History comes home

camera© Redbridge Heritage Centre

Redbridge Museum will open a new permanent exhibition early next year exploring 200,000 years of local history. In the 10th of a series of articles, Museum Officer Nishat Alam looks at some of the items on show

This month sees the launch of Ilford Limited: Analogue Stories, a new temporary exhibition by Redbridge Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. It’s our first major exhibition in three years and looks at the working life of employees of Ilford Limited, the world-famous photographic company with roots in Redbridge. In this article, I explore the history of the company and what you can expect to see in the exhibition.

Ilford Limited was founded as the Britannia Works Company in 1879 by Alfred Harman, who began to make photographic dry plates (used for capturing images before the invention of film) from the basement of his house on Cranbrook Road, Ilford. His business quickly grew, and Harman began to buy up houses on a new site on Roden Street, eventually opening a factory and offices.

Ilford Limited became one of the world’s leaders in the research and production of analogue photographic products, including plates, film, chemicals, papers and more. They bought smaller companies and opened new sites for the manufacturing of various products across the country and even globally. In 1976, the company moved to their Basildon site, and in 1983 relocated to Cheshire, where it is still going today as Ilford Photo.

The Ilford Limited archives and many of their products, packaging and other material relating to the company are now held in the collections of Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre. A selection of this material will be on show in the new exhibition, including various cameras made by Ilford, like the Ilford Advocate (1949) pictured above, as well as packaging for their roll film in a variety of interesting designs.

One of the highlights of Analogue Stories will be a series of new portraits of former employees of the company by renowned photographer Eddie Otchere. Their stories are featured through extracts from interviews conducted earlier this year about their experiences of working at Ilford Limited and beyond. Also on display will be work by local photographers using Ilford products, such as Russell Boyce’s A Portrait of the High Street, a documentary project looking at the shopkeepers of Wanstead High Street, alongside photography and zines produced by local young people during workshops with Eddie and museum staff this summer.

The research gathered by the project team and participants now forms part of our archives at Redbridge Heritage Centre and enriches our existing knowledge about Ilford Limited. The stories will contribute in part to a new display exploring the history of industry in the borough in the new Redbridge Museum, reopening in Spring 2023.

Ilford Limited: Analogue Stories runs from 5 December to 12 March on the ground floor of Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford. For more information, visit wnstd.com/ilford