.
Towards the end of September 2001 we heard that Dennis Skelton had died suddenly and unexpectedly. Dennis had joined in 1946 and at the time of his death was the longest serving member of the Club. He was a member of mono A and had always been interested in trying new processes and techniques. After moving to a smaller bungalow after his wife’s death he did not set up his darkroom again and was beginning to experiment with digital photography. In recognition of his contribution to the Club he was awarded the John Morton Tray in 1992 and elected a Life Member in 1998. During 2001 Stan Cooper a member of S-C for 28 years died and also Geoff Mitchell a member of CP-A for 14 years.
The 2002 reunion and AGM was held at Willersley Castle and again a feature of the print exhibition was the number of digital prints entered, members are certainly embracing this means of producing prints even if they are not highly manipulated as in many of the current photographic magazines. This seems to echo the experience of many local camera clubs where digital photography is expanding at the expense of chemical prints and colour transparencies. We may be an ageing club, as we are often reminded, but our members do not seem reluctance to adopt new ideas and techniques. What is interesting though is members’ attitude to marking in the competitive folios. This has always been a point of discussion and sometimes of gentle disagreement. So much of course is objective and depends on a member’s appreciation of what others are trying to achieve in their creative approach to picture making or selection of subject matter. Consistently low markers are felt to “gain advantage” over higher markers but there must be swings and roundabouts, and it is often the low markers who, belonging to others clubs as well, enter more creative work which often receives a lower mark than more run of the mill entries. What is of value in a postal club such as ours is the criticism of our work by other members and the wide variation of comment, not always reflected in the marks received!
At Sidholme for the 2003 AGM we were warned of impending changes! Sam Connolly our president warned that he would like to stand down at the next reunion after the centenary celebrations. After discussions it was decided that we should appoint a president designate who would take over at the next reunion, after proposals and an election Colin Pickles was selected. Bob Winter said that he had now served as general secretary for 15 years and felt the time was coming when someone else will be needed to take over this position and asked members to consider if they would be prepared to take on this office. Many of us can remember the difficulties encountered when John Morton and Randal Bell wished to hand over their tenure. We hope someone will come forward. During the AGM it was again discussed if we should hold all future reunions (after the 2005 reunion booked for Abbot Hall) at Willersley Castle, A number of factors were cited as advantages; reduced distances of travel for many members; the possibility of storage for the exhibition stands which are difficult to transport between venues and accommodation suited to our numbers. It was agreed we should go ahead as an experiment to gauge members’ reactions. Cyril Found had been asked to give the Wilf Harrison Lecture but unfortunately was too ill to attend, but Sam had arranged for David Baldock to give a talk on “Clubland Photography” which members found very entertaining. The John Morton Tray was presented, by Sam, to Ruth Ralston a long serving member who had worked quietly in the background.
Proposed arrangements for the Centenary Celebrations in 2004 were announced and it was decided to hold the event over the bank holiday week‑end 30th April to 3rd May at Willersley Castle . Also, to extend the event with a short photo‑break on “The Basics of Digital Imaging” to be run by Rodney Deval and Tony Chalk. Before we could look round the year had flown by and we were assembling at Willersley full of anticipation. A very full programme had been arranged and 90 members and their families were able to attend, with others coming in for the evenings.
Friday afternoon was taken up by erecting the exhibition stands and hanging the exhibition. Members agreed the standard was well worthy of the Club in its centenary year and a fitting feature being the large number of digital prints showing how the Club continues to move with the times. The exhibition slides were projected on Friday evening and the winners of the slide, print and inter‑circle competitions announced. At the AGM, Shirley Markham took the chair for the last time as she had previously indicated she wished to stand down. Dennis Hancock was elected as her successor. Thanks were expressed to Marion King who has acted as minute secretary for many years and is also standing down. After lunch Peter Binks led a guided tour of Cromford Mill and the social housing in the village. The restoration to the Church next to the Mill was particularly impressive.
A celebration dinner had been arranged for the Saturday evening and was preceded by a reception with drinks and nibbles in the music room. Our guests of honour at the dinner were Dr. Julian Parren who would give the Wilf Harrison Lecture on his experiences with the Antarctic Survey and Rev Stuart Burgess who would preach at our Sunday service. It had been suggested members should dress in costume to reflect the Victorian/Edwardian period of our founding in 1904. Long dresses, fancy waistcoats and bow ties did much to add to the gaiety of the occasion.
Dr. Parren’s lecture on his experiences in Antarctica was accompanied by his excellent slides and was a challenge to all of us and thoroughly enjoyed. Prayers conducted by Dennis Hancock brought the day to its conclusion. Sunday dawned bright and sunny and after breakfast we assembled in the music room for our service. Rev. Stuart Burgess took as his theme “Creative Moments” and produced a family photograph of his grandparents’ wedding in 1902 referring also to Julien’s slides the previous evening. He linked this to God’s creative moments, his creation around us, the workings of the Holy Spirit and the Church, but mainly in the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection. He then concluded by thanking God for the 100 years of existence of the Club and its work and witness.
After lunch we reassembled to witness the President, with helpers, cut the celebration cake baked and decorated by Marjorie Winter. In the evening Rodney Deval, the archivist, gave a presentation on the history of the Club and showed work from the permanent collection. In line with recent advances this was a digital audio/visual show loaded into a lap top computer and projected digitally.
On Monday morning we assembled in the music room for the presentation of the trophies and the installation of Colin Pickles as our new president. As can be imagined this was somewhat hilarious after such an enjoyable week‑end. But Sam had some unfinished business to attend to first, to present the John Morton Tray to Shirley Markham in recognition of her service to the Club, 17 years as secretary S‑A, 3 years as vice‑chairman and 10 years as chairman. Sam then transferred the president’s insignia to Colin, and Colin in his first duty as president, presented Sam with Honorary life membership of the Club. Tom Cross was also awarded Life membership, but as he was unable to be present his certificate was presented by the secretary later at his home.
So, after a lunch together we prepared to part after a wonderful celebration of the Club Centenary. Did the Rev Mudie Draper think, all those years ago, the Club he founded would still be going strong 100 years later and celebrating its centenary in a guest house (now called an hotel) established by the Wesley Guild, to which the Club was linked as a cultural activity. Some members were able to stay on for the rest of the week to attend a “photo‑break” on digital photography given by Rodney Deval and Tony Chalk, the wives attended craft activities organised by Glenys Deval and Irene Davies.
From its early beginnings with around 12 members in 1904, through two World Wars with membership never more than 25, to its expansion commencing in 1956 with its first colour slide folio and then more folios being formed from 1965, until now we have 115 full, active members and a further 48 associates who are either former members or the families of full members. For 100 years the Club has existed to further photography through Christian Fellowship, the enthusiasm of its members will guarantee its success for many years to come.