The Mitchell & Kenyon Firm

Sagar MitchellThe firm of Mitchell and Kenyon, founded in Blackburn in 1897 by Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon, released films under the trade name of Norden and were one of the largest British film companies in the 1900s, producing a mixture of topicals, fiction and 'fake' war films. Before their arrival in the world of early filmmaking, Mitchell ran the family photographic apparatus business with his father and Kenyon operated a penny-in-the-slot machine manufacturing company. The company had premises at 21 King Street and 40 Northgate but from late 1901 they were primarily based at Norden Film Works, 22 Clayton Street, Blackburn. Until recently the company were more famous for their dramatised war films, ten of which were known to have survived and included titles such as The Dispatch Bearers (1900), Winning the VC (1900) and Attack on a China Mission (1901). However, the discovery of approximately 800 negatives in the original premises in 1994 by Peter Worden and their acquisition by the British Film Institute in 2000, has led to a major revaluation of their contribution to film making in the United Kingdom.

The first showing took place above their premises at 40 Northgate in Blackburn and the exhibition of the film Blackburn Market on a Saturday Afternoon was reported on 27 November 1897. Mitchell and Kenyon's association with travelling showmen first occurred in April 1899, when George Green, commissioned them to film workers leaving local factories in Blackburn to be shown at the Easter fair. The company filmed scenes of local interest, including factory gate films, sporting events, processions and phantom rides through town centres in the North of England. They came to national prominence in September 1899 with the release of three Norden film titles The Tramp's Surprise, The Tramps and The Artist and Kidnapping by Indians.

With the outbreak of the Boer War in October 1899, the company turned to the production of war films of events in the Transvaal and the Boxer rebellion in China. These were filmed in the countryside around Blackburn and consisted of fictionalised scenes of events from the battlefronts. The films were available direct from the manufacturers but were also distributed by Gaumont, Walturdaw and Charles Urban, who advertised A Tragic Elopement in November 1903. By 1901 the company were selling factory gate and other non-fiction titles to travelling exhibition companies, of which forty five are represented in the Peter Worden collection.

Approximately 830 non-fiction titles form the Peter Worden Mitchell and Kenyon Collection at the British Film Institute. The discovery and preservation of this material reveals a pattern of commissioning and exhibition that existed between film companies and early travelling exhibitors in the early 1900s. The films were either commissioned, purchased or sent to Mitchell and Kenyon to be developed and printed and shown by the exhibitors in temporary venues in the locality, including music halls, fairground cinematograph shows and town halls. Visits by Lord Roberts and General Buller, Lord Kitchener, Baden Powell and other well known personalities to Manchester and Liverpool for example were captured on film and exhibited in the same evening. Local processions, football matches and rugby matches were also popular features.

Throughout the 1900s, Mitchell and Kenyon continued to film local scenes and to produce fiction titles such as Black Diamonds or the Collier's Daily Life (1904) and the comedy The Interrupted Picnic (1906). Fiction production was not as copious as their non-fiction output, but by 1903 their premises in Clayton Street included an outdoor studio and they also filmed on location. Sixty-five fiction titles are now preserved in the Cinema Museum, London, including Diving Lucy (1903), billed in the United States as the 'biggest English comedy hit of the year', and five by Lobster Films of Paris. By 1904 they were referred to as one of the leading film manufacturers in the country by the trade press. They continued to film local events for the showmen including a visit to Glasgow in 1906 on behalf of New Century Pictures and factory gate titles from Yorkshire in 1908. However, by 1909 Mitchell and Kenyon appear to have restricted their activities to Blackburn and its surrounding locality. Their last surviving titles are between 1911 and 1913. Although the company continued to be listed under the ownership of both men until 1915, no films have been found from this period. James Kenyon retired to Southport in 1915 leaving Mitchell to run his separate photographic business in Blackburn and the partnership was dissolved in 1922. James Kenyon died 6 February 1925 and Sagar Jones Mitchell died aged 85, 2 October 1952.