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Mitchell and Kenyon: Workers at Pilkington Glass Works (c.1900)


Main image of Mitchell and Kenyon: Workers at Pilkington Glass Works (c.1900)
Mitchell and Kenyon 24: Workers at Pilkington Glass Works, St. Helen's
Mitchell and Kenyon 25 & 26: Operatives Leaving Messrs. Pilkington Bros Works, St. Helen's
35mm, black and white, silent, 233 feet total
Production CompanyMitchell and Kenyon

Workers leave the Pilkington Glass factory in St Helen's.

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Mitchell and Kenyon's 'factory gate' films are, for many, the most powerful and intriguing part of their output. This is in part because of their immediate resonance for film history: at the very dawn of projected film in 1895, the Lumière brothers had shot workers leaving the gates of their factory in Lyons. But the appeal of the films has as much to do with the vitality of their content, and on the great variety visible across all of the Mitchell and Kenyon films in this category. There is variation both in the content of the films (different balances of age, class, gender, dress and camera reactions on the part of the films' participants); and in their styles (camera placement and crowd direction).

Interestingly, three of the factory gate films illustrate this variety, even though they were each shot at the very same factory, Pilkington's Glass Works in St Helens. This highlights the sheer scale of Edwardian factories, meaning that there was often more than one (sometimes up to eight) gates - often related to different manual or clerical departments and therefore reflecting class distinctions. In the first film (catalogue no. 24), notice the showman at rear right, in bowler hat.

The formal qualities of the second film (no.25) contrast with the other two. The camera set-up is directly opposite the gate rather than at an angle to passing workers. And the workers appear much less tightly choreographed, some virtually tumbling out of the gate and dispersing in all directions, others standing around in front of the camera before some of them enter into the gate.

Aside from the initial appearance of a horse-drawn carriage, the third film (no.26) is distinguished by its being built up out of several different shots (edited in the camera). The emphasis of these is, in characteristic Mitchell and Kenyon style, on squeezing as many faces into the frame as possible (thereby increasing the film's potential audience). The sheer density and fleeting vitality of such human presence is what gives these films so haunting a quality when viewing them a century later.

Between them, the three rolls of film remind us of our reliance on surviving contextual evidence to be able to properly interpret early actuality films. In these cases, the factory name was scratched into all three negatives. Otherwise, the relationship between the three very different films may not have become apparent.

Patrick Russell

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Video Clips
Mitchell and Kenyon 24 (1:34)
Mitchell and Kenyon 25 (1:31)
Mitchell and Kenyon 26 (1:34)
Mitchell and Kenyon: Employees Leaving Vickers and Maxim's (1901)
Mitchell and Kenyon: Employees Leaving Williamson's Factory (1901)
Mitchell and Kenyon: Employees at Walker Engineering Works (1900)
Mitchell and Kenyon: Oddfellows Procession in St Helens (c.1901)
Mitchell and Kenyon: Pay, Factory Gate (c.1900)
Mitchell and Kenyon: Workers at Barlow and Tweedale (1905)
Mitchell and Kenyon: Workforce Leaving at Lunchtime (c. 1901)
Mitchell and Kenyon: Workforce of Scott and Co. Shipyard (1901)
Mitchell and Kenyon