Beken of Cowes

Taken from www.beken.co.uk

Beken started their photography in 1888 when Alfred Edward Beken (1855-1915) came to Cowes & opened a pharmacy. It was his son Frank (1880-1970) who was so impressed by the classic yachts sailing off Cowes that he started the Beken Marine Photography Archive. In 1914 the 'West' collection of glass plates dating back to 1880 was purchased to add to his growing collection of negatives. By the 1930's Frank's son Keith (1914-2007) was busy photographing afloat and in 1970 Keith's son Kenneth (b.1951) joined the Company. Each generation has earned the title "Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society" and the Company has held three Royal Warrants for excellence.

Alfred Edward Beken, originally from Canterbury in Kent, moved to the Isle of Wight in 1888 with his son Frank and purchased an existing pharmacy situated in the small port of Cowes, famous for its International Sailing Regatta. The sight of yachts sailing past his bedroom window made such an impression on Frank that he decided to capture these images on film.
After several attempts it was soon obvious that the cameras available at the time were not suited to the rough seas encountered, so Frank designed and had built a new style of camera. Instead of the usual canvas bellows, he used two wooden box-frames. One enclosing a screw-thread focussing system and shutter, with the other frame housing a viewfinder. It was in fact a forerunner to the later twin-lens cameras although his was fired by biting a rubber ball held between the teeth!

It was Frank's bedroom window that also provided the light source for his 'daylight powered enlarger' which enabled him to make saleable prints from his negatives.
The Beken Pharmacy sold these photographs alongside their medicines and perfumes and undoubtedly due to Queen Victoria's Royal residence being nearby at Osborne, it was recorded that five crowned heads of Europe visited the Pharmacy premises at one time!

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