Alfred Wrench

British optician, cinematograph manufacturer

The firm of Messrs John Wrench & Son, wholesale opticians of 50 Gray's Inn Road, London, was established in 1816 and was already well known as a manufacturer of optical lanterns and accessories when cinematography was invented. They entered the field in August 1896, when Alfred Wrench patented a Cinematograph projector with novel sprocket intermittent, based on a ratchet and pawl. It appeared on the market very soon afterwards, and at £36 was much cheaper than the few other machines available, and was an immediate success, being perhaps the only serious British rival to Robert Paul's Theatrograph. It was compact, quiet and gave a steady picture, and The Optician considered it 'in every way the best such mechanism'. In 1897 it succeeded the Lumière machine at the Empire Theatre, Leicester Square, London. That same year Alfred Wrench himself filmed Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee procession, issued as seven films, total 800 feet, with a camera/projector/printer of similar construction to the Lumière Cinématographe but incorporating improvements, including a movement with two triple-pin pulldown arms. The machine was designed with, and manufactured for, Alfred Wrench by Alfred Darling, and was marketed the following year.

Late in 1897 Wrench also introduced a 'Cheap Form Cinematograph' at nine guineas, based on the 'dog' or beater movement. The firm also set up a film developing and printing department in the basement of its premises, used by Cecil Hepworth, among others. Alfred Wrench continued his association with Darling, and together they devised the Biokam amateur apparatus for filming and projecting using 17.5 mm centre-perforated film, marketed with some success by the Warwick Trading Company in 1899. The manufacturing business flourished until well into the next century, producing conventional Maltese cross projectors - they were perhaps the first to suggest the enclosure of the cross in an oil bath to reduce wear - while extending the film production side with the creation of the Wrench Film Company, a major British firm of the 1900-1910 period now largely forgotten because no films have survived. 50 Gray's Inn Road itself became a noteworthy focus for early British filmmaking, not only for the Wrench film services and equipment, but because it was the home of Will Barker's Autoscope Company (founded in 1900), briefly Walturdaw, the Wrench Film Company and finally in 1911 the Topical Film Company, founded by Herbert Wrench and William Jeapes, which produced the Topical Budget newsreel. The Edison Phonograph company was next door at no. 52. The Wrench firm was absorbed in about 1925 by Cinema Traders Ltd., Scientific & Illuminating Engineers.

Stephen Herbert / Luke McKernan