John Barnes with the William Friese-Greene plaque, c1985

This photograph shows the film historian John Barnes, most likely taken by his twin brother William, around 1985. John is standing in Middle Street, Brighton, next to a plaque in honour of William Friese-Greene; photographer, inventor, early experimenter in the medium of film, and sometime resident of both Brighton and Hove.

Story of a plaque

The plaque is attached to the wall of 20 Middle Street, originally a house but now used as offices. In the early years of the twentieth century it was the site of a photography laboratory, and thought to be the place where Friese-Greene carried out his experimentation with film.

Due to the plaque, the building is often mistaken for his house. To add to the confusion, an office and studio building at 15-17 Middle Street went by the name of Friese Green House for many years. The latest incarnation of Friese Greene House is a residential and commercial development on the site of the former cinema on Portland Road, Hove which features a striking window design inspired by Art Deco and the moving image activities of this ‘local’ inventor.

The plaque was put up in 1951, the same year that the film The Magic Box was released. It was an all-star cast biopic about Friese-Green which, much like the wording of the plaque, rather misleadingly claims that he was the inventor of cinematography. The release of the film coincided with the Festival of Britain, and was obviously intended to showcase the best of British acting talent telling the story of that great British invention – the cinema. Despite his admirable efforts, Friese Greene’s endeavours cannot earn him this title, as film historians have since pointed out.

The plaque itself is one of those designed by Eric Gill in 1924 to commemorate notable people and locations in Brighton, and features the entwined dolphins of the Brighton crest.

Author: Alexia Lazou, Collections Assistant

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