Empire expands

Empire Films, walking picture

I have looked at Empire films on this site before. They were based in Clacton, however Empire walkies keep turning up which clearly are not from there. Here are two more from a walkies strip which I picked up recently. The background buildings suggest somewhere quite small and quaint, there is a sign for a Tea Garden up the stone steps on the right, and the walkway is elevated, with those traditional seaside iron railings stopping you falling into the road.

Empire Films, walking picture

One frame has been marked in ink with a cross, earmarked for keeping perhaps, or sending to a friend. I would guess at husband and wife and her sister but they all seem set for a sit and a read somewhere.

Westham Bridge, Weymouth, walking picture, 1930s, mum and pram

Susan Ashton has also been trying to find the location for two Empire walkies she has, one of which is dated 1936 on the back. Had I found these walkies in a pile of snaps I would have guessed at a family group, but in fact her Mum – who is the young girl on the right in both pictures – was kindly taken on holiday by her neighbours. But where? Susan rightly agreed it wasn’t Clacton. There were some clues which might help; the distinctive church in the background and the wide bridge they are walking over, although there was a chance it had been replaced in the meantime. But in the second photograph was a bus with the destination board which read Westham on it.

Westham Bridge, Weymouth, walking picture, 1930s, old bus

The only Westham I could find (apart from London – and as they were carrying beach spades that seemed unlikely!) was near Eastbourne, a popular town for walkie photographers. I could not find a bridge or church like this in the area so emailed the Eastbourne Local History Society and they kindly asked their members. They said it wasn’t Eastbourne but Alan Brooker found a Westham in Weymouth and suggested I try that. A few moments looking for this on Bing Maps showed a likely looking bridge and then an image search threw up this old photo of Westham Bridge and the church in the distance; mystery solved. Memo to self, do not rely on the web to find suburbs, dig out the trusty old Reader’s Digest map and gazetteer of the British Isles in future.

Westham Bridge, Weymouth

The concrete bridge still strides over Radipole Lake, but is now stopped to traffic and used as a carparking area. I have marked the church from the original walkie in red. All the entertainments which once drew visitors to the area, including a miniature railway and a small circus, were swept away by road development and the church is now obscured by a big development of flats (I have walkies taken by the railway there by a firm called Guy’s Snaps which are on the site).

Westham Bridge, Weymouth

But if the location is now confirmed it means the story of Empire Films is not as simple as first thought. They are known to have taken walkies in Norwich, and possibly Bournemouth too. And if they were operating as far away from Clacton as Weymouth, how was the company set up, and where else did they have photographers?  Do let me know if you have any walkies by the firm which are named.

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