9th November 1876. The Moving Image.

Trafalgar_Square_1890_-_ten_remaining_frames_by_Wordsworth_DonisthorpeInvention is often a matter of similar ideas fermenting in many different minds, so it is difficult to attribute exactly the initial inspiration, particularly so in moving images.

Many are largely unknown  as Wordsworth Donisthorpe (1867-1914), individual anarchist, inventor and cinematography pioneer, who Today in 1876 applied for Patent BP 4,344.

It was for an apparatus, ‘to facilitate the taking of a succession of photographs at equal intervals… To give to the eye a representation of an object in continuous movement’. He also thought it could be used with Edison’s Phonograph invented in 1878.

Donisthorpe’s father a textile engineer, was also an inventor being in partnership with Samuel Lister Cunliffe which resulted in the Square-Motion Wool-Combing Machine, where the falling-combs were replaced by Donisthorpe with photographic plates.

A Mathematics ‘Wrangler’, Wordsworth was probably inspired by his examiner at Cambridge, the brilliant James Clerk Maxwell responsible for the improved Zoetrope.(1)


Zoetrope which revolved giving the visual impression of moving pictures when observed through the slats.

In 1889 he patented a camera which could take paper or celluloid film and in 1890 filmed a short sequence of 10 frames of Trafalgar Square with his ‘Kinesigraph’ which, ‘facilitated the taking of a succession of pictures…’

It clearly shows [see above], the horse-drawn transport and other traffic, as well as the fountains by Nelson’s Column and a sooty National Gallery.

The film was taken from above a shop at 1-4 Charing Cross, London, with the help of his cousin W.C. Crofts, describing the whirring of the camera as like, ‘a threshing engine or  small gas engine’.

Looking for financial support the publisher George Newnes appointed a committee to look into the invention, but in its wisdom, turned it down as ‘wild, visionary and ridiculous’.

One thinks of many other inventors who suffered the same fate, especially TV pioneer John Logie Baird in the next century. Was this a particularly English disease?

(1a) Wordsworth Donisthorpe was a distant descendant of the poet.

(1b) Maxwell discovered electro-magnetism and is probably the most brilliant physicist since    Newton. His cousin Jemima did the artwork for the Zoetrope.

Ref: victorian-cinema.net/donisthorpe.

Ref: Herbert S. Industry, Liberty and Vision 1998.

Ref: wikipedia,org/wordsworth_donisthorpe/Pic Image.

Ref: easyweb/wordsworth-donisthorpe.

Ref: mhs.ox.ac/zoetrope/Pic courtesy of Cavendish Labs. Cambridge.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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