John Alfred Prestwich

British engineer

Founder member of the Prestwich Manufacturing Company, established in 1895, Prestwich was an engineer of outstanding ability, who constructed some of the finest cinematographic apparatus of cinema's first decade. He is best remembered today, outside of film circles, for the 'JAP' motorcycle engine, so named from his initials. John Alfred Prestwich was born in Kensington, London, and was educated at the City and Guilds School and the City of London School. Aged sixteen, he started work with S.Z. de Ferranti, maker of electrical apparatus and scientific instruments. After two years he was articled to a firm of engineers and left aged twenty to start his own business, making electrical fittings and scientific instruments in a glasshouse in his father's garden. He was associated with the firm of W.H. Prestwich, London photographers; possibly W.H. was his father. In 1896 John Alfred Prestwich teamed up with William Friese Greene to patent and construct a projector with twin lenses (arranged vertically) to provide projection from one lens while the film was being pulled down ready for the other, one of many early film devices intended to ensure that there was always an image on the screen, thereby eliminating flicker. It was promoted in 1898 but as with all machines requiring specially-printed films, it had no influence on the development of cine technology; the solution to the flicker problem was resolved in other ways.

In November 1897 Prestwich was selling the Moto-Photograph apparatus - which W.C. Hughes had previously sold as the Moto Bijou Living Picture camera, but which had been designed by one of the Prestwich family; probably John Alfred, since it shares the same mechanism as his Duplex machine produced with Friese Greene. It was awarded a silver medal at the Glasgow International Photographic Exhibition. Another member of the company was E.P. Prestwich, who seems to have undertaken most of the firm's limited motion picture production, including Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession (1897), views of the launch of the Albion (1898) on both 35 mm, and 60 mm for the Duplex machine; W.G. Grace's Jubilee Procession at Lord's Cricket ground in July 1898, and one of their few fiction films, The Artist's Model (1898). From 1897 the firm also sold three models of projector, with a superior fast-pulldown mechanism, and in 1898/1900 produced the 'Junior' amateur outfit for 17.5 mm film, also sold by Hughes as 'La Petite', and a reversing projector for showing films backwards for comic effect. Under J.A. Prestwich's guidance the firm rapidly expanded and was soon engaged in a wide range of engineering products, most notably connected with the motorcycle industry. For nearly two decades he invented, designed and manufactured cinematographic equipment including cameras, printers, mutoscopes, cutting and perforating machines, and projectors, including the Bioscope projectors for the Warwick Trading Company and Charles Urban. The firm later became known as J.A. Prestwich Industries Ltd, and was absorbed in 1964 by the Villiers Engineering Company.

Stephen Herbert