I can hardly remember a time when I have been without a camera. Fifty-eight years ago at the age of ten I splashed out all my holiday money on what I suppose was a VP Twin at Woolworths in Margate and the bug has remained with me ever since.
One of my self-imposed lockdown tasks was to rearrange my cabinet of charity and junk shop camera finds. There was a time when I would have run a film through each one to see what happened but with such occasional film usage I found that I was wasting more chemicals than I was using and so have not done this for some years.
One of the cameras in the cabinet is a well-used Pentax SP1000. While I’m not actually a Pentax person, more of a Minolta man, I couldn’t resist it because of its local connection. On the baseplate is engraved “Avery Hill College”.
The house at Avery Hill was built in the late 1800s as a showcase of wealth by Colonel North, aka the Nitrate King, who made his fortune by importing guano from South America in order to extract nitrate. In addition to lavishing money on his house he also funded a local militia, hence the honorary rank of colonel of which he was inordinately proud and insisted on using.
An impressive feature of the house is its Winter Garden, the second largest glasshouse in the UK after Kew Gardens. Interestingly this was added not because the Colonel had any particular interest in tropical flora but as an afterthought as something to hide the otherwise blank wall of a large galleried ballroom which extended from the side of the house.
After Colonel North’s early death the house was eventually bought by the London County Council in 1902 for use as a Teacher Training College, initially for ladies only. It remained a Teacher Training College until becoming campus of the University of Greenwich. Its future is now uncertain as it is surplus to requirements and being touted for re-development.
As Avery Hill is within legitimate lockdown exercise walking distance it occurred to me that it would be unkind not to give the Pentax a nostalgic day out. As bought it had a Pentacon lens attached but also in my cabinet was a Zeiss Zebra 50mm. So after introducing the two to each other and digging out an expired roll of FP4 Plus we set off.
Although the Pentax’s meter appeared to be working I also took along my trusty Bertram Chrolon to ride shotgun. It was a reasonably sunny afternoon and they agreed without any argument that 1/125 at F11 would be a good starting point.
As the main building of the house has been spoiled by unsympathetic alterations and additions during the course of its use as a college, after passing under the archway of the main gate I headed down the side of the house past where a fire escape has been added to the gallery of the ballroom towards the now abandoned stable block. In Colonels North’s time this was equipped with central heating, but probably more for the benefit of his horses than for his grooms.
Here the stables present the traditional photogenic aspect of buildings slipping into neglect and also give some indication of how pleasantly laid out they must have originally been.
I then turned back towards the Winter Garden but halfway there I realised that I needed to retrace my steps. Learning point one: Do not stuff your exposure meter into your pocket with the cord dangling out. It will only snag on a bramble bush and get left behind.
Meter retrieved, I continued round to the Winter Garden. The tragedy is that this building has been allowed to fall into a state of serious disrepair. Not so long ago it was open to the public but is now closed, over and above Covid restrictions, for “maintenance” because of the condition of the roof. I spent some time wandering around seeking a viewpoint but nothing seemed to suit what I had in mind.
Learning point two: A “standard” lens is anything but. Over the years my eye must have got used to using at least a 35mm for this sort of thing and now I was finding a 50mm a bit restricting.
As I only had four frames left, I contented myself with the carved lintel at the top of the outside doors.
So I now had a roll of exposed film. In my processing past I’d been very much a traditionalist and stuck to ID.11 as a developer. However, as I said earlier, its relatively short shelf life when made up counts against my anticipated requirement. After some research I decided that Rodinal would probably suit me and so ordered a small bottle.
The film was developed in 1-10 solution at the standard 68 degrees . Given that the film was expired I allowed 19 minutes with more agitation than I would normally have applied. This, combined with the low winter light, seems to have bought out just the sort of strong contrast that I like.
The only trouble now is that there are several other cameras in the cabinet clamouring to go walkies.
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