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November 2014 Meeting Report

Martyn Northfield on the Family History of the Eastmans

The November speaker was a very interesting presentation by one of the group’s own members,
Martyn Northfield. His presentation combined the ancestry of his wife’s family with the intricacies of Photography.

He had traced his wife Mary’s family to the village of Downton in Wiltshire. Among her ancestors was the Eastman family who had a direct connection with the American George Eastman (1854 – 1932) founder of the famous Eastman Kodak company in Rochester USA.

Martyn spent time at the Wiltshire County Records office and discovered that the American Eastman’s were as keen to trace their ancestry. It appears that early in the 1900’s a Charles Eastman of the Natural History Museum of New York had financed a professional researcher to establish that the Eastman’s had indeed come from Wiltshire. In his researches Martyn discovered that a friend of the USA Eastman’s, who was visiting the UK, was asked to research the family. This friend was successful and there was a letter dated 1934 from a Fred Eastman to the vicar of Downton thanking him for his help in the search. There were copies of various church records, transcripts and wills made at the time which enabled Martyn to establish without doubt the direct connection between the Wiltshire and USA Eastman’s. They established that it was Roger Eastman (1610 to 1694) who, to escape religious persecution, had sailed for a new life in Boston USA in 1638. He settled in Merrimack, a town on the mouth of the Merrimack River, later renamed Salisbury which is some 45 miles north of Boston. Martyn told interesting stories of the American Indian uprisings and the implications to the Eastman family.

Mary’s family were at some time basket and furniture makers in Downton on the Hampshire Avon just south of Salisbury. It has a long and remarkable history of its own. The ancient parish originally covered 30square miles and in his searches Martyn found documents showing there was a “church of the manor” as early as 1086. The village was established long before Salisbury was founded as the cathedral in Salisbury was not built until 1227.  It was a “Borough by rite” in 1205 and in 1395 was represented by two members of parliament. Interestingly at some point one of those Members of Parliament was a certain Bobby Shafto!
In 1586 Queen Elisabeth “acquired” the manor and the following year leased it to Sir Walter Raleigh. Later it had associations with Lord Nelson so the village has an illustrious historical association.

Because of the Eastman connections Martyn had researched the complex world of photography which he said actually dates back many centuries starting with the pinhole camera. It was in the 1800c that the first attempts were made at monochrome photographs using light sensitive paper. He showed us a copy of the earliest surviving photograph taken in 1826/7. Much progress was made using different chemical processes and techniques over the next century. Celluloid film was introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1889 followed by movie film in 1890. He explained the enormous amount of work done over the years to produce colour film but the prime interest for the society was of course the introduction of Dufaycolor film developed by Spicers in Sawston.

Spicers were looking to expand their product line and acquired the Dufaycolor process in 1926. They were already making a film material used to wrap products like chocolates. So it was a natural progression to attempt to develop further uses. They invested the considerable sum of over £100,000 between 1928 and 1932 to research various applications and eventually came up with a workable colour motion picture process. The film had many advantages over early versions of Technicolor and was cheaper to produce. However, although it was made in Sawston, to be a commercial success, it needed to be sold in the USA and it never produced the anticipated profits.

After protracted negotiations with American companies Spicers eventually sold its interest in Spicers – Dufay in return for a stake in a new company. All production of Dufaycolor at Sawston had ceased by 1955.

Thanks to Martyn for a fascinating talk.

ADO Nov 2014

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