West's 'Our Navy'
Technical Developments

David Clover


As a still photographer, Alfred West had made a number of inventions to improve the capacity of the plate camera to take instantaneous pictures in a seaway. These included a home made instantaneous shutter and mounting for steadying his unweildy camera at sea.

The 'Our Navy' Cinematograph company made very rapid progress from 1897, and by April 1898, this Patent Application was being made by James Adams - who it is believed was part of the extensive staff who worked with Alfred West in Southsea.

It is reported that around 50 people were on Alfred West's staff after only two years in the business. It's assumed that the patents claimed by the early developers like R.W. Paul and the Lumière brothers of 1895 were proving restrictive in terms of licensing and development of equipment, and that this patent might have sought to get round some of those - or indeed, used to assert the rights to a genuinely new feature.

Malby & Sons, Photo Litho

[This Drawing is a reproduction of the Original on a reduced scale.]

Russell Baldwin writes: "We can now assume that the model of the lone "Jack of all trades" involved in the artisanal and cottage industry is not appropriate here. For instance we know that West had sometimes as many as fifty people working for Our Navy Ltd. These included managers (Waller Jeffs), Lecturing Assistants (Captain R.E Edwards. R.N retd), his assistant C.P.0 MacGregor (ex H.M.S Vernon) who took the cinefilm on the Ophir cruise, his country-wide publicity agents, another cameraman James Adams who patented a cinematograph that he invented (No 9738 on 28 April 1898), all the printers, developers and office staff at the ‘cottage’ in Villiers Road Southsea and the office staff and projectionists at the Poly. The sense of the auteurist individual that we get from the newspaper adverts, i.e West’s Our Navy is undermined by the obvious scale of operations of Our Navy Ltd. Whilst we must realize that these operations were still of the cottage industry mode of production, the scale of this mode was nevertheless extensive. Whilst it is difficult to gauge the extent of the input of the other members of Our Navy Ltd in terms of the production of ideas, it seems clear that the phenomenum. of ‘Alfred West’ was more than merely the one named person, but an amalgam of people who were all caught up in the emergence of film and played a part in it." (Russell Baldwin)

Non-Inflammable Acetate Film Emulsion

in 1910, a new, patented, non-inflammable, film format ‘BOROID’ was presented to the British cinematographic trade using acetate-based cellulose.

More details of West's close involvement in  testing the new safety emulsion1910 are discussed in more detail on a separate web page.

N° 9738A.D.1898

Date of Application, 28th Apr,.1898
Complete Specification Left; 28th Jan., 1899 - Accepted, 8th Apr., 1899


Improvements in and relating to Cameras and Projecting Apparatus for Kinematograph Pictures.

JAMES ADAMS, 15, Ashby Place, Osborne Road, Southea, Photographer,
I James Adams, do hereby declare the nature- of this invention to be as follows:-

In my improved apparatus, the sensitized ribbon (which is perforated at the edgis to engage with teeth on a driving drum) is drawn from a spool and passes through a regulator, which is placed opposite an exposing aperature, and thence on to the driving drum above mentioned. .

'Between the regulator and the driving drum is a roller mounted eccentrically on a revolving disc, which roller alternately engaging and releasing the loop of sensitized ribbon between the regulator and driving drum, gives to the ribbon an intermittent step by step motion.

My improvement is in and relating to the regulator and accessories thereto, and is designed for securing perfect registration of the pictures photographed on the sensitive ribbon, so that (each picture shall stand in the same definate position in relation to the perforations in the edgis of the ribbon.

To secure this result I place between the store spool and the regulator a clutch through which the ribbon passes and which acts intermittently on the same.

Then between this clutch and the regulator I place a roller mounted in a swing frame which is held in position against a stop by a spring.

In the regulator are teeth which engage in the perforations at the edges of the ribbon and act in the manner of a pawl, allowing the ribbon to pass freely in one direction (i.e. that in which it is drawn by the driving drum) but preventing motion in the reverse direction by engageing in the perforations in the edges of the ribbon.

To use my apparatus the ribbon is wound on the store spool and placed in position in the camera. The end of the ribbon is then passed through the clutch, under the roller in swing frame, thence through the regulator, round the eccentric roller, and engaged by means of the perforation on the driving drum.

The action will then be as follows,

The driving drum being turned drives the ribbon .forward at a uniform speed l but the eccentric (being geared to the drum) alternately engages with and releases the' ribbon, giving it a step by step motion.

Just before the end of the stroke of the eccentric the clutch above mentioned grips the ribbon- and holds it fast. The ribbon becoming taut lifts the swing roller against the action of the spring, and on the eccentric completeing its stroke and releaseing the ribbon the latter is drawn back or retrograded by the action of the spring acting on the swing roller till it is stopped by the teeth in the regulator engaging, in the perforations in the edge’s of ribbon.

This slight retrograde motion of the film by which it is brought to rest by means of the pawl like teeth in regulator engaging in the perforations constitutes my improvement.

Impts. In Cameras and Projecting Apparatus for Kinematograph Pictures

exposure or projection the ribbon of film in cameras and projecting apparatus for kinematograph pictures.

2. The use of an intermittent clutch action in conjunction with a roller mounted on an arm and controlled by a spring so as to produce the short retrograde motion in the ribbon of film by which the perforations near the edge are engaged and firmly: held by ratchet teeth.

3. The combination of clutch, spring roller and ratchet teeth in the manner and for the purpose described in this my application.

Dated this 27th day of January 1899.


Redhill: Printed for Her Majesty's Stationery Office, by Malcomson & Co., Ltd.-l899

Copyright © 2006 David Clover