- British Gelatine Works in New Bedford Road shortly after opening. A Chamber of Commerce report in February 1903 said the works were by then in full swing.
To many people in Luton it may come somewhat in the nature of a surprise to learn that highly important photographic work in the war is dependent in no small degree upon the British Gelatine Works in New Bedford Road, said a report in The Luton News (Thursday, November 23rd, 1916).
Formerly large quantities were imported from Germany, but as the importation has now stopped the photographic trade relies on the British Gelatine Works for the necessary supplies of suitable gelatine for emulsion making.
It is pleasing thus to realise that we have in Luton, in a direction quite unrecognised by the majority of people, a firm of first-rate national importance.
The significance of photography in the war was underlined at a meeting of the Royal Photographic Society at which Mr Gear, the President, said the use of photography, in common with other applications of science and engineering, was not adequately realised.
There was, of course, the general conception that photography was used for purposes of military reconnaissance, but even now it was not so clearly understood as it should be how photographers were the eyes of the General Staff, and that but for their aid the German lines on the Western Front might have been found impregnable.
"The outbreak of war, which found the British Army with a very limited equipment of aircraft, found itself also practically destitute of any photographic service designed for use in connection with air machines. Previously such photography as was done in connection with the Army was that undertaken by the Royal Engineers and carried out on land.
"Excellent work has been done by the R.E. sappers, and is still being done from the front trenches in positions of extreme danger. But the new development, and that which has proved of the utmost value, is that accomplished by the photographic section of the Royal Flying Corps."
Mr Gear painted a vivid picture of the multifarious dangers to which the air pilots commissioned in undertake photographic reconnaissance work were exposed, and he usefully pointed out that such work consisted not in chance flights during which photographs were taken, but in the execution of orders to photograph a particular small area of the German defences from a height of thousands of feet and whilst encountering the attacks of enemy artillery and armed enemy aircraft.
As instancing the enormous amount of work undertaken under these hazardous conditions, he mentioned that for the preparation of the offensive on the Somme literally hundreds of thousands of prints were made from such negatives made by the R.F.C. Photographic Section.
And the photographic work in France was no soft job. A photographic unit, as embodied in a motor lorry darkroom fitted with an enlarging apparatus, within 20 minutes of the receipt of an exposed plate had to complete a negative and supply a whole-plate enlargement, deliver further enlargements at the rate of 120 an hour, and carry on that work in places where very often its smooth course might be interrupted by "messages" from Germans through the roof.
Mr Gear described in general terms the form of apparatus employed in the work of the Royal Flying Corps, and specially designed to relieve the pilot from any necessity of making adjustments. Such cameras had absorbed the manufacturing capacity of one large camera making concern for the past 12 months.
Mr Gear also dwelt in some detail upon the contribution of photography to the war in the shape of the photographs made with X-rays. He briefly sketched the history of the X-rays, pointing out the inventions of British experimenters which had brought the practice of X-ray photography to a high state of efficiency.