London History Bulletin – January 14

Was cinema born,  in London no less, on this day, January 14th, 1896? This London History Bulletin initiates a probe.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Not sure. This one might need to be accompanied with a grain of salt warning. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here it is, a claim for London and January 14th.

The claim is made in a very fine reference book, Chambers Book of Days. For today it says, “on January 14th 1896 the first public screening of a motion picture was given by the Royal Photographic Society in London.”

My response, “oh, that’s interesting – so cinema got started in London. And we can pinpoint the day. That might be fun for people who like to dazzle their friends with the range and depth of their knowledge. Like to throw them the occasional Googly. You know, ‘hey Keith, you’re a cinema buff, you doing anything today to mark the occasion.’ Keith gives you a blank stare. And you respond, ‘Keith, surely you know that today’s the anniversary of the birth of cinema.’”

And hey presto, just like that you’ve got a commanding lead in that social encounter’s conversational lists.

You might have to brazen it out, though, if Keith is a digger, a persistent digger. 

And in due course gets back to you, ‘ok, smart guy, chapter and verse please on that January 14th cinema anniversary business. Because I looked it up and I couldn’t find out anything about that.’ Well, I’m with Keith on that. I’ve got the Chambers mention. But I couldn’t any corroboration for it. There was nothing in the newspapers about it. You’d think there would be. And of course the internet begged to differ.

It credits the Lumiere brothers with being the first players to present projected moving pictures to a paying audience. That was in Paris. In December of 1895. And look, given the French obsession with the cinema, well, who would begrudge them that “we got there first” claim.

For me, the main takeaway from this foray was learning the first address – well, the first two addresses – of the Royal Photographic Society. From 1899 to 1909 they were at 66 Russell Square.

And then from 1909 to 1940 35 Russell Square. So that’s nice to know – another feather in the cap of Russell Square.

For the record, what my researches did yield up was the first reference in the Telegraph after 1895 to the words “motion picture.” And wouldn’t you know, it was an ad.

The ad began, “A good way to make money is to give public exhibitions in halls, churches, school houses and opera houses with our panoramic stereopticon exhibition outfit, illustrating the Spanish-American and Filipino wars with both stationary and motion pictures.”

There’s something just so London about that – the eye to the main chance.

And on that note, good luck with your conversational fencing match with Keith and, yes, here’s to some good cinema-going. 

You’ve been listening – grain of salt in hand – to the London History Bulletin. 

Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.  See ya tomorrow.

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