James Edward Hough

James Edward Hough (1848-1925)


He was born at Failsworth near Oldham in Lancashire. In an affidavits sworn in various phonograph infringements cases, Hough described himself as a "Mechanical Engineer". Where this training was acquired is  not known, although it is probable that it was from employment in the Lancashire Textile industry which was the dominant business sector in Oldham during the nineteenth century.


James Edward Hough is the "forgotten-man" of early British film history. Ignored by earlier historians such as Talbot, Ramsaye and Barnes, Hough's involvement in Anglo-American kinetoscope developments is nonetheless of considerable interest and extends well beyond his role as a defendant in the kinetoscope legal action. It was, for example, James E. Hough and not Robert Paul, who was the first Englishman to commission the building of a cine-camera, which he did more than a month before the initial meeting between Paul and Acres in February 1895.


Hough's absence from the currently accepted narrative of British attempts made during 1895 to establish an independent source of film production has inevitably skewed the actual historical record regarding this particular development and has enabled a strongly hagiographic focus on Robert Paul to be promoted instead. This is a mistaken perspective that requires amendment. As the detailed information about kinetoscope history in Britain which is presented in this study indicates, Paul was only one of many people associated with British kinescope activity and indeed by no means the most innovative. His descent into plagiarism for example compares badly with the genuinely innovative kinescope design work of John Henry Rigg of Leeds.

A review of Hough's pre-kinetoscope commercial activity suggests that he was an entrepreneur of considerable ability, able first to identify and then become involved in successive growth markets.


In 1872 Hough became a co-founder of Shepherd, Rothwell & Hough, an Oldham based company manufacturing "Eclipse" sewing machines for a rapidly growing domestic market. This partnership was dissolved in November 3, 1887 and Hough then moved to London, giving his occupation as a "Furniture Dealer" in the 1891 census. According to Kelly's Post Office London Directory he continued to follow this occupation in 1892 and 1893 from two different addresses in Shoreditch. During this years, he registered four British patents applications related to improvements in bicycle wheels and tyres and by the following year was officially trading in the booming bicycle business with Kelly's listing him as a "Cycle Agent" in Shoreditch.





The death of Mr. James E. Hough, managing director of the Edison Bell Co., recalls the early days of the sewing machine trade. Born at Failsworth, near Oldham, some 77 years ago, he was apprenticed to engineering and later entered into partnership with Messrs. Rothwell & Shepherd, sewing machine manufacturers, Oldham and the firm became Shepherd, Rothwell & Hough, who subsequently made knitting machines and cycles in addition to sewing machines. But Mr. Hough felt that this concern was not as enterprising and progressive as fitted in with his temperament and he came to London and started business in Fleet Street, E.C., as a dealer in gas-economising appliances. The limits here imposed upon him did not accord with his ambition and he, having a great faith in the possibilities of the talking-machine, started as a dealer in the phonograph invented by Edison in 1877. Now, at this time the Edison talking-machine was in primitive state, the record being made on tinfoil which was wound round a cylinder and the present writer well remembers being at a Press demonstration of it, by Edison, at the Crystal Palace and the fact that unless one got coupled up with a rubber tube and an ear-piece little could be heard. Further, that Mr. Charles Bradbury, the adopted son of George Bradbury, the founder of the late sewing machine concern known as Bradbury & Co., Ltd., Oldham and an old friend of Mr. Hough, at this time representing Grimme, Natalis & Co., sewing machine manufacturers, Brunswick, Germany, inviting him to a demonstration of the Edison phonograph, in a private room, by a Mr. Johnson, one of the chief representatives of Mr. Edison. On entering Mr. Bradbury's drawing-room the present writer was, on being introduced, told to speak loudly since Mr. Johnson was afflicted with deafness. Then, said the present writer, this is very strange since he understood that Mr. Edison was himself so deaf that he had to depend upon others to state whether or not sounds were coming through as the result of the diaphragm responding to the indentations then made for records on a wax cylinder which had by now been substituted for the tinfoil. Thereupon there was much laughter from Mr. Johnson and all others in the room who were privy to a conspiracy to deceive the visitor. 

But, subsequently, he suggested that an attempt be made to have records taken of the operatic performances at Covent Garden and this was done and these records were used in demonstrations, at hotels, in all the big towns of this country.

But months before this Mr. Hough had realised that the Edison phonograph had a big future and he joined the Edison Bell Consolidated Phonograph Co., Ltd., with a view to its operations being placed on a sound commercial basis. That meant an enormous amount of ingenuity and hard work and these appealed to Mr. Hough to such an extent that he, as managing director of the concern mentioned, so developed both the manufacturing and the inventive side of their business that the cylindrical phonograph became a disc device and an enormous business was created. Thus, although Mr. Hough's efforts and great ability, were lost to the sewing machine trade, they were devoted to another branch of industry which has given immense pleasure to countless thousands. Beyond question, he was no ordinary man and this country is poorer at losing him.





from :

The Kinetoscope: A British History

by Richard Brown and Barry Anthony (Authors)


The Journal of Domestic Appliances 


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