The Barnes Brothers Collection

Williamson Ensign Tropical Cine-Camera
Williamson Ensign Tropical Cine-Camera

The Barnes Collection is a collection of film apparatus and ephemera relating to pioneering Victorian filmmakers from Brighton and Hove. It was purchased by Hove Museum & Art Gallery in 1997 with money from the Headley Trust and the Friends of Hove Museum.

The collection was bought from collectors John and William Barnes and was previously housed at their museum in St. Ives.

Contents of the Collection 

The Barnes Collection includes a variety of equipment and ephemera relating to Victorian film pioneers local to Brighton and Hove. These filmmakers were known as the Brighton School and includes James WilliamsonGeorge Albert Smith, Alfred Darling, Charles Urban and William Friese-Greene. Equipment on display includes Williamson’s Aerial camera, which was used for reconnaissance during the first half of the twentieth-century, and Alfred Darling’s Biokam.

James Williamson's 35mm Aerial Camera
James Williamson’s 35mm Aerial Camera
Alfred Darling's Biokam
Alfred Darling’s Biokam

Along with film equipment, the Barnes Collection incorporates a large variety of ephemera including cabinet photographs, carte-de-visite photographs, theatre programmes, catalogues, articles, books, episcope cards and Victorian postcards.

Significance of the Collection 

The Brighton School significantly influenced film history, both nationally and internationally, and the importance of the Barnes Collection reflects this significance. Indeed, many of the film techniques developed by the Brighton School are still used in modern cinema. For instance, George Albert Smith is credited with the invention of the close-up shot and using double exposure to create special effects.

Smith also developed Kinemacolor which was the first commercially successful colour film technique. James Williamson was one of the first filmmakers to cut between different shots in order to aid narrative technique.

Darling 'Model A' 35mm Cine-Camera
Darling ‘Model A’ 35mm Cine-Camera

Charles Urban, although of American decent, is often heralded as the most significant figure in early British cinema. Urban was the driving force behind the Warwick Trading Company and helped develop the Bioscope film projector. The Warwick Trading Company focussed on documentary and news film and worked closely with two of the first war correspondents, John Benett-Stanford and Joe Rosenthal.

6 Responses

  1. mhairi

    i just bought a large content of probate from william barnes home i have loads of ephemera, could you advice

    • kevinbacon

      I will pass your email address on to a colleague in case they are able to advise.


    • Tony Grisoni

      Hi there, I am investigating the Barnes Brothers legacy. I am curious to know if actual film or film cans were included in the probate you acquired.
      Best, Tony

  2. CATHY

    We are looking for more references to my grandfather, David William Gobbett of Brighton & California. 1884 – 1973. We find information about his work in the States, but little connected to Brighton. His brother was Thomas James Gobbett • 1882 – 1915 . There is an indication that DWG filmed in South Africa in 1902, the Boer War. Any leades are welcome

  3. Victoria Matthews

    Hi Cathy. I’ve just seen this comment. My great grandfather was Thomas James Gobbett, and my family has some photos and other details about his and David William’s films.
    You can contact me on

    Best wishes, Victoria

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