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Flyinglensman

Photo Finishers (Sheffield) Ltd. 50 Years Ago

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I was interested to read about the Mottershaw family and their local activities. The company operated a photo finishing business in Nether Edge, located in what was once an old chapel on the corner of Union Road and called Cherry Tree Laboratories. This building still stands although, of course, it has been used for different purposes for many years. I worked there between 1961 and 1964, my first job from leaving school. This was in the days when colour photography was just becoming more available to the general public, although black and white processing had been taking place here for some years previously. This included hand tinting of black and white prints, amongst other services. The premises also housed the commercial photography and film making business of the Mottershaws. I recall passing the place on the bus from school and seeing the large lens logo in the blue painted reception area, which had the words “Photography for Industry” beneath. This was the catalyst for me to begin a career in commercial photography, which has lasted until today! On overall charge of the labs, in 1961, was Richard Mottershaw and John Mottershaw was responsible for the commercial side of the business. Until recently, I believe he had a photo framing business near Hangingwater Road, but this appears to have now vanished from the scene. The, then, new colour labs were the responsibility of Ian Mottershaw, who, as a matter of interest, lived near Tideswell and was an enthusiastic member of the Little Hucklow theatre in his spare time. Before the labs closed, I recall being told, he went to work in the oil business somewhere in the south of England. Harry Mottershaw appeared to be the one with responsibility for the camera shops. The colour labs processed both colour negative film and Kodak Ektachrome slide material. This process was not automated, the film having to be wound on to individual stainless steel spirals,(in the dark, of course), placed in a wire frame cage and immersed in the various chemicals which were contained in three gallon tanks. Temperature control was by water bath and the film was agitated by nitrogen burst bubbles. Colour printing was by “Colortron” machines which used long lengths of photo paper which was subsequently processed in continuous dip tank machines. This was then cut up and sorted out into individual orders. The 35mm Ektachrome reversal material was often hand mounted into card mounts (under a heated hand mounting press) the card mounts bearing the blue PFS Sheffield logo. As can be imagined, this was long, boring and time consuming work. The man who did most of the Ektachrome processing was Mick Osborne, who ultimately went to join the local police service and was, I believe, employed there in processing scenes of crime film material. Mixing of chemicals, when the individual baths had become time expired and could no longer be replenished, would not be allowed in the Health and Safety environment of today. Some of the powders could be quite poisonous, such as potassium ferricyanide (a photographic bleach) and similar. Colour enlargements were undertaken on an individual basis, with the resultant 10”x8” sheets of paper being loaded into carriers, similar to the film, and also processed in 3 gallon tanks. Film was ‘gathered’ from far and wide, including Barnsley and similar outlying places; the company also processed film from Boots the Chemist, although this was not widely known or advertised. The most important customer was, of course, Sheffield Photo Company, in Norfolk Row, a part of the Mottershaw empire too. In the season, i.e. holiday periods, the throughput could be very large, which required long periods of overtime, and, to help things along, part time staff were set on, usually university students on their holidays. In local laboratory control was an enigmatic chap called Peter Scoffin, who hailed from Grimsby and who lodged the week in digs on Violet Bank Road. The mini canteen was run by a large and motherly lady called Alice Young. Content of the photographs could be interesting although obscene images were seldom received; I recall a vicar who took never ending streams of images of naked women – but as “nude studies” and nothing more objectionable – and who always insisted on using Agfa film, which could be processed, but the colour balance was always very strange, such that the ladies in question had peculiar looking skin on occasions. So many rolls of film came from this man that the staff at Sheffield Photo Co eventually tried to persuade him to change over to Kodak to make life easier for us back room boys and girls! The firm organized an annual “knees up” at some seaside place, which, without fail ended up at some roadside pub en route home. The results of this was almost always much throwing up in the rear of the coach; they were not outings I relished. I did manage to move across to the commercial department latterly, which I enjoyed. Jobs were mainly for local industry, often on cameras no smaller than 5”x 4”, sometimes whole plate cut film (6.5” x 8.5”) was used, in cameras of equally enormous proportions. John Mottershaw had his own prized Linhof Technica camera which none of the other minions were allowed to use. Two photographers I remember at the time were David Hague (whom, I think is still active in the Hillsborough area) and Ian Gillott. Another member of the commercial department was a Peter Bromley, who later went to work for Propix – now Peak Imaging – and retired from there in July 2012. I was not involved in the film making side, although they did have a small private cinema for clients to view the films which were shot for them and, one of the more lucrative little side lines was going out in the afternoon and evenings to give film shows to places such as WI and social organizations, the films being a mixture of commercial advertising – such as that for Sunblest Bread – and travelogues. Always a good little number to get on (despite huge screens which had to be humped about) as the pay was about £2 per show and one got a van to keep for the night! A memorable show was to the WI at RAF Finningley (as it was then) where, in a Nissen hut near the runway, the film show was often interrupted by the thunder of Vulcan bombers taking off! Although he worked in the Norfolk Row camera shop, another member of staff, by the name of Reg Hoskins, was also a regular projectionist. He took his 16mm sound projector and other kit to Lodge Moor Hospital, come rain or shine for many years, in order to give shows to the patients. When Photo Company closed its doors, Reg started a silver recovery operation at Low Fields, collecting spent fixer from hospital x-ray departments and similar places and running this through various cyanide baths to precipitate silver from the solution. I visited once and was amazed at the security he had put in. This, not so much because of the precious metal, but because he always feared he would find a body on the floor in the morning. Any intruder, after the silver, had just to lick his finger after touching any of the plant and he would be dead within a mere trice, so deadly was the potassium cyanide. I believe there was some sort of antidote in the place but the victim would not reach it in time! I left Photo Finishers in 1964 for greener pastures at Firth Brown Photographic department, but not before I had secured the hand of Hilary, one of the young lady printers who worked at PFS, and who is still with me today! I am not sure when the place closed its doors for good – sometime about 1982/3 I think -, but understand that this was, in part, due to some financial problems, which had the effect of also closing the Sheffield Photo Co shops both in Norfolk Row and in Worksop.

Top Picture. Colour Lab Staff 2nd June 1962 Lower. Colortron en printer in the lab.

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Hello and welcome.

What a fantastic first post. Lets hope there's more we can find out.

I know there are those on here who are interested in photographic technique and equipment. Let's see what response you get.

We may even coax DaveH out of retirement. :)

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I was one of the part time summer workers at Sheffield Photo Finishers in about 1960.  My mum and I used to cut up the photos and pack them and price them:  some of them had deckled edges.  I remember that one of the ladies who worked there was deaf, she worked in the processing department. I remember learning finger spelling to talk to her.  All the photo's were black and white as colour printing was still in it's infancy and wedding photo's were hand coloured on a landing at the top of the stairs.   The photo of the Lab staff brought back some memories.  I recognised Mick Osborne as I went out with him a couple of times when we were all daft teenagers.  Long time ago, I'm in my 70's now.

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I suppose not strictly in line with the thread but from 1942 to 1949 I went to High Storrs  As memory serves for most of those years we had a Mottershaw in our  form. In those days nobody had a first name, either formally in class or informally outside. I believe he  was John Richard.  

  We knew vaguely  of his family connection with The Sheffield Photo Company at the Fargate end of Norfolk Row which we understood he intended to join as a career. At the end of the war film was scarce and generally goverment surplus poor stuff. Cameras were mostly simple prewar roll film models Still, we tried. Comes the annual Sports Day and cameras will be worn. On the field came Richard with the best prewar 35m  Zeiss Ikon; even then beyond most people's pocket.We were allowed to look and covet.As we expected his photos were well nigh perfect. Naturally we were all jealous and asked how he could afford one. Silly question. It never occurred to us. "I borrowed it from the shop" I suppose if you can you might as well.

Nice to hear about him after all this time and nice to hear he made it but then that is surely the idea of the Forum.

 

 

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