Moy’s of Bayham Street

Earnest F. Moy’s were general engineers in Camden Town for about seventy years. It was a very local enterprise, started by young men who had been brought up in the area. They were especially interested in electricity and photography, but were prepared to make anything that was offered. In 1895 three young men, Moy, Bastie and Fox, had opened a small workshop at 9 Pratt Mews, Camden Town, where they started with literally one man and a boy. Over the years they took out patent after patent, branching out in any direction which seemed to suggest new advances and the hope of further development. They moved to No 3 Greenland Place nearby and, in the 1930s, took possession of a brand new factory at 16-34 Bayham Street. Thus the firm never moved more than a few hundred yards from its starting point.

They were always fascinated with cameras and the application of electricity to them. They formed their Cinematograph Company Ltd and made films on the flat roof of their Greenland Place factory, with the help of no less a person than William Friese-Greene. Born in 1855 in Bristol, Friese-Greene was a pioneer of the motion picture. His gravestone in Highgate cemetery calls him the inventor of the Kinematograph (Patent 10301). In 1889, while living in 136 Edgware Road, in Maida Vale, he first succeeded in projecting a moving picture. He was so excited that he rushed out into the street and dragged in the first person he could find to view it. This happened to be a policeman walking past. Completely bewildered, he became the first cinema audience in the world. This oft-told tale was incorporated in the film ‘The Magic Box’, in which Robert Donat played Friese-Greene and the policeman was Laurence Olivier.

Friese-Greene’s claims to have shown the very first moving picture are contested by others in other countries, notably by the Lumiere Brothers in France. Freise-Greene never made any money from his invention, and died penniless in 1921, but he was certainly among the leaders. Other countries would have turned his house into a film museum, or a cinema school, but in 1997 Camden Council gave permission for the house to be demolished.

‘The Policeman’s Drink’,
with Moy, Beastie, Fox
and Harrison, in Greenland
Place, Camden Town.

The frames are from an 1897 film called, ‘The Policeman’s Drink’. They show the founders of the company, Fox, Moy and Beastie, with another man called Bert Harrison, acting on the roof of the Greenland Place factory. There is also in the records a contract for a twenty-to-thirty minute film to be shown in a circus at Bedford, for a showman with the resounding name of M.J.Zaro.


136 Maida Vale, where Friese-Greene lived from 1888-92.
The blue plaque is hidden in the shadow of the bay window.
Photograph : Edmond Terakopian, 1997

Immediately after the photograph above was taken, the 1954 blue plaque was cut out of the wall and English Heritage promised to find a new home for it. Camden Town is now a centre for the media. If the wording of the plaque allows it, perhaps English Heritage should re-site the plaque in Greenland Place, where we know Friese-Greene made films? If the wording does not fit - if, for example, it says ‘Friese-Greene lived here’ - let us have a new one.

Photoplay Reproductions Ltd., one of our modern Camden Town film companies, specialises in documentaries about film history. Perhaps some day they may find and restore one of Moy’s films.

To return to Moy’s engineering work. In 1900, Moy and Bastie launched their kine camera which was very successful. It was taken on Captain Scott’s penultimate Antarctic Expedition of 1905, and was used in the trenches of the First World War. At the same time, the firm’s bread and butter work was still fuse boxes, circuit breakers, and other routine electrical equipment. They made electrical switch gear, patented a film feeding mechanism for kinematograph cameras and a film cartridge, which they called a ‘dark box’, to allow daylight loading.

In 1911 Moy’s invented the Moy Gyroscopic camera, which opened up the field of aviation photography. A hand-held kinematograph camera contained two independent electric motors, one to drive the gyroscope and the other to drive the operating mechanism. The camera, held steady by the gyroscope, allowed aviators to photo-graph from moving aircraft. Incidentally, in 1997 the same thing was, hailed as a new invention when it was applied to hand-held video recorders.


 
Moy cameras, similar to the ones used in the First World War and in the Antarctic.1


King George V inspecting the trenches in the first World War.
The camera is a Moy.

In the 1920s the firm patented many improvements to film cameras, but times were hard. Only the arrival of sound in the cinema saved the firm when Gaumont British asked them to make sound heads for their existing projectors. This injected new life into the firm, so that in the Depression of the 1930s, Moy’s were paying the highest wages in the area. A top-rated skilled man got 3 pounds 16 shillings and four pence ha’penny a week. This was when a labourer was earning about two pounds a week.

By late 1930s the firm was in the position to open a brand new factory in Bayham Street, later occupied by Getty Images. They were toolmakers, turners, founders and enamellers. A photograph shows long rows of machines driven by belts, so it looks as if they took their old machinery with them to the new building. The modern machines with individual electric motors, which were already being installed in the new factories along the Great West Road, seem light years away. During the Second World War the firm made radar equipment. After 1945 they made household appliances and anything else that would pay the wages.

In the mid-1950s Leonard Cheesman, one of Moy’s designers, produced a camera capable of recording every three of four frames shown on a television screen. This allowed a film record to be made of a live TV show. Marconi-EMI and High Definition Films collaborated, but the technique has been superseded by video recording. This was the firm’s last venture into the film business. In place of film equipment, Moy’s began to manufacture Braille transcribers for the Royal National Institute for the Blind. In fact the whole history of the Moy’s illustrates the speed of change in inventions, the very small number of patents which make any money, and the pure doggedness needed to keep a firm in business over a period of seventy years.

Moy’s was typical of dozens which crowded the streets and mews buildings of Camden Town. Cardboard box makers, motor body builders, timber merchants, glass merchants, paint makers, wire-workers and general smiths, air-conditioning firms which made sheet metal ducting, manufacturing opticians, and the Ace Studios in 73-75 Albany Street which would make you a short advertising film for ten pounds. The St Pancras Chamber of Commerce listed page after page of firms, small and large, all offering employment. Much of it was highly skilled and specialist. Most was semi-skilled. All these jobs and traditional crafts were under threat as British industry collapsed in the nineteen sixties. Camden Town would never be the same again.


The old belt-driven machines in the Bayham Street factory which,
by the 1960s, could not compete with modern ones.

After Moy’s left the building it was occupied by Anello& Davide, the famous theatrical footwear company This is their attractive logo in the shape of a shoe.


The Getty/Hulton/Stone logos.

Today the building is part of the Getty Picture Library.


Footnote

  1. The Story of Moy. Eyepiece (The Journal of the British Camera Technicians) July/August 1986.

The Booth Poverty Survey Maps
of 1889 and 1902-3

The Interchange Building
at Camden Lock