Up & Away!

C. H. Wood: A Passion for Photography 

Early photograph of C. H. Wood in Heaton Park.
Early photograph of C. H. Wood in Heaton Park.

Bradfordian Charles Harold Wood began taking photographs as a hobby. By the age of 26 photography was his full-time job and he had established a successful Bradford-based photography business. Now thousands of C. H. Wood’s photographs make up the C. H. Wood collection, part of Bradford Museums’ Photo Archive, giving an insight into the commercial, industrial and social life of Bradford in the twentieth century.

Born in 1904 C. H. (as he was known to his friends) took his first flying lesson at the age of 14. Not long before, his grandfather had bought him his first camera. As a young child, C. H. experimented with homemade pinhole cameras and had created a darkroom in his bedroom. Add to this a childhood interest in motorcycles, and we have the cementing of three (of many) passions which would remain throughout his long and successful life.

Encouraged by neighbour and motorcycle manufacturer, Alfred Scott, C. H. began his working life in 1919 as a test rider and engineer for the Scott Motorcycle Company. Over time his photographic and film making skills were recognised by the company and he was allowed to construct a darkroom in the corner of Scott’s works. The images and graphics he produced were so much better than those of competitors and soon he was overwhelmed with requests from outside the company. So, in 1930, he became a full time commercial photographer.

C. H. Wood with his plate camera, used for aerial photography.
C. H. Wood with aerial camera

Initially working on his own from the family home on Emm Lane in Bradford, C. H. began to establish a list of customers which eventually read like a Who’s Who of Bradford business and industry. In time, Busbys’ and Brown & Muff department stores, the Jowett Motor Company, Morrisons, Mintex, International Harvester, Salt’s Mill and many more major local companies used his services. If anything, however, C. H. was even better known beyond Bradford, providing films and photographs for such giants as Esso and Castrol. The Yorkshire Film Archive has examples of his promotional and educational films and footage of motorcycle racing. Such success necessitated a growing workforce. This began with the appointment of a colleague to process images in the darkroom, giving C. H. more time to be out photographing and filming. Then came a retoucher to improve or amend photographs. More followed and at its height the company had a staff of 32. In the 1950s, C. H.’s two sons, Malcolm and David, joined the company, eventually taking over when C. H. retired.