Empire Films, Clacton

Empire Films walking picture photographer Clacton on Sea

Empire Films are one of the many walking picture firms which operated between the wars, mostly it seems in Clacton On Sea between 1933 (maybe even earlier) and 1939. Clacton was a popular seaside town on the east coast of Essex (with good rail connections to London).  Empire’s walkies all carry a very distinctive art deco movie-style logo on the back (shown above) and consisted of three consecutive frames on a strip.
Empire was begun by James Hobson and George Scougall, their business curiously split between Clacton and Edinburgh. In 1935 they dissolved their partnership, with Scougall staying put at a shop at 55 Circus Lane, Edinburgh and Hobson living at “Freshfield”, St Albans Road, Clacton.

Empire Films walking picture photographer Clacton on Sea
Scougall seems to have kept the Empire brand, as post-1935 walkies from Clacton survive. They may have operated from temporary premises (now gone) on Ellis Road in Clacton. The strip of three above was taken in Clacton (loaned to Paul Godfrey by John Bracey), and shows John’s parents circa 1934 (Note that the top frame has been cut off at some time, but is reunited here).  Empire also had photographers on one of the pleasure steamers, The Crested Eagle, which sailed from the pier at Clacton and passengers could collect their souvenir photo later in the day. The firm was very busy, and when they were prosecuted for employing a 14 year old boy in their darkrooms on a Sunday, part of their defence was they had no time to supervise the work.  They were fined £1.00 plus costs.

It is possible Empire set up some sort of franchising system as cards with their distinctive logo on are coming to light from all over. Norwich and Bournemouth are written on the back of some walkies. Two Empire frames from Weymouth have also been seen (and added to this site). Two frames taken on the seafront at Lyme Regis have also been identified (seen here). The latest to turn up are two from Rhyl in Wales, both dated 1940. I have never seen any Empire walkies from Edinburgh, though this doesn’t mean they do not exist.

Empire Films walking picture photographer Clacton on Sea
The single frame above is cut from a strip, and was scanned by Val Gibson in Australia. It looks as if the kiosk on the left might have belonged to Empire.  My thanks also to Paul for his help with this posting.

As always anyone with any examples or information, please get in touch.

Empire’s main rivals in Clacton were Sunfilms, in business by 1930.

4 responses

  1. Colin bond

    I have two photographs with empire films 1936 written on the back they are of my mum, her friend and her parents if you want I could scan and send them to you.

    April 27, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    • simon robinson

      That would be great.

      June 24, 2016 at 8:12 am

  2. Chris Tyrrell

    Some more info on Empire Films, but not walking pictures. I have an Empire Films envelope with an address at Lewellen Buildings, Wellesley Rd, Clacton with a scribble from my late aunt ‘1931 Japan Negs’ with negs and photoss of Yokohama inside. Doesn’t prove Empire films operated from that address in 1931, or took walking pictures then, but may be of relevance.

    September 4, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    • simon robinson

      Thanks for this Chris. Most walkie firms also did other photographic services, especially print & develop, so that helps date them. Any chance of a scan?

      October 17, 2016 at 10:23 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s