Site Map >
Alfred J West -
Living beside the historic harbour of
Portsmouth with its great naval traditions and fame as a yachting centre,
and with my own love of the sea which as a boy gave me a strong desire to
join the Royal Navy and capture pirates, it was natural that in taking up
I should grasp the opportunity that dry plates offered to
obtain sea scenes, and that on the advent of cinematography I should
welcome the chance to take living pictures where I had taken still ones.
My first attempts with snapshots in 1881 and with the ciné camera in 1897
were both brought to Royal notice, and being thus honoured gave me zest to
obtain pictures which were to cause considerable sensation in all parts of
the world. There are still many who have happy recollection of my films
which, under the title of "Our Navy", were shown for fourteen years at the
Polytechnic, Regent Street, and throughout this country and Colonies.
Commencing with an exhibition given before the late King George V when he
was Captain of H.M.S. "Crescent" in 1898, it subsequently was honoured by
Royal commands from Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.
I think I may lay claim to be one of the
earliest of the pioneers following M. Lumière and Mr. Paul, who started
exhibiting films in this country in 1896. Certainly I was the first to
take films of scenes at sea, and to my programme were later added films of
the Army, the Mercantile Marine and the Dominions overseas. Thus was
formed an entertainment of imperial interest, in which I was greatly
encouraged by the intense enthusiasm with which it was received by the
public. With the aid of these pictures it was made possible for people to
realise what life in the Services is like, and in the Midlands, where many
had never seen a ship and some not even the sea, the films aroused intense
patriotic feeling and stimulated recruiting. The Lords Commissioners of
the Admiralty and the members of the Army Council recognised that my
efforts were proving splendid propaganda for recruiting purposes, and
granted me every facility for obtaining films. I felt that in stimulating
patriotic interest with my pictures, I was making myself useful to my
country, and from the time of its regal inception until the moment when,
fourteen years later, I had to relinquish my work through ill-health, this
was my aim. Before I started, I knew nothing of how to run a show, but
with the able help of my staff, which numbered something over 50, all of
whom loved their work and rendered me loyal assistance, most of the
difficulties were overcome.
On the eve of my departure for Canada in 1902, my wife and I were deeply
touched when the staff presented me with a gold watch and her with a gold
bracelet as tokens of their esteem. It has been suggested that I should
write a book about my life’s work, and I am leaving this record of my
experiences in the hope that it may be as interesting in the reading as it
has been in the fulfilment.
To see a quick time movie of his work try
More can be found
● Without doubt one of Gosport's best
hotels that successfully combines style and elegance with a very
The first camera
was called the camera obscura,
which means dark chamber. In a dark room, a small hole in the wall
allowed an outside image to be projected into the room, upside down.
Eventually, smaller sized cameras were developed and mirrors were
added to right the image.