Alfred John West F.R.G.S. - Film Pioneer
A full set of newspaper references found so far covering West’s photographic (1881-1897) and cinematographic (1898-1913) career is available online and will be updated periodically.
Alfred John West (1857-1937) was a film pioneer active from 1897 to 1913 and an award winning marine photographer from the mid 1880s to 1900. His family were all involved in the business founded by his photographer father, (also a Master Carpenter) George West at 97 High Street in Gosport. He later moved to 'Rozel' at 7 Villiers Road, Southsea, opened photographic studios at 72 and 84 Palmerston Road Southsea. Towards the end of his life he moved from Totland Bay in the Isle of Wight where he had a smallholding to 20 Southsea Terrace in Portsmouth (the same house where Peter Sellers the character actor was born in 1920), He then spent a short time at 18 Wimbledon Park Road, Southsea. He died on 10 January 1937 in a Southsea nursing home after a short illness and is buried with his wife Elizabeth Lucy (1858-1930) in Highland Road Cemetery (E Plot, Row 19, Grave 14).
His contemporary Obituary says 'His claim to be “ the grandfather of the films “ is one that cannot be challenged'
A.J. West claimed to be amongst the first (after R.W. Paul) to exhibit publicly in the UK, and his films of nautical and Naval subjects were presented under the general title of 'Our Navy'.
West's own story
His unpublished autobiography (1936) - 'Sea Salts and Celluloid' is offered here in faithful PDF transcription from the original typescript. It has been offered for publication, but has not so far found a willing publisher.
West was encouraged and assisted in writing his memoirs by his Grandson, Antony (Tony) Scott Clover (1917-1998), who was himself an amateur film-maker in the 1930s in Portsmouth. The present work is being carried out by West's Great Grandson - David Clover The direct male descendant is Simon West who lives in Australia.
Alfred John West FRGS (born 01/08/1857) was married to Elizabeth Lucy West (née House and born 08/02/1858). Elizabeth Lucy West was the eldest of the 18 children of Charles William House and Marian House (nee Harvey) of Alverstoke, Gosport, Hants. As well as G. M. Clover, she and Alfred West had two sons, the elder being Frederick Charles who emigrated to Australia before 1914, joined the Australian Imperial Force on 22 August 1914 a month after the declaration of war, embarked from Fremantle on 2 November 1914 and served as a Sergeant with the Royal Australian Field Artillery Brigade 3, Battery 8 in Gallipoli, then in the Middle East and the Western Front. He returned on 25 February 1919 to develop a cereal and sheep farm 'Cumuldarnup' (meaning "Breeding place of possums") ten miles South of the township of Ongerup, and about 80 miles NNE of the port of Albany on the South Coast of Western Australia. He married Violet Attree (of Southsea) and they had two sons, Michael and Gerald. Alfred West's younger son, John Albert, married late in life and had no children.
G West and Son, Gosport
A.J. West and his brother, George, were partners in the firm of "G West and Son", Photographers of Gosport and Southsea. In about 1880, A.J. West started to specialise in photographing the racing yachts of the time, and due to his invention of an instantaneous shutter on his camera, he was the first photographer to take close-up pictures of yachts under way at speed, and he was awarded many medals for his pictures (the most famous of them being the "Mohawk" - see right hand column) both in the UK and in other countries including the USA.
In 1897 he took up the then new art of cinematography, and eventually abandoned yacht photography, selling his archive of plates and copyright to Alfred and Frank Beken of Cowes (though not till 1913) where they can still be inspected. West's plates at Beken's are said to be numbered from 500 to 10250. They have been transferred to the Brett Gallery and are being scanned and catalogued for the creation of high quality large scale art prints.
Preserving West's Plates
The Brett Gallery at Midhurst now supplies high-quality reproductions
of West's yachting photographs digitised from the original plates.
Above: Photo - Pioneers of the British Film, John Barnes, Bishopsgate Press, 1983, ISBN 1-85219-012-4
Top left: 9 frame clip showing sailors at a skating rink, Southsea Promenade Circa. 1900- clip stored as series of photographed contact frames from the margin of the complete printed catalogue (PDF Format) of films prepared when West sold the 'Our Navy' business in 1913.(This document is also held in the British Library as UIN BLL01003893947,Shelfmark(s): General Reference Collection 8829.k.34
Foot of column: Two frame animation of the 'Turbinia' at speed in 1897 from the same film catalogue
The 'Mohawk' racing off Hurst Castle at the Royal
Southampton Regatta in 1884 - photographed in the act of winning a
first prize. This photograph was awarded the Gold Medal at the St Louis
Convention for which 9 other countries competed. Note the crew member
at the cross-trees retrieving the flying outhaul. AJ West reported that
this rope nearly got tangled in his own craft (see his Autobiography)
Below: Typical format of a white ink attribution embossed on a framed photograph
The 'Chittywee' owned by Lord Francis Cecil was
photographed racing at the Royal Portsmouth Corinthian Yacht Club
Regatta in Osborne Bay in the year 1882.
Mr Alfred West has accomplished with
‘MORNING POST’, 1905
(Website can also be mounted at https://dac3uk.org.uk)