Wordsworth Donisthorpe and the first motion picture of London

Wordsworth Donisthorpe hazed London’s Trafalgar Square traffic in 1890; these are the surviving 10 shapes
March 24, 2017 /Photography News/ Born on March 24, 1847 in Leeds, Wordsworth Donisthorpe was an English nonconformist anarchist and inventor, pioneer of cinematography and chess enthusiast.

On 9 November 1876 Donisthorpe did for a patent for the Kinesigraph, an apparatus ‘to facilitate the taking of a succession of photographs at colleague intervals of time, in order to record the changes taking place in or the change of attitudes of the object being photographed, and also by means of a succession of pictures so captivated … to give to the eye a representation of the object in continuous movement …’ 

Donisthorpe’s Kinesigraph camera was obviously inspired by the ‘square motion’ wool-combing machine designed by his father, with the ‘abatement combs’ replaced with falling photographic plates. The camera was constructed, but how well it worked is not recorded. 

On 24 January 1878, a letter from Donisthorpe, ‘Talking Photographs’, appeared in Variety, in which he suggested that his Kinesigraph, used in conjunction with Edison‘s brand-new invention the Phonograph, could produce a talking picture of Prime Dean William Gladstone. 

Each individual photograph was to be illuminated by an electric sparkle and projected in sequence onto a magic lantern screen. The materials to hand for photography at that time did not lend themselves to motion picture develop, and nothing else is heard from Donisthorpe on this subject until 1889, when he patented a covering camera and projector. Louis Le Prince was living in Donisthorpe’s home city of Leeds, and it may be that word of Le Prince’s 1888 experiments revived Donisthorpe’s intrigue in the problem.

The patent for Donisthorpe’s new camera, also called the Kinesigraph, was entranced out jointly with William Crofts. It was a unique camera mechanism, which again had numberless in common with textile machinery than with other vivid devices. A shuttle carrying the film moved upwards as the film itself was diminished down, resulting in the film being stationary relative to the lens during each airing. Development was entrusted to Crofts, and it was perhaps at a Camera Club lecture that he behoved aware of Eastman celluloid roll film. The new medium was ideal for their camera. 

Some speedily between late 1889 and early 1891, Donisthorpe and Crofts set up their Kinesigraph in a edifice overlooking London’s Trafalgar Square, and shot at least one short take. It is an evocative, multi-layered view. Foaming water from one of the famous jets is framed against a sooty background of the domed National Gallery edifice, with the bustling traffic of pedestrians and horse-drawn omnibuses; ten frames prone to.


This footage has not been contested as the first motion portray ever taken of the city of London

In 1894 William Crofts perished, and any hope that might have remained for the eventual success of the Kinesigraph discharge died with him, Donisthorpe never being able to procure backing for the project of moving pictures. 

Donisthorpe later invented a new cant (Uropa), and assisted his sons in experiments with colour and sound turbulence pictures. He died on 30 January 1914.

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