Watson Premier Half-Plate

As with the Envoy Wide Angle, the Watson Premier Half-Plate is not, strictly, an Ilford camera, as it was not badged with the Ilford name. However, it was marketed by Ilford Ltd (see 1955 Ilford Photographic Materials, General Catalogue). For a possible explanation of its connection with Ilford, via the previous Rajar company, see below.

Alongside is an advert for the camera by the makers, W.Watson & Sons Ltd of 313 High Holburn, London, WC1, as it appears in the BJPA for 1955

The Watson half-plate camera was a square bellows camera of traditional design suitable for commercial, scientific, architectural and general record photography. The camera and dark slides were made of polished mahogany, with fitings of lacquered brass. The bellows were of linen-lined leather.

Focussing was by rack & pinion movement, acting on the camera back only, leaving the lens position fixed (i.e. it was a Tailboard camera). Provision was included for lens cross movement and rise & fall. Also, the back could be tilted in two planes. The focussing screen and dark slides could be used either in the vertical or horizontal position. Dark slides were of the double book-form type.

Price of the camera (without lens) and 3 dark slides was £52.10s (£52.50p) in 1955 with extra dark slides costing £5 each.

Rajar Limited

(The following contains some speculation and is in need of further research)

The connection between Ilford Ltd and the name Watson (scroll upwards) is possibly via the old Rajar company. Rajar Ltd was an off-shoot of the Brooks-Watson Daylight Camera Company Ltd, formed in 1901, which had works in Great Homer Street, Liverpool. This company marketed the 'Rajar System of Photography'-a film pack adaptor for plate cameras covered by a number of patents taken out by Arthur.A.Brooks and G.A.Watson (probably J.A.Watson - thanks to Roger Gittins for that correction) in the years 1900 to 1902.

The Rajar works at Mobberley, Cheshire, were built in 1903 (see 1919 picture, below) and in 1907 a company, Rajar (1907) Ltd, was formed with a capital of £25,000 in £1 shares: 'to adopt an agreement with Rajar Limited, H.T.Parke and others to carry on the business of manufacturers of, and dealers in, photographic films, plates, cameras, apparatus, materials, etc.' A gentleman named C.F.S.Rothwell, being well known in the Liverpool area for his interest in the science of photography, later became Managing Director.

The scan alongside of a June 1904 postcard has been made available to me by Terry Mitchell of the Mobberley Village Society. On the reverse is a picture of Mobberley church. As can be seen in the header of the postcard, it was 'Printed & Published by The Brooks Watson Daylight Camera Co. Ltd; Liverpool & Mobberley'.

Brooks and Watson appear to have subsequently severed connection with Rajar for, although taking out more patents in the period from 1904 to 1908, these were not associated with the name of any company.

Rajar Ltd amalgamated with Ilford around 1928 and Ilford took over the Rajar factory site. It eventually became the sole paper production factory of Ilford, Limited and is now the sole home of Harman Technology trading as ILFORD Photo (though in newer buildings on the far side of the original site). For views of the old Rajar buildings at Mobberley, including the original position of the Rajar Ltd company plaque and its new resting place, visit Tony Ushers site and scroll down to see various interesting old and new pictures. Although most all of the original Rajar factory buildings are now demolished (since April 2004), the main building (see picture below) has been refurbished into a village community facility (see Tony's site).

The picture below is of the Rajar works in 1919, e-mailed by Roger Gittins, taken from 'Mobberley Reflections', courtesy of the Mobberley Village Society. Roger has also suggested that perhaps the name Rajar was contrived from the names / initials of Arthur.A.Brooks and J.A.Watson.

Roger has also let me know that a long time Mobberley resident, Brian Caveney, recently (Autumn 2008) gave a talk to Mobberley villagers on his family connection with Mobberley and included information on Ilford and The Rajar Building. Brian's grandfather owned/farmed the land which subsequently (from 1903) became the Rajar site. Brian believes that the name Rajar derived from the names of the five individuals who purchased the plot from his grandfather, one of whom was named Rothwell (from Liverpool). Unfortunately he did not know the others. Brian also recalled the regular arrival of the Selo van, maybe the one in the photo (below), to pick up emulsion coated paper.

Brian also believes there was a link with Rajar and a paper mill. This was Wiggins Teape, located one mile from Rajar towards Knutsford.

Scan by Ian Grant of an advertisement from a book on Photographic Enlarging, probably pre-1920, but post-1910.


An e-mail from Roger Gittins contained the above photograph. Roger describes this correspondence as follows:

"...a chap called David Platt, from Lowestoft, has offered me a photo' of his great grandfather when he was foreman in charge of building the new office for the Brooks Watson Daylight Camera Company. It clearly shows the name "Brooks Watson Daylight Camera" in the position currently covered by white render on the same building as subsequently became the Rajar Works (see the "Mobberley Reflections" Photo, above).

The subsequent addition of the "fire escape" on the wall of the Rajar bulilding will have caused damage to, or even obliterated, the name "Brooks", perhaps an indication that these stairs were added in the days of Rajar Ltd.

The Foreman, on the left in bowler/derby hat, is James Robert Platt, great grandfather of David. He came from Macclesfield and does not appear to have an immediate connection to the Platt's who were farming just along Town Lane in Mobberley. David Platt believes that the photo' was annotated (bottom border) by his grandfather, and it was he who described his father, J.R.Platt, as 'Foreman'. The photo is dated 'about 1902', possibly suggesting the building work began in 1901 (see Mobberley Reflections annotation) and was still in progress in 1902. Alternatively, the photo may, in fact, have been taken in 1901. It seems that, at the time of this photo being taken, the final brick pinnacle above the centre first floor windows, had not been completed.


Below is another picture, courtesy of Roger Gittins, showing an artist's impression of the Rajar factory at Mobberley, taken from the British Journal Almanac (BJA) for 1910.

A 1907 BJA entry (page 1436) reads:
"Rajar Works, Mobberley, Cheshire, were erected by us in August,1903, specially for the manufacture of the "Rajar" Specialities. They are situated right in the middle of rural Cheshire, far removed from the smoke and dirt of any town; an ideal locality for the manufacture of sensitized products. Owing to an increase in business it was necessary to enlarge the factory in 1905, and the buildings now cover about an acre of land, the land owned by the Company being 2 acres. The Company make their own gas to drive the engines, which generate electricity for lighting and power; all the machines being driven by electro-motors."

Below is another picture sent by Roger Gittins, taken from 'Mobberley Reflections', courtesy of the Mobberley Village Society. This picture, of a van used by Rajar Ltd, also appears in the book 'Silver by the Ton - A History of Ilford Limited 1879-1979' by R.J.Hercock and G.A.Jones. McGraw-Hill Book Company (UK) Ltd, ISBN 0-07-084525-5 which contains further historical detail of the Rajar organisation. On the side of the van can be read: Rajar Limited - Manufacturers of Photographic Papers, Plates & Films - Mobberley, Cheshire.

Terry Mitchell acts as "unofficial" archivist for the Mobberley Village Society. Amongst other things he has amassed a photographic archive of copies of old pictures, from original photographs & postcards dating back to the 19th century. Amongst them is one produced by Rajar, London. See below. It is of Brook Cottage, Slade Lane, Mobberley.


Below is a negative image and corresponding positive, sent by Roger Gittins, though owned by his brother Mike who worked at the Rajar building in Engineering all his working life, joining direct from leaving school. The images are taken from a glass negative (approx 1/4 plate size, some 110mm x 85mm) given to Mike by Roger & Mike's Uncle Philip Thorpe who worked in the Rajar building's head office. It is believed the negative (maybe amongst others) was used for producing test prints from different emulsions/paper. The image is of Nether Alderley Mill some 4 miles, 'as the crow flys', from Mobberley and 1.5 miles south of Alderley Edge on the A34. In the image foreground is believed to be the photographer's child with camera case.

Their Uncle Phil Thorpe was an ex-navy photographer and Roger has black and white prints from some of his Uncle's pictures.

This page last updated: 2nd December 2016