In his introduction to the 1911 book of minutes for Durham City Camera Club, Arthur E. Thwaites, a former Secretary, sheds a little light on the origins of Durham’s first photographic society.
“The first camera club for the city of Durham was formed in 1892. It commenced with a very small number; only 12 attending the first annual meeting. But under the able secretaryship of the late Mr. Robert Hauxwell, it soon developed into a strong Photographic Society and was for some years one of the most flourishing in the North of England. The first exhibition was held in the year following its formation. Exhibitions were held regularly up to 1898. Some of these exhibitions were singularly successful and well spoken of as being among the best in the country, with exhibits coming from all parts of the United Kingdom and even from the United States, Canada, France and Germany and it was often said that Durham City Camera Club was almost the only club in the North that could run a first class exhibition and make it pay – this being a very high complement for Durham in those days.
From 1898 the club’s prosperity varied a good deal owing chiefly to several changes in secretaryship and a difficulty in obtaining suitable club rooms. In 1902 the Northumberland and Durham Photographic Federation visited the city at the invitation of the club and it was one of the most successful gatherings in the history of the Federation. The last exhibition was held in 1903.”
In the years after the 1903 Exhibition, interest in the club started to wane. The problem of finding club rooms was partly to blame, but it was also thought that the death of Robert Hauxwell, a remarkable man who had been a driving force in the club as its Secretary, had a major effect. Sometime in the first decade of the century, interest declined to such a low level that the club folded, although it is not known exactly when this happened. However, the demise was recorded as being “much regretted by the remaining members and a fair proportion of the general public”.
Some years after this, two members of the old club, Mr. H. P. Robinson and Mr. A.E. Thwaites, decided to resurrect it. They clearly missed sharing the enthusiasm for their hobby with kindred spirits and they lamented the fact that, while all the country seemed to have embraced photography wholeheartedly, the City of Durham had no photographic society to call its own. They fretted over the fact that the Northumberland and Durham Photographic Federation had 14 clubs, “including such small places as Blaydon”, yet Durham was not included. So they traced the minute book, the die for the medals, the official stamp and the other “requisites belonging [to] the old club”. They then gathered a list of people who might be interested and from that, on the 13th of October 1911, they invited Arthur Bailes, R. Cherry, William W. Dunn, Thomas H. Ellison and John Waite to meet at Mr. Thwaites’ home to discuss reviving the Camera Club. The upshot of this was an invitation to all amateur photographers in the district to a public meeting held on the 28th of October 1911 in the Burleson Art Gallery, with Mr. Frank Thompson as Chairman.
The meeting was well attended and those present heard several stirring speeches promoting the re-establishment of the photo club. It was heard that (of the old Camera Club) “although the latter has been out of existence for about eight years, we would not call it dead. It has been in a trance, and this was a sort of bringing it to life again (hear, hear)”. Major Frank Cluff suggested that the old name of Durham City Camera Club should be adopted so that “the existing gold challenge medal, presented by the Rev. H.E. Fox, dies etc, might be placed at their disposal”. The meeting unanimously decided to form a society under the old name and the officers were duly elected. There was a proposal, seconded and carried, that the Marquis of Londonderry should be invited to be President of the new Society. Whether or not he accepted, or indeed had any practical contact with the club is unknown, but what is quite evident is that the official structure of the club was a lot different from that of the current Durham Photographic Society. The officials included five Vice-Presidents, a Secretary and Assistant Secretary, a Treasurer and a Lanternist (in 1911, a post assumed by Percy Hauxwell, son of the original club’s Secretary). There were also seven ordinary members of the Committee. The subscription was set at five shillings.
A member of the new Committee, Arthur Bailes, an Auctioneer, offered the use of his Saddler Street showroom for meetings and suggested that he could provide darkroom facilities on the premises too. It is perhaps significant that Bailes’ business was based at No. 50 Saddler Street, the same address as the Burlison Art Gallery before the latter moved to the Town Hall some years later. At first Mr. Bailes’ offer was gratefully accepted, but there was obviously a change of plan, because the first meetings of the club were held a little further down the road, at the North of England Café Rooms, No. 5 Saddler Street, with meetings starting at 7.15 pm. (The building that housed the Café is now gone; it was situated at the current junction of High Street and Saddler Street).
One of the first talks given was a demonstration by the club Secretary, Mr. Kirkland, who demonstrated the use of Uranium toner on prints – the fact that the club membership was still 47 at the end of the year probably testifies to the fact that the practice wasn’t commonly adopted. The meetings continued in the Café Rooms, with only a dozen or so members regularly attending, but those who turned up experienced the same sort of variety we see in our own club today. There were lectures by well-known exponents of the art; practical demonstrations of equipment and techniques; competitions; and presentations of prints and lantern slides.
There were also excursions, such as the trip to Finchale Abbey in May 1912. Eight members of the club enjoyed a successful day’s photography in glorious sunshine, and 40 glass plates were exposed. As an added incentive, medals were on offer for the best set of pictures taken during that summer’s visits. W. A. (Arthur) Bramwell, who had joined the club earlier that year, was to provide a silver medal, while a bronze was donated by Arthur Thwaites. Both medals were to be cast from the original club die (and one of them exists today as Durham Photographic Society’s Vice-President’s Award). When the competition was judged, it was possibly rather embarrassing for the medal donors, as Mr. Thwaites came first and Mr. Bramwell third.
In February 1913, the club held its first Exhibition since re-forming. It was a two-day event, running from 2 – 9 pm at the YMCA Lecture Hall at 85 Claypath. It was thought that about 300 members of the public came to see the exhibition, with 250 signing the visitor’s book. The Fox Gold Challenge medal for best picture went to Mr. H. Darling for his photograph “Expectant”.
The club kept on with its meetings for a while after the start of the First World War, but by the spring of 1915 the Committee had to confront some fundamental issues about carrying on at such a desperate time. The result was that the club, although it did not wind up completely, went into hibernation and this time “the trance” stayed in place until September 1919.
At this time, officers of the club tended to stay in their posts for a while, rather than stepping down every couple of years and William Gray was a case in point, being President for four years. In 1924 it was decided, no doubt to ease the workload of the President, that there should be an additional officer, the club Chairman – a post that Mr. Gray took on that year as Arthur Bramwell assumed the Presidency.
The North of England Café was still the venue for the first meeting after the Great War, an occasion which saw W.R.H. Gray J.P. elected as President and Arthur Thwaites stand down as Secretary to be replaced by Arthur Bramwell. It was decided that the club should meet fortnightly, with the first speaker of the new term being Robert Chalmers of Sunderland Photographic Association. The meeting place for the club was still under discussion at this time. One member, William W. Dunn, a former Mayor of Durham who after retiring from his civic duties devoted himself to providing for the poor, suggested that the club could avail itself of the hall in Moatside Lane, which was used as a soup kitchen – an offer that was apparently not taken up.
There were also occasions when the Shakespeare Hall was used for meetings, but by and large the club stayed in the rooms at the café in Saddler Street. However, in 1924, after a proposal by Arthur Bramwell, it was decided that the club should move to the YMCA Hall (Vane Tempest Hall) in Gilesgate.