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There have been four main film studios in the Brighton & Hove area:
|St Ann's Well Gardens||Furze Hill, Hove||1900-1904||GAS Films (George Albert Smith)|
|Williamson Kinematograph Works||Wilbury Villas, Hove (Cambridge Grove)||1902-1910
|(James) Williamson & Co
Natural Colour Kinematograph Company
|Shoreham Beach Film Studios||Crescent Road, Shoreham Beach||1915-1916
|Sealight Film Company
Olympic Kine Trading Company
Progress Film Company
|Brighton Film Studios||St Nicholas Road, Brighton||1948-1966||Brighton Film Studio|
St Ann's Well Gardens
George Albert Smith, who leased the pleasure gardens between 1892 and 1904, started making films around the turn of the year 1896-97. On the map the gardens are to the north-west of Furze Hill. Smith used the Pump House in the grounds ('The Chalybeate' on the map) as his 'film works' and at first built simple sets in the gardens [below].
In 1900 he built a small studio with financial support from the Warwick Trading Company, run by Charles Urban. It consisted of a glasshouse over a stage measuring approximately 30 feet wide by 16 feet deep, with wooden doors forming one end of the building. The stage apron could be pulled forward between the doors.
The rooftop set that can be seen on the stage [far right] appeared in Mary Jane's Mishap in a brief scene where Mary Jane shoots out of the chimney [right].
G A Smith left St Ann's Well Gardens in late 1903/early 1904 when he moved to Roman Crescent, Southwick to work on the colour film project that became Kinemacolor. The site was taken over by A H Tee, an entertainer. How much longer the studio lasted and its fate are unknown but it is assumed it did not outlast Smith's departure by very long.
In 1902 James Williamson acquired a house called Rose Cottage next to the railway tracks, set back from the road just off the west side of Wilbury Villas. That's him sitting on a chair in front of the house. The Williamson family lived in Rose Cottage. That's him sitting on a chair on the path leading to the front door [right].
He used the land in front of it to build a glasshouse studio and added a second brick building, a 'photographic atelier', which abutted Giebeler's blind and shutter factory, known as the Oxford Works (now Paris House), alongside the approach to the bridge in Wilbury Villas.
The studio and atelier were designed by W B Sheppard, surveyor with offices in Southwick. The studio was built of wood and glass and was 25 ft high to the roof ridge. Overall it was about 25ft wide and 55ft long, the shooting area being about 40ft long, with a sliding door at one end. At the northern end were two dressing rooms. The atelier had a developing room, a photo print room and a laboratory store on the ground floor, a drying room, a scene loft, instrument room and office on the floor above.
Between the studio and the railway line was a long single-storey brick shed. Williamson quit film production in 1910 and the studio was taken over by Charles Urban's Natural Colour Kinematograph Company in 1910 to make Kinemacolor films. The name Kinemacolor was painted on the back of this building, facing the tracks, and is still more or less visible. The area is now known as Cambridge Grove. The atelier, now called Cambridge House [right] and occupied by a firm of solicitors, and the shed are the only parts Williamson's original site that survive.
Shoreham Beach Film Studios.
One of the last glasshouse studios in the country was built by F L Lyndhurst's Sealight Film Company in Crescent Road, Shoreham in 1915, close to the recently built Church of the Good Shepherd. It was a glasshouse structure with a floor area of 75 ft by 45 ft and a height of 30ft, built on a thick concrete base laid over the shingle.
Wartime conditions mitigated against production and in 1916 Lyndhurst sold the studio to the Olympic Kine Trading Company, which sold it on again in 1918, without making any films, to Sidney Morgan's Progress Film Company. Other buildings were now added on the extended 1,000 square yard site for scenery construction, a preview theatre, stores and accommodation, and there was even a small film laboratory. It was by then the only studio in the country that did not use artificial light. A major fire destroyed a number of bungalows and other buildings in 1922. With his brother Arthur, Stanley Mumford, the cameraman with Progress Film Company, was able to remove the boxes of negative from their bungalow and then filmed the blaze, which was included in the next edition of Pathé News. The main studio building, although damaged, remained standing. [I am indebted to NEB Wolter's book Bungalow Town: Theatre and Film Colony for much of the detail.]
Brighton Film Studios.
The production company was founded in 1945. Between 1948 (Timothy Carder's Encyclopaedia of Brighton says 1954) and 1966 it occupied St Nicholas's Parish Rooms, a large red-brick building of 1880 in St Nicholas Road, which had previously been auction rooms.
Between 1949 and 1964 at least a dozen feature films—mainly crime and thrillers and usually released as B features, supporting more prestigious productions—were made by Brighton Film Studios and a number of others made use of the facilities. It was also used to shoot television commercials in the early days of ITV.
It again became an auction house after the studio closed and was later converted into flats.
Page updated 6 October 2013
© David Fisher