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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Discover Will Onda in Discover Preston


View of Horrockses display featuring Onda’s films.

Discover Preston is the new history gallery at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery. The first floor gallery contains over 30 displays, each feature a different story from Preston’s history and has welcomed over 70,000 visitors since opening in July 2012.

Display in Discover Preston about Will Onda.

Display in Discover Preston about Will Onda.

One of the displays in the Social and Commercial Hub section is devoted to Preston cinema pioneer Will Onda. Highlights include a poster advertising the Brothers Onda and a set of playing cards stamped ‘Will Onda’s Pictures’ promoting the silent film serial the Trey O’ Hearts. Onda’s own Cinematograph Licence also makes a special appearance. The objects chosen aim to tell his remarkable story. I am extremely grateful to all the people who supported this display.

Alongside the case is a large screen, each press of the button randomly selects a short clip of Onda film for you to watch and enjoy. There are 7 of his local films included spanning 1909 to 1934. This includes his first surviving film Empire Day, 1909 shot at Preston North End’s Deepdale ground and Preston Guild films from 1922. Onda appears in several of the films – see if you can spot him during your visit!


The model of Horrockses Yard Works and Onda’s film ‘The Cotton Industry’.

Onda’s films appear elsewhere in the Discover Preston gallery in the interpretation of Horrockses mill. His greatest film (in my opinion) ‘The Cotton Industry‘ is shown with the model of Horrockses Yard Works which was made for the Royal visit of 1913. Onda recorded all the industrial processes in the Yard Works ahead of the visit of George V and Queen Mary. He also filmed the visit to Preston and the Yard Works on the 8th July 1913. Following this momentous occasion, Onda hired the films to cinemas around the country.

I am currently researching the 1913 Royal visit to Lancashire in detail. More on this and plans to mark the centenary of the visit will be posted shortly.

Hope you enjoyed this post on Will Onda and Discover Preston. Please visit if you haven’t already!

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Talk at Preston Historical Society – December

On Monday 3rd December at Lune Street Methodist Church I will be giving my first public lecture on Will Onda. After over 4 years of digging in archives and reading old newspapers with the help of Peter Vickers, I will give a short but hopefully fascinating insight into an early pioneer in the cinema and film industry from his time as a acrobat to his development as a ‘recorder of our modern age’ and film distributor.

More details can be found on Preston Historical Society website

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Will Onda’s films to feature in new DVD released for Preston Guild

On Tuesday 13th March at 7.30pm a new film about Preston will premier at Preston’s Charter Theatre.

The Film titled ‘Preston and its Guilds 1902 – 1992 is a collaboration between North West Film Archive and the Harris Museum & Art Gallery. The film will be officially released for sale on the 13 March, priced £12.

The film features extracts from some of the many films made by Will Onda’s Pictures. Onda also gets a special mention for his contribution to the film heritage of the city by the film’s narrator Roy Barraclough.

Will Onda, a former stage acrobat, made and produced films of Preston for over 30 years until his death in 1949. The earliest film which survives is Empire Day from 1909. He left his huge collection of local films to Preston Council. The films are now deposited with North West Film Archive in Manchester (part of Manchester Metropolitan University) and the BFI/National Film Archive in London.

Will Onda’s Pictures produced the film of the 1922 Preston Guild. The 1922 Guild proclamation is included on the new dvd and also briefly captures Onda in front of the camera wearing a light coloured suit and his trademark round spectacles (under the right column see the picture below).

Proclamation of the 1922 Preston Guild

Guild Mayor and Mayoress Henry and Mabel Astley-Bell with Will Onda!

Launch of Preston and Its Guild: 1902 – 1992
Charter Theatre, Tuesday 13th March 2012, 7.30pm

Tickets for the premier of the film are £5.00 (+ booking fee) available now from Charter Theatre box office on 0845 344 2026 or online at

Further details on the dvd contact Hilary Machell on 01772 903619 or email
Further details of the North West Film Archive and the films featured

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Did your mother or grandmother work for Will Onda in 1915?

Will Onda set up Preston Film Service in about 1910. By 1915 it employed some 80 people in film making and distribution. The outbreak of World War in 1914 resulted in 40 of his employees joining the army, including his own son Carnie, a manager of Will Onda’s Pictures.

Faced with labour shortages, Onda found it necessary to employ girls as operators during the war.

I am keen to find out exactly who worked for Preston Film Service and trace the women who worked for him. If anyone has any information about a relative who worked for Will Onda, I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Please leave a comment via this blog or contact me at

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