Automatic Photo-Printing Syndicate Ltd

Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, England

  • A.P.P.S

Rickmansworth is a town in southwest Hertfordshire, England, about 17 miles (27 km) northwest of central London. Before the 19th Century, Rickmansworth was the principal paper-making centre of Hertfordshire and had five mills. Only one of those remains – Scotsbridge Mill. This was converted to a paper mill in 1746 from a fulling and corn mill. Fulling is the process of beating woven woolen cloth while wet to cause the opposing fibers to interlock and form a more homogenous textile. It was sold in 1848 by Thomas Weedon to Herbert Ingram, who sold it ten years later to William McMurray. The mill was turned to paper manufacture after the fulling residue poisoned the river.

In 1860 The British journal of photography reported the latest departure in stripping film photography, the invention of Monsieur G. Macaire, of the Automatic Printing Company, of Rickmansworth, who had secured patent protection for his process in several countries. Stripping film, a laminated film with a soft adhesive layer between the base and the emulsion layer, is widely used to permit images to be removed from the base and properly oriented on the glass or film flat through which the metal plate will be exposed.

On 10 January 1902 the British Journal of Photography reported that Automatic Photo-Printing Syndicate Ltd had prosecuted William Arthur Sims, of Market Street, Watford, a photographer who had left their employment and applied to the Rotary Photographic Company (qv) for a situation. He was charged with stealing eight negatives, a packet of printing-out paper, four large photographs, and twenty-one other photographs, together valued £2 14s.

In giving the decision of the Bench, the Chairman said they were unanimously of opinion that the charge ought never to have been brought and the defendant would be discharged; After a time he left the service and this raid was made on his house. Things were found, which, according to the evidence, were next door to valueless and useless to him, and yet the Bench were asked to commit the man to take his trial on a charge of having stolen them. There had been a lot of evidence, but they were perfectly satisfied that no jury with anything like commonsense would dream of convicting the defendant. The case was dismissed.

APPS’ undivided backs featured portraits of royalty and stars of the stage many by W. & D. Downey of London.

In 1908 the International Photo Printing Syndicate, Limited also seem to have been at the mill. In about 1915 the Automatic Photo-Printing Syndicate Ltd, Rickmansworth, produced a colour lithograph advertising board on card for the Warwick Tyre Company Ltd.

In the 1920s the mill was used for the manufacture of ‘non-flam’ cine film and the production of photographic film and paper. MGM Pictures became involved and moved their personnel and offices out of London and into the Scotsbridge Mill. Several outbuildings were built including some windowless brick structures to be used as film vaults. The whole area was cleaned up, gardens were laid out and the site took on the appearance of a film studio, with an entrance gate manned by security guards in American style uniforms, an unusual sight in those days. With the war their London office was evacuated to the mill and became the Corporation’s British Headquarters and remained so until they became part of the Cinema International Corporation and its operations were moved away, their presence ending in 1973.

Following MGM’s departure, part of one of the buildings was rented by Vie Bowyer, who had been stationery and printing manager for the company. He set up a company called Cygnet Press. The rest of the buildings remained vacant. Cygnet Press continued to operate for ten years until 1983, when the whole site was put up for sale by the owners, still, Cinema International Corporation. Scotsbridge Mill remained empty until it was bought by the Beefeater restaurant chain in 1988 and refurbished at a cost of £1.5million. It currently languishes anonymously in the care of Miller & Carter.

Sources: A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 2. Victoria County History, London, 1908; Watford Observer At the heart of the paper trail Michael Pickard 8 June 2009; Film Dope Forums; Croxley Green History

This card was retailed by James Davie, photographic dealer, 19 Gordon St Glasgow (qv).