British photographic history

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Mystery camera - Your help appreciated


I was unaware of your discussion forum and having only joined and approved last night, having a skim around the topics, blog and articles I can see me winding away more time here over the coming days and months, so thank you to the site manager for allowing me to join in.

I was reconmended to join your discussion forum by the Photography & Imaging department, British Museum and post my quest for learning more about a mystery camera I inherited from my late parents but was sadly discovered too late to ask any questions about the origins and history of the camera.

So I have fingers crossed that someone here may have more knowledge than the other avenues I have tried to far over the past three years of searching.

The camera in question is a Plessey Dynamics Entry Speed Camera mkII and film viewer unit which possibly was used to record the calculation of take-off and/or re-entry of aircraft or maybe missiles, and may have been attached to an aircraft or ground unit based on the design of the housing unit (my educated guesses)

In my searches across the web, other camera forums, book writers and U.K museums no mention of the camera can be found - so it remains a mystery even though this is a mkII version and maybe there was a mkI but no records found even though the units have identification plates.

For your interest I have so far tried:

  • National media museum in Bradford and their science and media team archive team came back with a blank on a database search.

  • Contacted the RAF museum and their collection team said that they cannot identify the camera and have no records of anything similar as no stores ref no or military acceptance marking is shown.

  • They suggested Brooklands Aviation museum – no luck.

  • I contact the current owners of Plessy - No historical department and no records of that type of equipment after they merged and split companies years ago

  • I tried Bonham’s auctioneers specialist camera department who referred me to MWClassic cameras - no joy

  • I contacted the Avro Heritage museum and found a helpful curator in their historical department He suggested that "If it were ground based then it might be for accurately measuring the speed at which an aircraft entered a weapon testing area. The equipment as a whole may not be aircraft specific."

  • Information was passed to BAE Systems HQ heritage department where apparently lots of the Plessy equipment built may have been recorded, but alas no such luck or reply so far

  • A member of the PCCGB and an author of war time camera books had come across no reference to this camera but suggested -

  • the Curator, Rochester Avionic Archives, found no records, and suggested the FAST museum as holders of many records of the old DERA organisation which was responsible for flight trials work without success.

  • The FAST museum kindly passed the info on to some ex-members of the RAE Photographic Department who said – “It does look in the photos like an adapted old Aerial camera, using 6 inch wide roll film as used in WWII Aerial Surveillance Spitfires” and suggested the British Museum and the

The British Museum are kindly passing it on to some ex-colleagues, but also suggested a theory

"Many years ago, at the BM we used to use a periphery camera. Initially developed as a camera for scientific uses, we purchased one to photograph the exterior or interior of vases. What it did was to ‘unfold’ a scene that may run completely around a vase, therefore seeing the scene in one photograph.
I see in one of your photographs, at the front of the camera is a lever that says ‘slit width’. That made me think of the periphery camera but working in a slightly different way. The way the periphery camera worked was to place the object to be photographed on a turntable, and as a continuous photograph, a sheet of 5x4 film was placed in the film holder on the camera. Immediately in front of the film was a slit. Therefore, as the turntable rotated the slit traversed the film exposing slices of the image.
I was wondering that with your camera, instead of taking one image, the slit traversed the film stage. Which would make sense if it were an aerial shot because as the aeroplane flew, it would take a continuous image until it had traversed the frame. This would give a wider image than a convensional one shot image, but distortion free. It would then move the film on for the next picture."

Phew - well that's the story so far, with a few replies hopefully to come from some other museum curators like the Museum of Flying at Middle Wallop when they reopen.

So without further ado pictures attached with identification plates for your interest.

And thanks for taking the time to read about my quest - fingers crossed you can help.


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Hi Alan & I think we talked about this camera a while back and you sent me some photos (see attatched) but I can't recall how we left things (probably my age).

Plessey were a large company and I noticed the name plate on your camera also mentioned Hartly Lamps, Romford. When I looked for more info on them I nearly fell of my chair as at one time they were based in St Neots, Cambridshire less than a mile from where I live!

I spoke to Liz Davies at our local museum and they have some details on Hartley which may lead you to some further info on the camera. Can't promise, but you never know.

Tell Liz I sent you and let me know how you get on.


Tim Goldsmith


Hi Tim,

Yes we spoke back in September last year and sent you the images, but didn't hear back. But with everything that's been going on, most people I chat to have more important things to do than research an old camera, and sometimes I wonder where the time goes during these surreal times, roll on 2022 ;-) But it's always nice to chat to anyone who is prepared to listen to my quest and thank you for any time you spent looking for me.

Thank you also for the above link, and I'll drop LIz a message and let you know.

All the best.


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