Published 24th May 2023

An impressive new piece of art celebrating the world’s first-ever Western film is set to be installed – right here in Blackburn!

In 1994 an extraordinary archive of Edwardian films was discovered in the basement of a shop in Northgate.

The internationally-important Mitchell & Kenyon films have since become an essential archive in understanding the evolution of British Cinema.

While studying them in 2019, critically acclaimed artist, writer and lecturer, Jamie Holman discovered a short clip called ‘Kidnapping by Indians’ and the date on the film indicated that it was the world’s first Western.

Now, its historic and cultural significance is set to be celebrated with the new artwork boasting 40 pewter arrows that will look like they’ve been fired into a wall.

Jamie Holman, Chair of The National Festival of Making, said:

“We have a rich and diverse cultural heritage in Blackburn with Darwen as a consequence of our industrial heritage, which includes the founding of the football league, mill poetry, painting and music.

“We knew that Mitchell and Kenyon were important filmmakers, but we are proud to commemorate that the world’s first Western was made here in the town centre.

“It’s an extraordinary story that I am proud to tell on their behalf.”

Mitchell & Kenyon, one of the largest British film companies in the 1900s, had two premises in the Blackburn town centre – 21 King Street and 40 Northgate.

It’s believed that they showed their first ever film at the shop in Northgate with the silent, black and white show reel capturing a bustling Blackburn Market.

It’s now home to Family Bargains which, alongside its neighbour Baileys Jewellers, has recently undergone an impressive shop front transformation as part of the Blakey Moor Townscape Heritage Project.

And, it’s there where the new artwork is set to be installed on the gable end of the terrace of Victorian buildings.

Councillor Phil Riley, Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said:

“What a huge surprise that the first ever Western was filmed right here in Blackburn!

“The back story is fascinating too, with the black and white film featuring mill workers in 1899. This was the starting point of what would become a key Hollywood genre.

“Jamie has worked incredibly hard to highlight the importance of Mitchell & Kenyon – pioneering filmmakers from our town – and I’m looking forward to seeing this new artwork installed.

“It’ll be a lasting feature and a real talking point in the town.”

The 40 pewter arrows have been cast by community groups and volunteers with help from Jamie and specialist artist, Ella Mackintosh.

A planning application will now be submitted for the artwork, which subject to planning approval, is expected to be unveiled at a special event in June.

The project has been funded by Arts Council England with support from the British Textile Biennial, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s Townscape Heritage Fund, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and through the UK Government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

You can watch Kidnapping by Indians on YouTube by clicking here.

Mitchell & Kenyon and the first Western

The firm of Mitchell and Kenyon, founded in Blackburn in 1897 by Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon, released films under the trade name of Norden and were one of the largest British film companies in the 1900s, producing a mixture of topicals, fiction and ‘fake’ war films.

The company had premises at 21 King Street and 40 Northgate until 1913 when their business went bust.

Until recently, the company was more famous for their dramatised war films.

However, the discovery of 800 negatives containing 28 hours of footage in the premises of their original Northgate shop in 1994 has led to a major revaluation of their contribution to film making in the United Kingdom.

These internationally important films have now become an essential archive in understanding the evolution of British Cinema.

In 2019, artist Jamie Holman encountered a short clip titled ‘Kidnapping by Indians’ and the date on the film indicated that this was the world’s first Western. This short, naive film which features Mill Workers in Blackburn in 1899, is now recognised by the BFI as the starting point of what would become Hollywood and cinema as we now know it.

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