Ramsden Laboratory, Brentwood, Essex

Research in Photography

A Visit To An Ilford Laboratory

The following article first appeared in the February 1958 issue of Modern Camera Magazine (MCM)

A most interesting visit was paid by the Editor of this magazine recently to the new Ilford Research Laboratory at Brentwood, Essex, when the technical press was invited to view the premises a few days before His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh honoured the company by himself inspecting what is undoubtedly one of the finest research laboratories to have been built since the war.

Named the Ramsden Laboratory after the late Colonel Ramsden, who was closely associated with the early expansion of the company, it is one of the three principal Ilford laboratories in this country. The building houses three sections devoted respectively to physics, chemistry and tests.

The total floor area of 30,000 square feet on two floors is of the most modern construction, with steel framework encased in concrete. Inside, the wall finish is polyvinyl chloride fabric applied to the hardwall plaster and the floors throughout have plastic tiles. In all rooms where there may be corrosive, or stain-effecting chemicals, the walls are finished with a special protective paint and in the darkrooms, where "wet" processes are of special importance, the floors and walls are lined with asphalt. The laboratory furniture is designed in units; the tops of benches and the shelving being cased with melamine plastic; chemical-resisting and easy to clean. All sinks are lined with rubber and a special drainage system allows the waste liquids to be treated to recover silver residue.

One of the sections which was most interesting to visitors was that devoted to emulsions, and a demonstration was given showing the principles of the preparation of an emulsion and its final coating on the flexible base. Naturally, this demonstration, which took place in full light, produced an emulsion which was worthless photographically because it was immediately fogged in the demonstration, but yet it gave a good idea of what happens in practice.

Two separate containers contained respectively solutions of silver nitrate and ammonium bromide. These were then together run into a gelatine solution, the mixture being mechanically stirred, whereupon a yellowish precipitate of silver bromide was formed. After the addition of a further small amount of ammonia, the emulsion was warmed to the correct temperature, which was kept constant for a short period, causing a growth of the crystals suspended in the gelatine. The custard-like mixture was subsequently poured into a trough and a band of film base was continuously coated by passing it over a roller immersed in the emulsion, which was thus transferred to the base.

In commercial production, of course, sundry additions of sensitizers and other chemicals are made and the whole process is carried out in complete darkness.

Entrance to the New Laboratory at Brentwood

The Whole Building is Temperature-Controlled and Air-Conditioned


The lighting system in the darkroom is indirect and can be seen in our illustration (right). Notice groups of what look like inverted funnels hanging from the ceiling. These are in sets of three, any one lamp of which can be switched on according to the work being done. If the sensitivity of the material being dealt with is affected only by blue light then the safelight used is amber coloured. If, as with an emulsion such as Plastika, it is sensitive to both blue and green, the safelighting is red, while for panchromatic work a very dim green light can be used.

The Indirect Lighting Enables Three Different Safelights to be Used.
They are Fitted in the Funnel-Like Containers Shown.

The physics sections of the laboratory deal with the three main problems in photographic material production
Investigation of materials themselves,
Researches in processes such as coating,
Investigations of the special problems in colour photography.

This section includes a drawing office and a small experimental workshop while, in another part of the building, a fully equipped engineering workshop with all the latest machine tools and automatic lathes in charge of skilled mechanics can produce prototypes of commercial apparatus if needed, or machines for use in other parts of the laboratory.

Analysis, of course, plays a very prominent part in both research and the testing of materials and we were particularly interested in the use made of the most modern techniques by means of which, as in colorimetric analysis, accurate measurement can be made of minute traces of various substances. Photographic gelatine, for example, is acutely susceptible to the influences of very small quantities of certain chemicals and it is only within comparatively recent years that the full significance of this fact has been appreciated. This is one of the reasons why the present-day sensitised materials are so reliable and consistent in their performance.

One of the most important functions of the laboratory is the preparation of characteristic curves for the various emulsions being prepared. Step wedge prints are made under strictly controlled conditions, with automatic sensitometers, then developed under standardised conditions and the various densities plotted and subsequently interpreted by a number of workers. Cleverly designed densitometers enable these curves to be rapidly plotted in a semi-automatic manner. Incidentally, in preparing characteristic curves for certain X-ray emulsions, the step wedge used consists of a number of strips of aluminium of varying thickness, the thinnest of which is of course completely opaque to visible light, but transparent to X-rays.

The sensitometry of colour films is a highly specialised branch of work, to which a great deal of attention is being given. In the development section of the laboratory we saw prototypes of new apparatus, which have been produced to simplify and greatly improve the making of both duplicate transparencies and the popular Ilfordcolor prints, which are made from transparencies primarily designed for projection.

A morning spent in these new research laboratories should convince anyone, in a position to appreciate the work being done there, that Ilford Limited are in the forefront of the world's photographic manufacturers, and have their eye firmly fixed on the future in the development of the science and art of photography.


New Office Building, ILFORD, Essex


Modern Efficiency with Modern Decor

Ilford's New Office Block

The following article first appeared in the April 1958 issue of Modern Camera Magazine (MCM)

Interior of Entrance Hall and Waiting Area

LAST month (see above) we described and illustrated the fine new "Ramsden" laboratory at Brentwood, Essex, which is a part of the development scheme of this important British company. Since then we have visited their new office building in the main works at Ilford which represents the best in modern office design. For the general staff the old idea of a number of separate rooms is abandoned in favour of what is frequently called the "American idea" of open offices, and although at first some people wondered how the staff might like it, there is no question that, from our enquiries made on the spot, the new arrangement is approved by practically everyone.

One of the first things that strikes the visitor is the comfort and cheerfulness of the whole building. The decor is modern and colourful without being freakish and the clatter of typewriters, which often distinguishes modern large offices, is avoided by the two expedients of having the whole floor carpeted (with rubber underlay), and the ceiling covered with acoustic tiles. The through passage in each of these large offices is covered with silent rubber flooring.

In the accounts department automation has been adopted to a very full extent, with accounts analysis operating with the punch card system. The whole building has been designed on what may be called a "unit" principle so that sub-divisions in the way of partitions can always be fitted or removed quite quickly without making structural alterations. The walls are covered with washable plastic material of various colours and designs, which are quite attractive, and all pipes, wiring and the like are carried in troughs beneath the floor and are immediately accessible if needed.

Ilford Limited now employ about 4,000 people in England and over 500 abroad in subsidiary distributing companies and a new factory in Australia. The company makes all its own film base, i.e. the non-inflammable plastic on which the emulsions are coated. Before the war this film base had to be imported, either from America or Belgium, and meant expenditure of foreign currencies. Now, in the £2 million factory built in association with BX Plastics, all of llford's requirements are being met.

One of the "Open" Offices,
Showing the Sound-Absorbing Ceiling Tiles and the Fully Carpeted Floor.

The page last updated: 16th December 2014