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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New discovery!

I recently came across a great website The Media History Digital Library with some scanned journals and magazines on film and media.

While searching through the journals I came across the Global Film collection and the The Cinema News and Property Gazette (1912-1946).

If you read the 1912 copy and enter Preston in the search box you will discover an entry for a new company! The Preston Film Exchange Company which was established by Will Onda and at least one partner James Atroy. I am looking forward to seeing what records I can unearth on this £1000 company and its shareholders!

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Book Royal visit events on-line

Quick post to let everyone know that on-line booking is now available for the forthcoming 1913 Royal visit events on 8th and 10th July at the Harris Museum.

See Eventbrite page

Also don’t forgot the free events at the museum:

Saturday 6th July A Right Royal Visit family day another chance to meet ‘Will Onda’ who filmed the Royal visit!

Wednesday 10th July Horrockses mill model at 100, a short talk by me around the model and its role in the visit details here

Book now! Hope to see Onda fans at the museum soon.


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A Right Royal Tour of Lancashire in 1913

Harris Museum & Art Gallery, collection.

King George V and Queen Mary visited Preston on 7th July 1913, image copyright Harris Museum & Art Gallery

On the 8th July 2013 the Harris Museum & Art Gallery will host the world premiere of a new film A Right Royal Tour of Lancashire produced by North West Film Archive on the 100th anniversary of the Royal visit to Lancashire.

The 1913 Royal visit to Lancashire has always fascinated me. It is connected to one of the largest and most iconic objects in the Harris Museum collection – the Horrockses Yard Works model and was the subject or inspiration to several films by Will Onda. See my earlier post here.


The Horrockses Yard Works model in Discover Preston at the Harris Museum

Horrockses cotton manufacturers made this magnificent model of their Preston works for the Royal visit and it was part of the Royal tour of the site. I first discovered this fact back in 2001 when working on the website Follow the Yarn. I still remember my joy at spotting the model in a very short film of the Preston visit by Will Onda in North West Film Archive. I went on to identify further items from the visit including other models, films, photographs, programmes, commemorative soaps and even biscuit tins given to Preston school children. Some of these objects be seen with the Yard Works model in Discover Preston.

The Royal visit to Lancashire was a spectacular tour which saw King George V and Queen Mary travel the length and breadth of industrial Lancashire by motor car. They visited a remarkable 37 towns and cities in just 8 days, starting at Warrington on the 7th July and ending with a procession in state carriages around Manchester and Salford on the 14th. It is hardly surprising that dozens of film makers and cinema owners like Will Onda were keen to capture the excitement of the occasion. Many of these films are now held by North West Film Archive in Manchester. It has been a pleasure working with North West Film Archive on their new film and exploring the history of the tour of Lancashire.

Please come and see it!

A Right Royal Tour of Lancashire – Synopsis from NWFA:

The show is a compilation of material from the local cinema newsreels of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Lancashire over an eight day period in July 1913. Using contemporary material to sketch Lancashire life, we will look at the industries and lives of the people of the County, before following the Royal couple as they visit Pilkington’s Glass works St Helens, Horrockses Mill Preston, Blackpool, Colne, Burnley and Bacup, before heading on to Rochdale, Chorley, Bolton, Middleton, Atherton and Leigh, and finishing in Manchester on the final day of the tour. Set against a time of national tension, and with the activities of the suffrage movement and wider global politics in the minds of many, the King and Queen covered 220 miles on an extensive visit to over 30 towns and cities to find out more about the people of this important County which was a powerhouse of the Empire. Join the cheering crowds as they thronged the decorated streets to have a glimpse of the King and Queen on their first tour of the area since the Coronation in 1911.

There are five public screenings of the film at the following venues;

The Harris Museum and Art Gallery Preston on Monday 8th July at 2pm and 7pm
The Royal Court Theatre Bacup on Tuesday 9th July at 7.30pm
The Pendle Hippodrome Theatre Colne on Wednesday 10th July at 7.30pm
The Parbold Picture House on Tuesday 16th July at 7.30pm. T: 01257 464533 :

These shows are part of the BFI Funded Project – Pennine Lancashire – a reel history.

In addition to all this, if I hadn’t done enough to mark the anniversary there will be several other connected events at the Harris Museum!

Saturday 6th July join in a host of fun activities and events as part our family day A Right Royal Visit – I am hoping to screen on a loop Will Onda’s full film of the visit to Preston Town Hall from the BFI collection on this day in the Discovery Room.

Wednesday 10th July 2013 I will be giving a free short talk beside the Horrockses model on it’s 100th anniversary at 1pm.

Wednesday 10th July 7pm Join me for my first Discover Preston evening lecture on the tour – A Right Royal Performance – the King’s tour of Lancashire in 1913. Covering some of the places, highlights and some of the controversy around the visit. Details here.

If anyone would like me to talk about the tour in other Lancashire venues I can be contacted on

Finally – here is a link to the trailer for the film:

I hope to see you all soon waving your Union Jack!

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