Exhibit of the Week: Underwater camera case, Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-le-Hole

Geoffrey Willey is pictured with the camera holder he designed for use underwater.
Geoffrey Willey is pictured with the camera holder he designed for use underwater.

At Ryedale Folk Museum, we have a comprehensive collection of photographic equipment and our exhibit of the week is this underwater camera housing. In the photograph you can see its designer, Geoffrey Willey, using the equipment.

Here at Hutton-le-Hole you can visit the photographic studio which was originally set up by William Hayes in 1902 in York. In 1911 the Hayes family moved to Hutton-le-Hole and brought the studio with them. By the 1960s when Ryedale Folk Museum began to emerge money was raised to dismantle the studio and rebuild it in the museum grounds.

Geoffrey Willey was the longest serving volunteer at the museum. He died in May 2015 aged 103. He was a professional photographer and his photographs are a unique history of the museum. In his book, “Ryedale in My Heart” he wrote: ‘In my life in photography, I had learned how quickly things happened’. Here at Ryedale Folk Museum, there is a building dedicated to the Geoffrey Willey Collection of Photographic Equipment dating back to the early days of photography starting with the cumbersome boxes of Victorian times which used glass plates, to early cine cameras and on to the lighter more sophisticated models.

So, what is the story behind the Underwater Camera Housing? In the early 1950s, Geoffrey applied for a job at the Institute of Seaweed Research in Musselburgh, near Edinburgh. The job included shallow diving, something that Geoffrey had never done. The aim of the research was to try to refine other uses for seaweed. It had been used as a fertilizer for centuries. This was a Government sponsored project. It was hoped that this initiative would provide employment and revenue in these early post war years.

Geoffrey underwent underwater diving training at Chatham in Kent. Previous research had been carried out in a laboratory but it was felt necessary to photograph the seaweed in its natural habitat. Strange to think that nowadays you can even take photographs underwater with a sophisticated mobile phone but in the early 1950s there was no satisfactory underwater photography equipment. So Geoffrey set to and designed this watertight metal holder which could contain his 16 mm Cine Kodak camera. It was made by engineers in Musselburgh. It has exterior controls and according to Geoffrey “worked very well indeed”. Sadly, sponsor money ran out and the Institute of Seaweed Research no longer exists.

You can visit the studio and enjoy dressing up in the costumes of times past and see how the scene was set to take photographs in the early days of this craft. Then move on to Geoffrey Willey’s exhibition to wonder at the range of equipment and photographs.

l Ryedale Folk Museum is open daily and throughout Easter from 10am-5pm. There is a new exhibition in the art gallery, RyeScape, which features the work of twenty artists who live and work in Ryedale. During the Easter holidays, children can get a taste of pre-history with our Iron Age activities, taking place on Wednesday 12 and 19 April.