Film Production

The Mitcham Studios:

You might be surprised to learn that Merton has a strong association with some of the pioneers of British film production – the earliest example is the Mitcham Studios founded by George Cricks and Henry Sharp in 1901. Cricks was a keen amateur photographer and by 1895, he was the Asst. Honorary Secretary of the Leytonstone Camera Club. He was employed as a stationer by George Harrison and Co. and was the natural choice to manage their new photographic department. Here he made the momentous transition to film work and made his first films in the late 1890s using a Moy camera on the roof of the premises in Camden Town. He subsequently joined the staff of pioneer film maker,

R W Paul in 1900 and by 1904 was manager of Paul’s successful Animatograph Works in Holborn. It was during this time that he met a number of fellow film enthusiasts, including his future business partner, J H Martin.


In 1901 Cricks founded the Mitcham Film Studios with H M Sharp. Their studio was located on London Road, Mitcham, to the south of the cricket green ( not far from the modern Baron Grove flats. ) The premises included two outdoor stages, film labs and office space. All the Cricks and Sharp ( and subsequent Cricks and Martin ) films were silent. One of their first productions was genuine footage showing the funeral train of Queen Victoria passing through Mitcham Station, draped in the mourning colours of purple and black. Producing up to three films per week, the business was an instant success. Henry Sharp was replaced by J H Martin in 1908 and the new partnership developed a mighty reputation for trick shorts, comedies and newsreels about British industry. They also produced a number of short educational films. Cricks was a skilled cameraman, specialising in close-ups and elaborate chase scenes, involving everything from balloon flights, to early aeroplanes and cameras hidden in cards to get mote exciting footage. In addition to studio – firm had offices at Ravenmsbury Lodeg and did most of their filming in Mitcham area.


See “ For Baby’s Sake.”


I remember on one especially dull day, Mr.Cricks secured a series of oil lamps over a kitchen scene to supplement an obstinate sun, determined to lurk behind the cloud and spoil our chances. I suppose one could say this innovation marked the birth of artifical lighting as a means of making motion pictures.

( Leah Marlborough )


The comic shorts Cricks and Sharp made were really good. With a bit more money, who knows, they might have beaten the Keystone Cops and Mack Sennett in world popularity.

( Charles Beckley )


We must not underestimate the incredible success of the Mitcham firm – to put this into perspective – film historians have described Cricks & Martin thus:

To the early cinema going public, the name of Cricks and Martin and their lion’s head trademark were as familiar as the name of Metro=Goldwyn Mayer and the MGM Lion would be to later generations. ( Rachel Low )


See Salome Mad – Cricks & Martin - 1909


Pioneer work:

1911: Cricks made the first feature length movie in Britain, using over 1000 feet of film. “The Mighty Atom” was a military drama about an army drummer boy.


“The Pirates of 1920,” actually filmed in 1911 was highly innovatve in its use of different forms of transport as part of a dramatic chase sequence.


1913: Cricks and Martin produced the first British detective series. This featured the amazing adventures of Paul Sleuth.


1913: Fairy Bottle, directed by Derek Aylott – Film’s hero was Irishman – imaginatively named Pat Murphy. Given a magic bottle by a fairy – it produces all sorts of good things but when he sells the bottle to his landlord, the benefits disappear. After approaching the fairy for a second favour, Pat receives a bottle containing an evil spirit, which attackes him and his family. That night Pat sneaks into his landlord’s house and switches the bottles.


Soon after the formation of the new partnership, the firm transferred to new studios in Waddon Road, Croydon as the existing premises were too small. In 1914, the British Film Company reputedly issued a prospectus from the old studio site but there is no evidence to suggest that any further films were made there.


The Cricks and Martin Studio, Waddon Rd. – enormous lamps suspended from ceiling.

Getting correct level of lighting was extremely difficult for early film makers. Many, including C & M preferred to exploit natural light by shooting their films on external sound stages. When this proved difficult, they filmed in glass roofed studios which were flooded with light.


Artistic differences brought partnership to an end in 1913 – Martin happy to continue with trick and comedy shorts but Cricks wanted to diversify into more serious crime series and feature films. Firm eventually closed in and Cricks managed Croydon Film Co. for many years before becoming manager of the film printing department of Gaumont.


Quintin Avenue Studios:

In 1913 John Howard Martin opted to go his own way and founded a new studio on a half acre site in Quintin Avenue, Merton Park. His new premises held two stages and a film processing plant. After ten years working with R W Paul and a further five years with Cricks, Martin was a skilful filmmaker, specialising in trick shorts – by now he could boast the largest film production studio in Britain. He employed 15 staff, including cameraman Theodore Thumwood and producers A E Colby and Derek Aylott. Local people were hired as extras, earning two shillings ands sixpence per day, while regular actors received £1 per day.


Looking over to the Swan Inn in London Road, Mitcham, I saw a man pushing an old man seated in a bath chair. As they passed…to my amazement, two men marched up, grabbed the old boy…and threw him in the horse trough that used to stand there! It was only then that I spotted the film camera of the Martin Company.”

( Ron Brightwell )


Martin’s pioneering workforce was skilled in the new and delicate art of film tinting. It was difficult to produce accurately coloured negatives, so a recognised code of colour tints were used for important frames – for example blues were used for farewells and scenes of anguish, while warm pinks tinted sunsets and happier subject matter.


Example of Martin movie = “A Curate’s Dilemma or the story of an Anthill” orig released 1906.

A young curate takes a group of girls for a trip in the country, where they play games such as Blind Man’s Buff and skipping. Tired by his exercises, the Curate goes for a nap under a shady tree. A tramp is dozing in the same spot but gets up and shakes himself when he finds he has been sitting on an ant’s nest. The Curate is also bothered by the insects. Abandoning his rest, he rejoins the girls for the rail journey home. Unfortunately ants have crawled into his trousers, causing him much discomfort. Unable to bear the itching, the curate hides in an empty carriage, where he discreetly removes his trousers and shakes them out of the window. To his horror the clothing slips from his grasp and falls onto the track. Struggling to hide his legs with his coat tails, the embarrassed curate is forced to endure the giggle of his young female companions.


Martin specialised in trick shorts and comedies but during the Great War, he also produced sweetheart films and propaganda pieces to boost public morale. “War’s Grim Reality “ His studio output dwindled by 1916 and filming ceased in 1917, although his company continued to process film until World War II.


( 1996 – managed to secure Cinema 100 plaque to mark site of Quintin Ave Studios – then production works of Agate Products – sadly over last year site has been cleared and replaced by new housing. )