In 1994 during demolition work in what had been Mercers shop in Northgate, Blackburn, two workmen were clearing out the basement when they found three metal drums like milk churns, and looked inside to see hundreds of small spools of film. On their way to the Lethbridges Scrap Metal Processors was Magic Moments Video which did cine to video transfers, and the workmen dragged in a churn and asked the proprietor Nigel Garth Gregory if the films were of any value.
Gregory knew of local businessman and historian Peter Worden’s interest in cinematography, he phoned up and offered to arrange for the drums to be delivered to him. The films were then looked after by Peter Worden until their transfer to the British Film Institute in July 2000
Peter, along with another local historian, Robin Whalley, researched the films and provided an invaluable introduction into the firm and their films in an article published as Forgotten Firm in Film History, Volume 10, Number 1, 1998, (ISBN 1-86462-031-5).
The Peter Worden Collection of Mitchell & Kenyon Films has now been preserved by staff at British Film Institute’s National Film and Television Archive, carefully storing the dangerously inflammable 35 mm nitrate negatives. Painstaking film preservation techniques were used to produce remarkably clean and scratch free positives, adjusting the speed to smooth out the variations in these hand-cranked films. The results are fresh and natural, offering an unparalleled social record of early 20th Century British life.
The University of Sheffield’s National Fairground Archive and the British Film Institute were awarded a three year research grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Board to research, catalogue identify and contextualise the 800 plus films. This has culminated in a collection of essays The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon: Edwardian Britain on Film, edited by Vanessa Toulmin, Simon Popple and Patrick Russell and published by the bfi in October 2004 (ISBN 1-84457-046-0, paperback, ISBN 1-84457-047-9, hardback) and over 15 articles.
The major catalogue and interpretation of the Collection has just been published by the British Film Institute titled Electric Edwardians: The Story of the Mitchell & Kenyon Collection (London: BFI, 2006, by Vanessa Toulmin, it contains over 431 stills from the collection, an impressive array of handbills and posters from the National Fairground Archive and 100,000 words of text and filmographic references. Also available is a companion DVD entitled the Electric Edwardians featuring two hours of highlights from the Collection with extras on the archiving of the films, an essay by film historian Tom Gunning and an interview with the lead researcher on the Collection, Dr Vanessa Toulmin. Forthcoming film releases include Mitchell & Kenyon in Ireland and Edwardian Sport on Film (both to be released in late spring 2007)
A prime-time three-part series The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon was shown on the BBC in January 2005 with enthusiastic commentary by historian Dan Cruickshank and interviews with descendants of people shown in the films, and is available on DVD from the BBC or the bfi.
The BFI and the NFA have toured the Collection extensively presenting over 100 shows in venues throughout the North of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and proving once again that local films for local people are as popular today as they were a century ago. Dr Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive has also presented specialist feature shows on the history of Rugby League with Professor Tony Collins, seaside entertainment with Professor John Walton and football history with Professor Dave Russell.