Jessie Rain and the sad story of Will Onda’s early life

Readers of the Lancashire Evening Post may have spotted this week an article about the Rain family on Wednesday 27 Jan on page 26.

This story taken from the Court Archives tells the sad story of how Will Onda’s father William Rain accused his older son Jessie of trying to poison him in 1875. The case went to court and Jessie was defended by William Blackhurst and found not guilty.

I have known for quite some time of the families difficulties and separation of Will Onda’s parents when he was a young child. This article is an amazing discovery and I thank Keith Johnson and the LEP for bringing it to my attention.

Check it out below.  

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Seasons greetings

May I take this opportunity to wish all Onda relatives, fans and followers a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2015.

2015 is going to be an exciting year for me as I start a new job with Blackpool Council, working on their Blackpool Museum project.

I am also looking forward to the opening of a new exhibition at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery co-curated by Clarissa Corfe, exhibitions officer at the Harris with artist Harold Offeh. Harold is working on a new piece of work inspired by Will Onda’s story and archive at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery.

All the best

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Onda talks coming up this week

Just a quick post to inform everyone that if you missed my recent talk to Preston Historical Society there is another chance to hear it this week.

I will be giving the lecture about Will Onda and his films tomorrow at the Harris Museum’s Discover Preston gallery from 2pm until 3pm. Free admission.

On Thursday evening I have so been invited to give the same talk to members of the Hoghton Women’s Institute at Hoghton Village Hall.

I am also preparing a new post on Onda’s war films, including the film of the troop inspection in Blackpool that has recently been identified.

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The First World War – New DVD featuring Onda films

A brand new DVD is being launched this week featuring archive footage of life in the North West during WW1.

The North West Film Archive presents the first public screening of the new film on Wednesday 21 May at the Dancehouse on Oxford Road. The DVD also goes on sale at the Harris Museum shop, priced £12.

For Onda fans the DVD includes lots of footage by Will Onda including his films of the Royal Visit to Lancashire in 1913. Most importantly the dvd includes extracts from recently digitised film from the British Film
Institute dating from WW1 including:

The sixth series Roll of Honour film featuring a selection of portraits of men who had recently been reported missing, injured, killed or were still serving.

The Homecoming of Private Young V.C to Preston in April 1916.

Inspection of the volunteers in Avenham Park, circa 1917, showing members of the volunteer home defence corps being inspected.

Military gala and boxing tournament in Moor Park in 1916. Featuring a fight between heavyweight champion Billy Wells and Preston boxer Johnny Webb.

Inspection of troops from the West Lancashire division in Blackpool, about 1915.

The research into these films is on-going and still lots to do. We are discovering more about the events documented in these films everyday.

Thanks to the North West Film
Archive, British Film Institute and Preston Remembers project for making this all possible.

All that’s left to say is please go to one of the planned screenings in Manchester, Lancaster and Preston. And of course buy a DVD!

Watch the trailer here

Onda Forever!

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The Films of Will Onda – Monday 12 May at Preston Historical Society

Just a quick update to let you know I am talking about Will Onda’s film collection and presenting a few clips of his films at the forthcoming meeting of Preston Historical Society at the Minster on Monday 12 May. The talk starts at 7.30pm approximately, the AGM is first. I will be there from 7pm. 

This talk will include a brief introduction on Will Onda for those who missed last years talk on my personal research on Will Onda’s background and career on the stage. Then I will present how he got interested in films, the extent of Will Onda’s work as filmmaker, and most importantly what has survived.






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Can forensic techniques be used to identify Will Onda’s films?

There are 10 surviving films from the 1914 – 1918 period made by Will Onda and his company Preston Film Service Limited.

5 of these films are called ‘Roll of Honour’ films which are topical films featuring a selection of recent images of soldiers serving on the front, who had been recently killed or injured.

One of the films however – the 10th Series – is very different – and very special.

Once the title page ends you are presented with a moving piece of footage showing soldiers departing on a train with families saying their farewells on the platform.

Newspaper adverts for the Princes Theatre in Preston show that Will Onda screened two films of the departure of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in 1914. The first was the 4th Battalion, the Second film was of the 7th Battalion – known as the Preston Pals. Did these films include scenes at Preston Station?

I believe that the 10th series ROH could be an extract of one of those films, which are now lost. But which one? The 4th Loyals suffered terrible losses at the Battle of Festubert on the 15 June 1915 and the days that followed led Onda to make his first Roll of Honour film. Men from the 4th continue to appear in the standard Roll of Honour films but the Pals also went into action in 1915 suffering their first loses at the Battle of Loos.

One of the speakers at the recent Finding Identities Conference in Preston was the Director of the National Army Museum, the historian and WWI expert Andy Robertshaw. He discussed in great detail his work on the film The Battle of the Somme which includes a considerable amount of footage of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Robertshaw and his research team used facial recognition and lipreading to discover more about the film and those in it. His book Ghosts on the Somme documents the in depth research of this film, which resulted in a programme for ITV – The Somme – The True Story, shown in 2006.

Is this possible? Could I use these techniques to identify with certainty the men in the 10th Series Roll of Honour film? Only time will tell.

Off to buy Andy’s book today.

The research and digitisation of Will Onda’s First World War films has been kindly supported by the BFI National Archive who hold the collection and the Preston Remembers Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Finding Identities – Lancashire and the First World War

The Preston Remembers project is holding a conference in Preston on 23 & 24th November at the University of Central Lancashire & Preston museums.

Finding Identities: Lancashire and the First World War has a packed programme with talks, visits and film screenings. The key note speaker is historian Andy Robertshaw, director of the National Army Museum and adviser to the film War Horse.

Tickets are only £40 and include all refreshments and transport as part of the museum visits. Bookings and programme details are here:

As part of the programme I will be premiering recently digitised WWI film from the Preston collection in the British Film Institute. The collection was formed by Preston film maker and businessman Will Onda.

This will be a moving end to what should be an interesting couple of days and promote discussion and debate around the Centenary.

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